Our dream semester: We'd love to be in school with these 5 professors
Class is now in session as we compile our fantasy faculty lineup.
College classes are about to begin and, if past is prologue, many of the lectures will be sleep-inducing. It's not just the subjects being taught, but the professors who teach them that can make or break your enjoyment of the class. It's just a fact of campus life: Some professors are rock stars.
Which got us thinking: What if we could create the perfect college semester, stocked with the ultimate, dream team of professors? Herewith, our fab five faculty members and the reasons behind our adoration.
The behavioral economist Dan Ariely pens a weekly advice column, has written multiple bestselling books, has created iPhone apps and sold ideas to Google and – at last count – has 96,500 Twitter followers. The Israeli-American has a laid-back personality and out-of-the-box approach to learning that makes him one of the most popular professors at Duke University, where students get to take part in his often-quirky studies. (His interests include everything from dating to pizza delivery.) He's constantly traveling – whether it's to give a TED Talk or be a guest at Buckingham Palace – but he always makes sure to be back in time for class the next day.
How we interact with each other through technology, whether through social media or other forms, is poised to be one of the most important topics of our generation. Which is why we'd like to enlist MIT's Sherry Turkle to be part of our dream semester. The New York native studies how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection. She wrote "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other," the definitive book on the subject, and is regarded by fellow scientists as the go-to source on the psychology of communicating online. But it's not just her academic colleagues who seek her out. Comedian and actor Aziz Ansari asked for her input while writing his book "Modern Romance," currently a national bestseller.
As Turkle points out, we spend a large chunk of our time online, especially on social networks. And as anyone on Twitter and Facebook can tell you, it's chock-full of people sharing articles. But did you ever wonder why some stories go viral and others do not? Is there scientific research behind what gets talked about most at the water cooler? Jonah Berger, a Wharton marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "Contagious: Why Things Catch On," has figured out what's inside that elusive secret sauce. The knowledge you'll learn from Berger about what makes things popular online will inevitably be a helpful skill set to have no matter what line of work you eventually go into.
Tali Sharot, who has collaborated on research with Ariely, looks like she stepped out of a James Bond movie. She's a neuroscientist with an international flair – she was raised in Israel and is on the faculty of the University College London. But what gets us is that her main line of study is optimism. Sharot, who is teaching at MIT this semester, discovered that most people – no matter their age or ethnicity – overestimate the positive and underestimate the likelihood of negative events happening to them. Her book on the topic, "The Optimism Bias," was featured on the cover of Time magazine. And besides, it makes us smile just to think about taking a college course about seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty.
Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, has become a world-renowned expert on how “power posing” – standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident – can be beneficial to our success in life. As the New York Times wrote, she "promises personal transformation with nary a pill, cleanse or therapy bill." That sounds like an ideal class to take to offer us some "me time" in between heavier classes in science, history and math. Oh, and did we mention she's a classically trained ballet dancer and former Deadhead who once worked as a roller-skating waitress?
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