If you can’t remember what you’re trying to learn, you’re
not really learning.
The secret to remembering is this: memory comes
naturally once you understand what you’re trying to
learn and organize it effectively in your mind.
A valuable resource for getting the “filing cabinets”
of your mind in good working order is Brian
Walsh’s Unleashing Your Brilliance: Tools &
Techniques to Achieve Personal, Professional &
Academic Success .
If you want to amaze your friends with remembering faces,
names, and numbers, look to the grand-daddy of memory
training, Harry Lorayne. His How to Develop a Super-
Power Memory is a classic. The problem with Harry Lorayne
type memory courses (popularized more recently by Kevin
Trudeau), is that they focus on mental tricks and gimmicks to
memorize trivial stuff that really doesn’t make for a deep
understanding of important subjects.
In ancient times, without the help of teleprompters or
PowerPoint presentations, speakers did need to memorize a
lot of material verbatim and used various memory tricks to
do so. But this has become less important in our day. Still, it’s
worth knowing about these tricks to memory. For a
thoughtful book on memory and forgetting by an academic
psychologist, see Kenneth Higbee’s Your Memory: How It
Works and How to Improve It.
Good scholars need to be good readers. But who is a good
reader? Often when we think of “good readers,” we think of
speed—good readers, so we’re told, can fly through
material. But that’s not necessarily the case. Woodrow
Wilson, president of Princeton University and noted
historian before becoming U.S. President of America was
dyslexic, so it took him forever to read through material.
There’s an old Saturday Night Live routine (season 3,
episode 5, November 12, 1977) that parodies speed
reading courses. Back in the 1970s, Evelyn Wood’s
speed reading course was all the rage (it’s still being
taught; and books on speed reading with “Evelyn
Wood” in the title remain widely available). Here’s the
Writing is an essential part of scholarship. Some great
scholars have been terrible writers—the strength of their
ideas carried them to the top even though their writing
style was abysmal. But these are the exceptions. Clarity
and precision of expression can only help you as a
Every writer needs to have read Strunk and
White’s The Elements of Style. To this Super Scholar
would add two very practical books on writing: William
Zinsser’s On Writing Well and William Stott’s Write to
the Point. Finally, every writer, professional or not,
would profit enormously from having a copy of The
Chicago Manual of Style. The latter is an
incomparable reference work on all aspects of going from
thought to word to printed page.
Writing isn’t just about filling up a pages with text. It’s
also about persuasion. Scholars are not just in the
business of thinking up great ideas. They also have to sell
them. Indeed, you are selling yourself and your ideas
when you apply to college, graduate school, your first
teaching position, and especially when you’re trying to
Among the worst fears that people have is public
speaking. Yet as a scholar, you will be called on to
discuss your ideas. Public speaking is therefore part of
the scholarly life. Here are some books we at Super
Scholar have found valuable in this regard. Dale
Carnegie’s How to Develop Self-Confidence And
Influence People By Public Speaking is a classic.
The most effective means we know of dealing with
speaking phobia is Emotional Freedom Technique
Scholars need facility with numbers. Some scholars
such as mathematicians, physicists, and engineers tend
to score high on the math portions of standardized tests
and have fewer problems dealing with numbers. Other
scholars, often on the humanities side, prefer to have as
little to do with numbers as possible.
But numbers are a part of life, so we better learn to
live with them. Numbers are often abused. Joseph
Stalin once remarked that paper doesn’t care
what’s written on it. Likewise, numbers don’t care
what you do with them. Consequently, they are
It’s also useful to hone your arithmetic skills. Often
when confronted with the supposed outcome of a
calculation, it’s good to do what engineers call a “sanity
Empathy is about connecting with people. It is
about understanding and tracking other
people’s emotions. Aristotle stressed the desire
of people to know.
But people are not just about knowing. They are also
about feeling. We are not just cognitive animals but also
social animals, and feelings drive most of our social
That’s why many scholars are regarded as
nerds or geeks—they are seen as reducing
everything to knowledge, to pure
intellectualism, forgetting about the feeling
element in people.
The classic study on empathy was by the
towering British economist Adam Smith.
Before his great work on economics, The
Wealth of Nations, he wrote The Theory
of Moral Sentiments. Both books bear
careful study to this day.
Smith’s ideas about empathy and moral
sentiments have been updated. Today
these tend to be identified with “people
skills” or “emotional intelligence.”
Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence:
Why It Can Matter More than IQ has
become a modern classic in this regard.
Some scholars think they can bank entirely
on mental horsepower, running circles
intellectually around their peers.
But scholarship is itself a social enterprise.
Princeton University mathematicians, for
instance, hold an afternoon tea where faculty
and graduate students meet informally.
Some of the best work in mathematics at
Princeton (and Princeton has for decades now
had the strongest mathematics faculty in the
world) gets done at these social gatherings.
People’s emotional lives tend not to follow strict
logical principles. People are not just rational utility
optimizers. Instead, they are full of twists and
Human interactions also have a dark side, as when
the culture of rational discourse breaks down, so
that instead of resolving our differences with
civility and reason, we engage in power plays.
The word “scholar” comes from the Greek word
for leisure. Being a scholar means having the
leisure time to engage in intellectual pursuits
rather than in other forms of labour.
It follows that, as a scholar, time is your most
valuable asset. How you make use of your
time is therefore critical to your productivity
as a scholar. We tend to waste an inordinate
amount of time. The television is on in most
homes 6 hours a day. We look for
unproductive ways to fill the day.