ESP Biography



SUSAN SHEPHERD, MIT junior studying Creative Writing




Major: Writing and Humanistic Studies

College/Employer: MIT

Year of Graduation: 2014

Picture of Susan Shepherd

Brief Biographical Sketch:

Susan Shepherd hails from Fresno, CA.

Susan is one of MIT's few humanities majors, and has worked at various points as an undergraduate biology researcher, as a ghostwriter, and as a freelance editor. After graduation, she plans to marry a particular good friend of hers, write more science fiction and fantasy books, and continue working as a freelance editor. If you regularly read "Daily Science Fiction" magazine, you may have read some of her work.

Susan has taught poetry and Sindarin classes for Splash in 2007. In Spring 2008, she taught an HSSP class on evolution. More recently, she has taught classes on natural disasters, writing techniques, inventions that changed history, and worldbuilding techniques for fiction writers and tabletop gamers.

She hopes that by now she has worked out the kinks, and plans to continue teaching.



Past Classes

  (Look at the class archive for more.)


Fiction Writing I in HSSP Spring 2014 (Mar. 01, 2014)
Interested in writing stories or novels, but unsure how to begin? Or have you been writing fiction for a while, and want feedback on your writing? Then this is the writing class for you. This course will divide its time between practical instruction and writing exercises. Students will learn a great deal about the craft of writing, including plot structures, genre distinctions, scenes & sequels, conflict, worldbuilding techniques, ways to integrate several plot threads into one cohesive story, and ways to develop a strong narrative voice for your focus character. Students will then apply these techniques with in-class writing exercises and out-of-class homework assignments. The intent is for students who are very new to fiction writing to get a general introduction to the craft, while students who have been writing for several years can learn more about techniques they may already be using. They can then use feedback from written assignments to improve their fiction writing in general. Additionally, students who wish to receive detailed feedback on up to two pieces of previously-written work may submit stories or sections of longer stories along with a description of what sort of feedback they wish to receive, and they'll receive feedback at the end of class a week later. Fiction Writing I goes a bit more slowly than Fiction Writing II, and has shorter assignments.


Fiction Writing II in HSSP Spring 2014 (Mar. 01, 2014)
Interested in writing stories or novels, but unsure how to begin? Or have you been writing fiction for a while, and want feedback on your writing? Then this is the writing class for you. This course will divide its time between practical instruction and writing exercises. Students will learn a great deal about the craft of writing, including plot structures, genre distinctions, scenes & sequels, conflict, worldbuilding techniques, ways to integrate several plot threads into one cohesive story, and ways to develop a strong narrative voice for your focus character. Students will then apply these techniques with in-class writing exercises and out-of-class homework assignments. The intent is for students who are very new to fiction writing to get a general introduction to the craft, while students who have been writing for several years can learn more about techniques they may already be using. They can then use feedback from written assignments to improve their fiction writing in general. Additionally, students who wish to receive detailed feedback on up to two pieces of previously-written work may submit stories or sections of longer stories along with a description of what sort of feedback they wish to receive, and they'll receive feedback at the end of class a week later. Fiction Writing II covers slightly more material than Fiction Writing I, and has longer assignments.


A Practical Guide to Creative Writing in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
Learn about ways of approaching fiction writing from a practical perspective. Topics will include where to start and ways to start, genre conventions, the various ways to plot or structure a story/novel, the various approaches to revision (some people don't need it, some people do), and the twin myths that "Writing is Hard" and "There are Only 500 Professional Writers in America." Special emphasis will be placed on ways of getting past a block, ways of making a character's voice distinctive, ways of writing your characters so that their reactions feel human and natural, and ways to set busy scenes so that readers don't lose track of important characters.


Worldbuilding 101 in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
Are you in middle school or early high school? Interested in designing environments and societies for written fiction, films, or computer and tabletop games? If so, this is the class for you. We'll start with examples of worldbuilding in media you may be familiar with, briefly discuss what worked particularly well (or badly) in those examples, and then we'll explore ways to create worlds of your own. Topics will include how your worldbuilding methods will vary depending on the time period, tech level, the presence or absence of magic, and whether you're working within the limits of a fantasy, historical, or sci-fi world. We will also (briefly) discuss what to consider when creating new societies, new species, or entirely new worlds. Special attention will be paid to alternate technology and to invented magic systems. Worldbuilding 101 runs for the same length of time as Worldbuilding 299, but goes at a slower pace and involves somewhat more explanation. It also spends less time on how to create new species or aliens, since some of you might not have spent much time learning about ecology or cognitive science yet.


Worldbuilding 299 in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
Are you interested in designing environments and societies for written fiction, films, or computer and tabletop games? If so, this is the class for you. We'll start with examples of worldbuilding in fiction, briefly discuss what worked particularly well (or badly) in those examples, and then we'll explore ways to create worlds of your own. Broad topics will include how to design solar systems and individual planets, the differences in creating small-scale societies (Harry Potter, for example, deals almost exclusively with a tiny subsection of U.K. society) versus large-scale societies (LotR, Dune, Game of Thrones), and how to deal with culture clash in realistic ways. Additionally, we'll look into how language, customs / belief systems, tech level, and the presence or absence of magic will affect your world. Special attention will be paid to designing aliens, exploring alternate technology and ways of creating restrictions to keep invented magic systems interesting instead of world-breaking. Note: Worldbuilding 299 runs for the same length of time as Worldbuilding 101, but goes at a faster pace and covers slightly more material. It also spends more time on how to create aliens and alien societies.


The Changing World of Publishing in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
Come learn about the publishing industry. This class will cover small press and large press publishing, the variety of publishing houses, and how copyright law works in a nutshell. We'll also go over the publishing process, how ebooks and indie presses are radically changing the books available for readers to buy, and more! If you're considering writing for a living or if you're a reader who wants to know what your favorite authors had to do in order to get their books into print, stop by.


Time Travel for Fun and Profit in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
This class aims to explore the role of time travel, parallel universes and alternate worlds in fiction, as well as possibilities for its existence in the real world. Concepts covered will include paradoxes, stable time loops, various hypotheses regarding multiple universe theory, white holes, and the ways in which time may flow. Examples from fiction may include, among others, Doctor Who, Jumper, All The Myriad Ways, Heroes, The Time Traveler's Wife, Stargate SG-1, Harry Potter, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.


Magic Systems for Dummies in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
A brief introduction to magical theory and composition as it relates to worldbuilding. If you're interested in designing a magic system, balancing (or unbalancing) it, and having it interact with other types of magic, technology, and / or the society around it, this class is for you.


Poetry Through the Ages in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
This class will present students with a brief history of songs and poems from the middle ages to the modern day (roughly divided into time periods), then give students the chance to listen to selections from each age. The class time will be roughly one-fifth history, one-fifth poem summaries and students voting on the poem(s) they want to hear, and three-fifths poetry reading.


Myths about the College Admissions Process in Splash! 2009 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2009)
Worried about getting into the perfect school for you? You're not alone. Now's the time of year when the seniors start their college apps and the juniors, sophomores and freshmen ask themselves what they're going to do after graduation. But there are many myths and misconceptions regarding how colleges choose their students, how SAT scores and grades affect your future, and what it means when the colleges ask for extracurriculars. This class aims to demystify the college application process. It will cover, in brief, how to choose a college, what the SAT / ACT scores mean and how they are used, what colleges are looking for in a student, why volunteering and extracurriculars are important, and a little about how to sell yourself to the college of your dreams.


Inventions that Made History in HSSP Summer 2009 (Jul. 12, 2009)
In this age of rapidly advancing computer technology and microgadgets, it can be difficult to put the technology and societies of yesteryear into context. Just how developed was Roman society compared to ancient Egyptian or Mayan society? What fundamental discoveries and inventions changed the course of history - and which of today's discoveries will shape the societies of tomorrow? To answer these questions, we'll take a look at the developments that changed the world - from the horse collar and metal tools to the steamboat and positron emission tomography - and make some educated guesses about the world we'll be living in twenty years from now.


Storybuilding in HSSP Spring 2009 (Mar. 14, 2009)
Interested in writing science fiction, fantasy, alternate history or speculative fiction? This may be the class for you. Students will pick a genre to work in, build a plausible world (including its societies, technology, magic systems if any, ecology, language, geography, aliens and culture), and create characters to suit. Students will spend approximately five weeks on worldbuilding before diving in and writing either a short story or an outline of a longer work such as a novella. This course will be ten weeks long.


Time Travel for Fun and Profit in Spark! Spring 2009 (Mar. 07, 2009)
This class aims to explore the role of time travel, parallel universes and alternate worlds in fiction, as well as possibilities for its existence in the real world. Concepts covered will include paradoxes, stable time loops, various hypotheses regarding multiple universe theory, white holes, and the ways in which time may flow. Examples from fiction will include Doctor Who, Jumper, All The Myriad Ways, Heroes, and The Time Traveler's Wife.


Poetry for Young People in Spark! Spring 2009 (Mar. 07, 2009)
Limericks, sonnets, classical Swinburne and the craziness of e.e. cummings all come together in this course, where students will have a chance to share their favorite poems and poets, get recommendations for poems and poets they might enjoy looking up, and hear poems read aloud.


Pirates Versus Ninjas in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
You've seen them in movies. Now, learn the true stories behind the pirate ships and ninja clans you've watched on the big screen. This short class aims to teach students about the history and background of pirates and ninjas, including what they're up to in the modern age, wiith some discussion of how they're portrayed in the media.


Build a World in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
Do you have a plot that needs a setting? Are you hoping to write a fantasy, science fiction, or speculative fiction story or book, but you aren't sure how to make your world believeable? Fear not! This class will provide tips and advice on doing research, creating a culture, making up a history, creating a consistent magic system, avoiding cliches and integrating your characters into the society around them.


Creating Believeable Aliens in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
So you have a great story in mind - a flash video, a role playing game, a story, a book, a film, a play - and it requires aliens of some kind. But you don't want to just say that they're "elves" or "werewolves" or "grays" or "little green men from Mars." You want REAL aliens - ones that won't make your audience roll their eyes. This class will show you how to create an alien species and a society for it to live in. Topics of this class will include: Different ways to think about the term "alien." Making aliens different. The importance of avoiding cliches and stereotypes. Contrariwise, how you can play around with those same cliches and stereotypes in order to create an interesting world. Alien biology. Alien societies. Excuses you can use for "first contact" stories; explanations for why they haven't gotten here sooner.


Disasters - What's the Risk? in HSSP Summer 2008 (Jun. 29, 2008)
You've probably heard about tornados, earthquakes and droughts in the news if nowhere else. This course will cover those and other natural disasters, both likely and wildly unlikely, ranging from the eruption of the supervolcano in Wyoming to a comet impact to a global flu pandemic. Other topics include strangelets, water shortage, global climate change (both warming and cooling), and tsunamis / flooding. The main point of this class is to inform students while pointing out that while these topics are certainly worrisome, the risk of one of these happening in to an individual in a given year is actually quite small. Classes will be taught using a mix of lecture and discussion - the teacher will give background information and history, then answer student questions.


Drawing 101 in HSSP Summer 2008 (Jun. 29, 2008)
Drawing 101 is an introductory class for those who enjoy drawing and would like an excuse to develop their skills further. We will start with fairly basic exercises using pen and pencil and eventually work on a stippling or portrait assignment. There are no grades and no way, really, to ensure that students finish assignments - an "assignment" being, for example, an exercise in shading boxes to show both a light source and a vanishing point. Nonetheless, students will probably get more out of this class if they practice at home. Note: One class will focus on drawing comic strip characters. This is just for fun, as Calvin and Hobbes, the Far Side and other comics have a wide following here at MIT. Students should bring their own pencils. Paper and other supplies will be provided by the teacher.


Good Poetry in Spark! Spring 2008 (Mar. 08, 2008)
This class aims to give high school and middle school students a chance to hear good poetry and speeches read aloud. Students will be given a list (a long, long list) of poems that have stood the test of time, poems that have memorable themes, several fairly well-known speeches, and a few humorous poems including "Ode to Spot" by Commander Data from Star Trek. They will then vote on which poems to hear. We will try to get through as many poems and speeches as possible in the time allotted. There will also be class discussion of what makes poetry "good", qualities students look for when they choose a poem or poetry collection to read, and favorite poets.


A History of Life on Earth in Spark! Spring 2008 (Mar. 08, 2008)
From the Creation of the Known Universe to Ancient Rome, this course follows the evolution of life from the beginning to the present. In this class we will look at different kinds of animals, how they developed, and what makes them interesting. The class breakdown will be as follows: First Class: The Start of Everything through the Cambrian Explosion. Second Class: The Paleozoic Era. Third Class: The Mesozoic Era I. Fourth Class: The Mesozoic Era II. Fifth Class: The Cenozoic Era I. Sixth Class: The Cenozoic Era II. Seventh Class: Recent Developments. Eighth Class: The Dawn of Man. Ninth Class: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Civilization. Tenth Class: The Modern Day. Where appropriate, side issues will be explored, including unusual or "weird" animals (platypus, echidna), fossil dating techniques (or "how do we know all this, anyway?") and the impact of natural disasters such as asteroid / comet strikes and vulcanism. Student questions are welcome; if students want to focus on particular aspects of life, time will be set aside at the beginning of the next lecture to cover that material.


A History of Life on Earth in HSSP Spring 2008 (Mar. 15, 2008)
From the Creation of the Known Universe to Ancient Rome, this course follows the evolution of life from the beginning to the present. In this class we will look at different kinds of animals, how they developed, and what makes them interesting. The class breakdown will be as follows: First Class: The Start of Everything through the Cambrian Explosion. Second Class: The Paleozoic Era. Third Class: The Mesozoic Era I. Fourth Class: The Mesozoic Era II. Fifth Class: The Cenozoic Era I. Sixth Class: The Cenozoic Era II. Seventh Class: Recent Developments. Eighth Class: The Dawn of Man. Ninth Class: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Civilization. Tenth Class: The Modern Day. Where appropriate, side issues will be explored, including unusual or "weird" animals (platypus, echidna), fossil dating techniques (or "how do we know all this, anyway?") and the impact of natural disasters such as asteroid / comet strikes and vulcanism. Student questions are welcome; if students want to focus on particular aspects of life, time will be set aside at the beginning of the next lecture to cover that material.


Poetry for Young People in SPARK (2009)
Limericks, sonnets, classical Swinburne and the craziness of e.e. cummings all come together in this course, where students will have ...


An Introduction to Filk Music in JUNCTION (2009)
The music of science fiction and fantasy fandom - better known as "filk" - encompasses a wide variety of subjects ...


Disasters - What's the Risk? in JUNCTION (2009)
Whether it's an earthquake, a tornado, global warming, volcanic eruptions or an asteroid impact, disasters are frequently depicted in entertainment ...


Fantastic and Science Fictional Worldbuilding in JUNCTION (2009)
Aliens, vampires, magic and advanced technology can be found peppered throughout books, television shows, and movies. How can writers, film ...


Problems in our Time - an Ethics Discussion in JUNCTION (2009)
Controversial issues are difficult to solve unless both, or all, sides of an issue are laid out. The purpose of ...


Space Colonization in JUNCTION (2009)
Settling the globe was tough enough - but the next big step in human expansion is likely to be the ...


Writing Stories in JUNCTION (2009)
Fiction writing can be broken down into specific subjects that authors need to tackle. This is true whether it takes ...


Introduction to Poetry in SPLASH (2007)
Are you interested in poetry, but never had a chance to read good poems in school? Bored with poetry but ...


Learn Tolkien's Elvish in SPLASH (2007)
Due to interest in the subject, we will be running a second class! If you liked the books, the movie, ...


Learn Tolkien's Elvish in SPLASH (2007)
If you liked the books, the movie, or the assorted paintings that have been done based on J.R.R. Tolkien's world ...


Poems for Fun in SPLASH (2007)
Haikus can be fun But sometimes they don't make sense Refrigerator - Author Unknown Looking for poems to bring a ...