The Joy of Curiosity
Learning how to enjoy finding things out
Curiosity is just a natural delight about finding out what happens next.
People are curious about all kinds of different things, like awful celebrities, thoughtful movies and cash-money computer games. You can even be curious about subjects you study at school.
You can learn to be interested in anything, even things you aren’t attracted to at first.
The more you know about something, the easier it is to become curious about it and the more you will enjoy learning about it.
The activities here are a way to develop your fascination and your sense of wonder about the person you are and the cosmos you live in.
The Power of High Expectations
Learning how to effectively motivate yourself
Creating vaccines, walking on the moon and other extraordinary achievements started out first as a dream.
What makes successful people like Angela Merkle and Bill Gates different is that they use their dreams to create plans. These plans break down big things that seem impossible into smaller steps that are easier to achieve.
To do amazing things in your life you need to dream big and to use your dreams to create plans. Knowing more about the world will help you to grow your expectations.
The more you know, the more you can expect from yourself, the stronger your motivation will be to succeed in any subject.
The activities that I’ve chosen are intended to help you get this bigger picture so you can aim even higher, not only in your studies but especially in your life.
Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Louvre Museum.
From left to right: Portrait of Plato. Marble, Roman copy from the 2nd century CE after a Greek original of the late 4th century BC by Silanion. Portrait of Aristoteles. Pentelic marble, copy of the Imperial Period (1st or 2nd century) of a lost bronze sculpture made by Lysippos. Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1st century), perhaps a copy of a lost bronze statue made by Lysippos. Department of Greek, Roman and Etruscan Antiquities, Sully, ground floor, room 17 Della Porta Collection then Borghese Collection; purchased in 1807.
None of the great thinkers of antiquity went to university. They didn't even attend high school.
Doing well at school can mean that you are bright, but doing less well in school only means you are not doing the right things to progress properly. If you change what you are doing, not just in class but outside of class, you might be surprised and delighted by how it expands your mind.
This page has lots of different things that can help you become more interested in ideas and learning, no matter where you start or your age.
A simple plan to enjoy learning more would be to try just one thing from this page, once a week.
Everyone can become better at anything they set their minds to, learning more about any ideas makes it easier to try new things and to learn how to overcome challenges. These are skills that can help you also grow as a person, becoming more confident as a learner and having a more positive and productive relationship with yourself.
Actions you can take to learn better about the world and yourself
(These are also, by the way, the kinds of experiences that the best Universities look for when selecting their students)
There are a variety of ways to learn important things which will allow you a richer and fuller life, but it is not easy to find out what is important. A great deal of energy and thought has gone into exploring what is and what is not important, and good, and worthwhile. This page is intended to give you some direction as to how to go about creating an analytical and mindful version of yourself.
For younger students (aged 15 and below):
Any book, just make sure that you enjoy it, and that it isn't too hard or boring. You have all of your adult life to read hard and boring books, but when you are young a love of reading is an invaluable passion. Also, read newspapers and magazines like the New Scientist
For the most popular teen science fiction, this link will give you over 400 choices,
For the top 100 from this list in easy to print form click here
(Click here for uploaded videos)
Accessible TV documentaries like: Strip the Cosmos, The Secret Life of Plants, Life in the Undergrowth, Modern Marvels, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Bill Nye Science Guy,
For the expert opinion: Nova (amazingly accurate videos and explanations)
Ted Talks, BBC Radio 4
Musical instruments, sports and a sensible amount of computer games.
NASA (breathtaking pictures), TIFO (excellent factoids), Museums: London, Paris, New York, St Petersburg, National Gallery (awesome virtual tours), British Museum Blog (amazing details!), Lima (my favourite museum), Beijing (my favourite gallery).
Smarter Every Day, VSauce, Kurzgesagt (amazing!), Mark Rober, SciShow
Museums, Art Galleries and Historic Areas in cities. A great way to learn deeply about a place, a people or the best art we have ever been able to produce.
This guy's got a fascinating interest in science. If you can't find at least one thing here that's amazing you need to re-calibrate your idea of amazing. https://twitter.com/coreyspowell
It's a thing. Best cities in the US to survive a zombie apocalypse
Ideas for Hobbies
Check out the videos below for ideas on amazing hobbies. Remember, a great hobby is something interesting that you can be really proud of afterwards
For older students
All of these simulations of science (and other subjects) are free to use, but maybe more useful to older students in high school:
PhET For all 3 sciences
Wolfram (needs this free player to access), but has 10k simulations for all subjects
RasMol Molecular modelling program
For a list of almost 500 projects, you can go here.
FoldIt helping molecular biologists understand how proteins fold using this interesting game
Care about microplastics? Then this is the project for you!
Condor Watch - Helping scientists identify an endangered species
Encyclopedia of Life
Become a Wikipedia Contributor, if you learning English as a Second Language, local places and customs will not be represented or have much information about them yet in the English version, you could easily be a top contributor!
Learn - For a list click here
Coursera offers university-level courses online, available to everyone, which usually cost less than US$100 and run for a few weeks. Some of the world's best universities are involved in this.
Khan Academy "Learn anything, for anyone, for free" lots of online tutorials, great for learning the ideas, less focused on specific syllabi
Brilliant - Teaches a variety of science, math and logic ideas, has a free component that is very interesting and definitely worth investigating, I haven't tried the premium version, but potentially it could be life-changing. More likely, however, it will be like buying a gym membership, works very well for some, not most.
What books should you read?
A couple of books
Amazon editors top 100 books to read before you die, click here
For some really tough books that you should have read at least one from this list before you go to university, but not much more than that, click here
There is an ocean of varieties of literature; the best book for you will be the one that influences your thinking and inspires you the most. This means that the best books to read change as you grow and develop. I have highlighted a list of books that you could read that cuts across a variety of genres, cultures and periods in history and organised it into a Periodic Table of Literature (click here). Reading any books (or even just about them) from this selection would be a smashing idea!
Summer Schools and Summer Internships
A lot of my students have asked about attending programs run AT very prestigious universities, but often when I look into them, they are simply renting the buildings that are empty because the undergrads are on holiday. What makes them remarkable though, is their cost, they are often, per annum as expensive as the tuition of attending e.g. Harvard would be. But you do not get a recognisable qualification. There is even an argument to suggest going on these heavily promoted and extremely profitable trips designed to appeal to teenagers, that while you may see the buildings, you will know nothing of the real experience, the competition, the intensity of the deadlines and the toughness of the lifestyle.
I'm working on finding out about useful versions of these things, but for what I understand, the best placements would be work experience, ideally in a university or industry setting, and not so that you can find out what you want to do, but to learn about all of the different jobs you definitely don't want to do. Also, a broader range of experiences makes your choice of subject and institution for your undergraduate degree seem more considered and deliberate, which will be to your applications advantage.
If you have to go on one of these, then the more difficult they are to get into the better they probably are for your medium and long term opportunities.
Just heard about this one though which does look like it might be interesting:
They do seem to have some really useful information about gifted and talented programs, click here
To find out more about the application process and options, click here
Not everyone agrees with this kind of thing though, for a totally opposite view that I include just because its from a fancy newspaper (called “Stealing Childhood”), click here
Newspapers and magazines
The world's best newspaper (and one of the oldest) is The Economist. If you want to know about what is happening and why in the world this is probably the best way to do so. If you are interested in applying for Oxbridge or an Ivy League university, this should be something you read from every week. Their Style Guide on how to right well is proper awesome and extra usable. There are genuinely smashing ideas about effectively communicating complex ideas to a reasonable audience taken in part from influential writers like George Orwell.
New Scientist and Scientific American are excellent and easily accessible magazines on science in popular culture.
Watching documentaries while you do something else is one of the easiest ways to accidentally learn, particularly useful whilst playing computer games, or doing less intellectually demanding tasks (one is in the background as I type this, for instance).
Legendary TV series:
Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark (1969) - Excellent if you are interested in classical visual arts
The Ascent of Man: A Personal View by Jacob Bronowski (1973) - Jolly good show.
The Day the Universe Changed: A Personal View by James Burke (1984) - Excellent if you are interested in the history of science
Useful lists of the best MOVIE documentaries:
The British Film Institute gives an expert's consensus view
Anything by Werner Herzog
 Documentaries to see before you die (compiled by Morgan Spurlock, an awful man who makes terrible documentaries, but a useful list of what is accessible, popular and recent)
Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 list
Learning about current research
Science is not only about discovery, it is also about explaining to others what you have found out. This is done through an intricate and sophisticated system that is supposed to check and quality control new findings that create our current understanding of the universe. This is known as peer-reviewed publishing. Most of this work is extremely technical and only understandable by experts. But some of it is groundbreaking. There is a way to rank these publications based on their impact on the news. If you are preparing for a university interview (especially an Oxbridge interview), looking through the top 100 articles in whichever subject you are intending to study, by following the link below, would be excellent preparation:
Internet and mobile apps
Reddit, Flipboard and BBC news are also good online sources for the news (and they make free apps as well), but there is very little depth, they basically will tell you that something has happened, rather than why, or what it could lead to, so better for younger students.
Wikipedia's Featured Article updates every day and gives you an outstanding insight into an amazing variety of topics.
WikiQuote - Absolutely awesome if you are interested in using a quote for an essay, make sure you check this first. Also useful if you are interested in a book or a historical figure, by just looking at the most famous quotes you can get a very quick and brief insight into what they said.
Today I Found Out - Quite good to kill time learning factoids
For advice about academic English, the Economist's Style guide is unique for its clarity and quality, a version of which can be found by clicking here.