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European University Institute - School of Transnational Governance

Emma Lees | Committed to empower STG’s master’s students

From a potential mounted police woman to a high-profile academic. Our interview with academic director Emma Lees provides a colorful glance into what makes her the esteemed professor and person she is today.

22 December 2022


"I have of course considered being a practicing lawyer, but other than that I think I have found my calling in academia!"

Emma Lees is currently dedicating her work to developing the master’s programme at the EUI School of Transnational Governance (STG). After her studies at Oxford and Cambridge University, her professional journey has led her to find a calling in the world of Law.

In passing years she has acquired different roles such as Director of the Environmental Policy MPhil at the University of Cambridge, Reader in Environmental and Property Law at the University of Cambridge, Peter Wilson Fellow at Fitzwilliam College, current academic director of our Master in Transnational Governance and last but not least, a published academic author.

Her professional background and charisma speak highly to the wisdom that will be passed on to our current and future cohorts.

"I originally wanted to be a mounted police woman since I was obsessed with horses as a child. That morphed into a detective, and then after watching the British TV programme, Kavanagh QC, I decided I wanted to be a barrister working in criminal law. It was only once I had started studying my undergraduate degree in law in Oxford that I found that I was less interested in criminal law than I had expected and became much more drawn to environmental law. However, as I have found my way to transnational law, I find myself dealing with criminal law very often, and have come ‘full circle’."

As academic director of the master’s programme at the STG, Lees also teaches dedicated field courses of her expertise: The Law of Transnational Governance and Global Environmental Governance. As a professor whose job focuses on disseminating knowledge and practice, one can understand how the learning process never truly ends.

"I am always learning from my students,” Lees confirms. However, the thing I admire the most in the students I have taught both at the STG and in my previous institution, is their ability to work across disciplines. As a committed life-long lawyer, I haven’t done any maths since I left school. I am full of respect for those who can both work quantitively and qualitatively."

In this day and era, learning from ones' students has become a key component to generating dynamic and successful teaching methods. "Every time we teach a course, we tweak and develop it,” emphasises Emma Lees.

“The STG is a really open and innovative environment where we are able to experiment and develop new ways of teaching. This academic year we have been particularly working on teaching through decision-making scenarios, or case studies. This has been a very useful experience, in thinking about new ways to teach across disciplinary boundaries."

In the years leading to her current role at the School of Transnational Governance, Emma Lees continuously admires her students’ talents and potential across different fields. “The STG students have really struck me with their enthusiasm for radical change in society. Particularly around social justice, environmental protection, and democracy, our students are passionate and committed to improving life for the many, not just the few." She is determined to establish opportunistic experiences thanks to the differentiated courses the programme provides.

Thanks to the dedication and firsthand approach of our professors, the STG works towards becoming a steppingstone for current and future generations by providing an environment which cultivates a 360-degree learning experience.

"I have found myself much more involved in the life of the school. Being aware not only of what my ‘part’ is doing". Emma Lees is currently enjoying her role as academic director discovering and appreciating the many dynamic traits the school has to offer. 

She also foresees momentous change for the Master in Transnational Governance in the provision of prominent opportunities to enhance professional skills and methodologies for students. "Our main focus will be, firstly, in building up the skills training and experience we offer. In addition to strong academic and analytical skills, we want to ensure that our graduates are equipped with the skills and methodologies they will need in their professional life, wherever it will lead them. We are also working closely with other parts of the school to build our international networks even further, to create new kinds of co-operation with our international partners."

From a personal and professional perspective, why should talented students seek out our specific master’s programme as a next step to their academic journey? "The Master in Transnational Governance is not only educationally meaningful, it is empowering. We do not ‘train’ our students, we give them the tools, intellectual and practical, to make the next step in their professional careers with confidence and purpose."

When asked to give one advice to future generations, Lees' focus is to remain humble, grateful and to always value the truthful relationships cultivated throughout ones’ career. "The main advice I would give to future generations entering the professional world is to be grateful to those who give you opportunities. We all need help, especially at the beginning of our careers. You will find colleagues throughout your professional life who give you help and support, without any advantage to themselves. Learn to trust and value those relationships – and make sure you pay it back when you get the chance to."

Last update: 09 January 2023

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