2023 Best Undergraduate Professors: Elanor Williams, Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School


Elanor Williams
Washington University in St. Louis
Olin Business School


“Inspired teaching. Students give nearly unanimous perfect scores, which is an amazing feat in and of itself. She makes consumer behavior, which studies what makes consumer tick, come to life for the students, and instills her passion for the field to the students. Not only did she do a great job teaching the course, but she developed the course! Nora has been teaching undergraduates for years, and in 2023-24 95% of students rated her a perfect 10/10 in her teaching evaluations. More broadly, she brings a real passion to the classroom and inspires her students. In a school where most of the faculty are very strong teachers, Nora stands out as a star.” – Raphael Thomadsen, Chair of the Marketing Area


Elanor Williams, 44, is Associate Professor of Marketing at Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School. 

She joined the Marketing Area at Olin in the fall of 2019 after spending time with the marketing groups at the University of Florida, the University of California, San Diego, and Indiana University. 

She studies a variety of topics, largely centered on how self and others interact in marketing contexts. This includes research on how consumers make decisions with others’ help, as in her work on when people delegate decisions to others, and how consumers make decisions on behalf of others, as in her work on gift giving. Williams’ research has been published in leading journals in psychology and marketing, including the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, the Journal of Consumer Research, and the Journal of Marketing Research.

She has received honors including the Association for Consumer Research Transformative Consumer Research Grant and the AMA-EBSCO Responsible Research in Marketing Award; and has been mentioned in popular press outlets like Time Magazine, Fast Company, and the New York Times.


At current institution since what year? 2019

Education: BA, Yale University, 2001; PhD, Cornell University, 2008

List of Undergraduate courses you teach: Consumer Behavior


What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I’m studying a lot of things, but one favorite set of projects right now involves understanding the kinds of decisions and experiences that people have as hosts. It’s a common role that people play, with unique psychological influences and constraints. One fun insight we’ve learned from this work is how much people really would like to share something meaningful about themselves with their guests, and how much that drives their decisions about what to do for and at their parties. 

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be … An editor. I really enjoy writing, but I especially like thinking about writing. The process of understanding what a piece of writing is trying to say, and figuring out how to say that as effectively, or impactfully, or elegantly as possible is incredibly satisfying to me.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I do everything I can to make the topics I discuss vivid to my students. I use a lot of humor; bring fun, interesting, timely examples of concepts to the classroom; and try to get them to connect the course to their own experiences, using both introspection and hands-on activities and projects in class. 

One word that describes my first time teaching: Nerve-wracking! 

Professor I most admire and why: This is a cop-out, but the professor I most admire is my dad. 


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? What I enjoy most about teaching business students is how they really want to see how and why the ideas that we discuss in class matter, for consumers, firms, and themselves. It forces me to constantly look for connections between class material and the world outside the classroom, so I’m able to share relevant and meaningful examples with them. 

What is most challenging? Constantly having to find new relevant, meaningful examples of the ideas in class!

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Excited

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Absent

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …Fair


What are your hobbies? I get a lot of joy from cooking and baking (and especially sharing the things I make with others), and I read something for fun every day. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of photography; looking at the world and figuring out how to distill a meaningful image from what I see through the narrow perspective of the camera lens is really gratifying to me.

How will you spend your summer? Some travel with friends and travel with family, but mostly enjoying all the fun activities St. Louis has to offer in the summer, from food truck festivals to farmers markets. 

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Just about anywhere! Some recent standout destinations have included England and Wales; Vermont and Maine; and Finland.

Favorite book(s): Some recent favorites: This Time Tomorrow, by Emma Straub; The Guest Lecture, by Martin Riker; Four Thousand Weeks, by Oliver Burkeman.

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I recommend Starstruck, on HBO, to a lot of people. It’s breezy and fun and a little melancholy, has a compelling premise, and makes you want to live in London.

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? Any music that I can sing along to in the car or kitchen, from indie pop to showtunes.


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this … Trends obviously suggest that business schools are going to shift even more toward a focus on data, numbers, and tech. But I believe that people skills are the hardest thing to learn on the job, and business schools should really be heavily tilted toward helping their students understand how the people around them think and feel. Every single business school graduate will have to interact with others, as coworkers, managers, clients, and customers. And marketing is an undervalued business function—it’s the first thing to get cut in a crunch, but no company will succeed if potential clients and customers aren’t aware that it exists and know what it does, and no business person can succeed without the ability to advocate for their ideas and the unique value they provide. I truly think that business schools should be people schools first and foremost.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at …Recognizing that their customers and employees are people, and have thoughts and, especially, feelings. They’re not just data points or dollar signs with legs. 

I’m grateful for … Having a career that lets me be around and learn from so many smart, thoughtful, kind, generous people, faculty and students alike, every day.



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