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Pinkerton graduate, author returns to give academic advice to students

DERRY — Getting straight A’s in school isn’t a matter of having good genes or being born with a particular ability.

Instead, it can be as simple as overcoming false perceptions about what it takes to succeed — and just practicing, according to Katie O’Brien, co-author of the “Straight A Conspiracy.”

O’Brien, 32, is a 2000 Pinkerton Academy graduate and valedictorian, who went on to graduate from Harvard. She appeared Wednesday at Pinkerton to speak with students about the book and the importance of not believing misstatements — and outright lies — about succeeding in the classroom.
Also appearing with O’Brien was co-author Hunter Maats.

Through running a tutoring company, O’Brien said she and Maats discovered that almost all of the students they tutored seemed to believe they weren’t good in certain subjects because they weren’t born with a particular ability. Some said they just didn’t get the “math gene,” or didn’t “have an ear for language,” she said.
So they looked into the science of learning and to see if there is any truth to the statement that some people are just born with certain abilities.

There are a number of genes that can cause certain conditions that can diminish learning, but not a single one that is responsible for making people smarter or better at a particular subject, according to the research.
“They have not found a math gene, they have not found a natural ear for languages, they haven’t found anything like that,” Maats said.

However, there is plenty of evidence to show that people, through practice and hard work, can learn to become proficient at something, O’Brien said.
“It turns out that there’s been decades worth of science out there that says ‘if you’ve learned one thing, you can learn anything,’” she said.

So if someone can play video games, ride a bike or read a book, they have all of the ability necessary to master astrophysics or learn Chinese, O’Brien said.
Maats discussed some historical figures and the perception that they had achieved success in their field because they were born geniuses. But instead of achieving instant success, it took many years of hard work and practice before they mastered their chosen field, he said.

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