Ten Things I Learned From Will Straw

On Monday June 15th we had a wonderful retirement symposium for Will Straw. In addition to co-organizing, I was charged with giving an overview of his career. I concluded with a list of 10 things I learned from Will (lest you think this is original, Sheryl Hamilton had a similar idea). There will be a longer publication in the future, which may or may not include these 10 points, so here they are.

  1. Always be reading. Will reads with a passion—and speed—that few others can match. But especially for mid-career academics, when so many other things are vying for our attention, Will’s commitment to books is something to be emulated. We are only good at our jobs if we are immersed in others’ ideas as well as our own. 
  2. Take advantage of where you are.  Wherever you are, there are going to be multiple scenes. They will all have something to offer you, if you let them.
  3. Follow your interests wherever they may lead you, especially if they lead you to the flea market over on St. Michel, or its metaphorical equivalent.
  4. Step up when it’s your time to do so. Academic communities are fragile things, and we all need to contribute to keep them thriving.
  5. Especially while you’re in the process of stepping up, ask what your time is worth. I think he originally said this to me as we were hopping into a taxi instead of taking public transit somewhere, and perhaps it sounds a little bourgeois.  But for those of us with the resources to make these kinds of choices, sometimes it’s worth spending a little more to do a little more.
  6. Meet and learn from the next generation of scholars, not just the last.
  7. Use travel to continue your education.
  8. Beware of empty ambition. For instance, if you are worried about the work you’ll have to do if you actually get the grant, you probably shouldn’t apply for the grant.
  9. Don’t let the bustle of academic life take you away from everyday small pleasures or your bigger passions. Find a way to keep it all in proportion.
  10. For those of us with these nice professor jobs: be aware of your privilege and exercise gratitude. Never be bitter or resentful. Be principled, but never give in to the urge to grandstand.
  11. Linen.