The Art and Science of What “Works” In Life

Fall 2024

M/W 1:25PM-2:40PM

50-minute Discussions (times vary)


logo of UNIV 104 course. Three circular rings surrounding the words What Works in Life UNIV104. Three overlapping arches behind words.


Life is full of choices & mysteries. What’s the best way to manage my stress? Does that person I think I love really love me for real? How can I make sure I’ll have the impact I want in life? How do I navigate all that I have to manage? When do we finally figure it all out?

There are potential sources of wisdom everywhere to help us navigate how to figure out what “works” in our personal, social, and professional lives. In this course we’ll critically evaluate works of art (e.g., music, film, literature) and perspectives from artists as well as evidence from the social sciences on how to navigate life. The course has two 75-minute active class meetings and a 50-minute discussion section per week. No exams. Grades are based on in-class activities, weekly reflections based on trying new things in our lives, a small groups project (with lots of supportive deadlines and guidance), and a short video you’ll make at the end of the semester. 

The course is organized into three sections: figuring yourself out, social relationships, and impact in the world. For each class meeting we’ll focus on a topic, like “When to quit and when to grit?” or “How to love,” and evaluate a work of art (maybe a short film or a song) that offers a perspective on that topic as well as evaluating what social science research has to say about the topic. Each week we’ll try to apply something we learned in class in our own lives. We’ll collect data on how each new thing we try for ourselves worked or didn’t and collectively evaluate whether the things we are learning are working for our whole class.


  • Become skilled in critically evaluating artistic works yourself and discussing art with others  
  • Become skilled in critically evaluating scientific research results and claims and applying them to your own life  
  • Develop initial data science skills for evaluating qualitative and quantitative data  
  • Learn to effectively communicate and collaborate across difference   
  • Gain new insight into how others navigate this world we live in together  
  • Develop new personal and professional skills for navigating and maximizing your Duke experience and life in general  

Faculty Co-Conveners

Photographs of the two Duke professors teaching the course


A version of this course was previously offered in Fall 2023 as PSY 232. The course has been updated and expanded but the overall structure, goals, and many of the individual class topics remain approximately the same. The course will continue to count as a psychology (PSY) elective though it has been expanded to a UNIV course listing.