The Power of Syllabi

11 Mar

Taking a semester off (or just time out of school in general) can be daunting for many reasons, particularly the lack of structure. Schools and teachers lay it all out to us from the beginning, the goals, the expectations, what we must do by when, and what resources to use. It’s easy to take this sense of structure for granted until you find yourself without it. In reflecting on this, I’ve realized that for many people, going onto more schooling (like graduate school and postgraduate school) seems to be the best thing to do once graduating, because the “real world” has so many options without a real manual that it’s overwhelming.

So, the first thing I did, about a week after deciding to not return for the spring semester of my school, was to create my own syllabus for the semester. Although it has been tweaked and modified in various ways, the basic gist of it has been incredibly helpful in focusing myself amidst the many options of things to do. I think everyone should make a syllabus for life (also known as a “bucket list”), since I’ve realized it has also grounded me in my sense of purpose. If you’re interested in seeing my initial syllabus, I’ve pasted it below! Of course I haven’t followed everything to a T, but what matters most is that I do something meaningful and productive.

Also, at the moment I am reading The Art of Nonconformity by Chris Guillebeau (check out his own blog, he’s one of my role models), and in one section he writes up his own syllabus-like guide for an alternative to graduate school. Read it here.


Weezie’s Syllabus for Spring 2011

“Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” –Albert Einstein


  1. Create a Blog on my alternative, self-designed semester.
  2. Watch 1 TED talk daily.
  3. Read 1 book from the library every week.
  4. Read every day. Blog about certain articles.
  5. Subscribe to Fast Company magazine, read articles
  6. Watch the news every other night
  7. Meditate 3 times per week
  8. Create art once a week
  9. Go on a hike with Zhuzha (my dog) once a week
  10. Take the local community college Astronomy course to meet my science requirement
  11. Watch 1 documentary per week
  12. Watch one fictional film per week
  13. Listen to NPR for an hour each day
  14. Read blogs of people I admire daily
  15. Listen to 2 iTunes U lectures each week

Books to read (Amazon book suggestions was useful for making this list!):

  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Pirsig)
  • The White Tiger (Adiga)
  • DIY U (Kamenetz)
  • Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Gladwell)
  • The Tipping Point (Gladwell)
  • Outliers (Gladwell)
  • Working World: Careers in International Education, Exchange, and Development (Mueller)
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Larsson)
  • The Mesh (Lisa Gansky)
  • Whats Mine is Yours (Botsman and Rogers)
  • A New Culture of Learning (Thomas and Brown)
  • The ABC of XYZ (McCrindle)
  • Cognitive Surplus (Shirky)
  • Change By Design (Brown)
  • The Design of Business (Martin)
  • Small is Beautiful (Schumacher)
  • Citizen You (Tisch)
  • The Ten Faces of Innovation (Kelley)
  • The Art of Innovation (Kelley)
  • The Omnivores Dilemma (Pollan)
  • Half the Sky (Wudunn and Kristoff)
  • Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (Christakis)
  • 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in our Times (Fadel)
  • College without High School (Boles)
  • The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900
  • Rework (Fried and Hansson)
  • 360 Degrees Longitude (Higham)
  • Presence (Scharmer and others)
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Pollan)
  • Linchpin (Godin)
  • What Technology Wants (Kelly)
  • Others suggested to me by Facebook friends (see pic!)

TED Talks (taken from this GOOD Magazine article)

  • Mark Roth, biochemist and cell biologist, on suspended animation
  • Sam Harris, neuroscientist and philosopher, on fact-based morality
  • Dan Barber, chef, on food
  • Christopher Poole, founder of 4Chan, on anonymity and censorship
  • Jane McGonigal, game designer, on how reality ought to be more like video games
  • Seth Berkeley, vaccine researcher, on HIV vaccination
  • Nathan Myhrvold, polymath, on shooting mosquitoes out of the sky with lasers
  • William Li, cancer researcher, on how what we eat can save us from cancer
  • Nicholas Christakis, physician and sociologist, on how social networks affect our health and happiness
  • Cheryl Hayashi, spider silk scientist, on the tremendous strength of spider silk
  • Others I find on my own

Films and Documentaries


4 Responses to “The Power of Syllabi”

  1. sophie March 12, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    weezie, this post is awesome! i wish i had done something similar for my past 3 three months- but i’m so glad to have a list of books and documentaries to refer to now when i’m looking! you should post which books you’ve read so far, and what documentaries you’ve seen and your opinions- brief though they may be 😀
    love reading your updates- lots of love, may your path be illuminated.

    • Weezie March 13, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

      I’m glad to share the resources I’ve spent so much time gathering! Good idea about posting about the books I have read, maybe (if I have time!) I will do an update on which books I have read and would suggest. And I’m serious about guest blogging, if you would like to contribute (or a if anyone else wants to contribute), please let me know! I want this to be a collaborative community space to dialogue about these topics 🙂
      We need to skype soon Sophie!

  2. anutosh August 19, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    Great vision, great website.
    You are the leader of your own life.


  3. Kathleen Murray November 8, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    Great post – love it as much as the paper stuff (that’s not bills!).

    You have inspired me to write my own syllabus, and check out half your links!

    How’s the syllabus going Lady? And WHERE are yee now?


    (London based University in Transition lassie)

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