From ANU to Harvard: Reuben Owusu

Late last year, Reuben Owusu graduated with a University Medal. He is now set to embark on a new adventure – soon to walk down the hallowed halls of Harvard.

Come the end of year 12, Reuben was a high achieving student but didn’t have a career path mapped out.

“When you finish high school, if you've done pretty well and enjoyed your humanities subjects, law is a respectable thing to study.”

So law it was. But with an interest in philosophy percolating, thanks to some exposure to it at the end of high school, Reuben coupled law with Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

In his first semester at ANU Reuben enjoyed his philosophy class the most. But there weren’t many philosophy courses he could fit into his degree, and at the time he didn’t think about changing things up.

“The theoretical questions raised in my classes were always most interesting to me, but it took me a number of years to realise that maybe a career in philosophy was an option. So in the end I decided to do an honours year to see whether I could pursue philosophy further.”

His thesis focused on the moral permissibility of theft in societies with significant material inequality.

Reuben credits his honours supervisor, Christian Barry, as an invaluable source of guidance and support.

“I couldn't have asked for a better supervisor. Christian was extraordinarily generous with his time, and I learned a lot from him. He was also very encouraging—I left each of our meetings excited to continue on with my project.”

Professor Barry also supported Reuben’s application to a summer workshop in Pittsburgh, which took place at the midway point of his honours year.

There, Reuben met Harvard philosopher Tommie Shelby.

“Tommie is someone I really look up to,” Reuben says. “I greatly admire his work and I was so excited about meeting him. I’m thrilled that I’ll now have the opportunity to work with him at Harvard.”

With offers from other Ivy league institutions, Shelby’s presence at Harvard was a significant draw for Reuben. But he also cites a “gut feeling” that this is the next right step.

Head of the ANU School of Philosophy,Professor Southwood comments, “Reuben is one of the most talented undergraduate students I have ever encountered. We are all simply thrilled to see Reuben’s talent recognised in this way. His success could not be more richly deserved. I have not the least shadow of a doubt that he will flourish and prosper at Harvard. Reuben is a future star of the profession. As an Australian of Ghanaian background, Reuben will also be helping to improve the diversity of our - sadly not very diverse - discipline.”

On the topic of diversity, Reuben says:

“I think the demographics of the profession certainly influence the kinds of topics which get taken up. For example, there is now a sizeable literature that deals with questions about race, and that seems to me to be due in large part to the work of non-white philosophers. So I think things are slowly changing, and it’s important that questions which haven't historically been taken seriously are now getting the attention they deserve.”

Professor Barry adds, “it is critical to have courses which really engage with issues that are of more interest to a broader range of people. I think that's what ANU has done quite well, in that, we have courses for the degree that focus on questions of social justice, public policy, and a range of other important social challenges, but which explore them using the analytical tools of philosophy.”

Reuben aspires to an academic career in teaching and writing philosophy. While he acknowledges the challenges of securing a job in the field, he remains optimistic and is grateful for the opportunities and support he has received from his mentors at ANU.

Professor Barry remarks,“I'm sure Reuben’s going to have a very interesting, exciting career whatever path he chooses. He's got so many different things he could do. It's been a genuine privilege to supervise him.”