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Soo-hyun Lee was the first to defend from the Agenda 2030 Graduate School

A young man outside an old house, with people in the background. Photo.
Soo-hyun Lee with PhD students from the Agenda 2030 Graduate School. Photo: Sara Håkansson

Soo-hyun Lee has studied on three continents, worked for a handful of UN organizations, consulted for mega-corporations, and run his own business. He is the first PhD student to graduate from the Agenda 2030 Graduate School. It all started in South Korea, where his mother was a toy inventor, but a large American corporation stole her successful idea.
"I spent many hours in court as a child. It was not easy for an Asian woman to litigate against a large American corporation," says Soo-hyun Lee, who later chose to pursue law.

The Agenda 2030 Graduate School was initiated at Lund University in 2018. The university leadership decided to invest in interdisciplinary research to meet current societal challenges, focusing on the United Nations' global goals for sustainable development. Seventeen doctoral students, representing all faculties, were admitted the following year.

So, in the fall of 2019, Soo-hyun Lee moved from the ten-million-city of Seoul in South Korea to an apartment in Malmö and a doctoral position at Lund University. He had already started his doctoral studies in England a few years earlier but had interrupted them to work in the private sector. Soo-hyun Lee worked at a giant Korean conglomerate in South Korea; for the government on industrial relations with Japan and started his own consulting firm to help Korean companies with foreign investments.

The Agenda 2030 Graduate School motivated him to return to research

The doctoral announcement from the research school Agenda 2030 and the Faculty of Law sparked his interest in resuming his doctoral studies. Soo-hyun Lee had worked for several years for the UN Office for Legal Affairs. 
The Agenda 2030 Graduate School's interdisciplinary focus on sustainability was a perfect fit for him. Moreover, Lund University gave him the opportunity to credit the doctoral work he had already started in England.

"I could solve two problems simultaneously, and it was tempting to interact with people from different disciplines. I wouldn't have resumed my studies if it hadn't been for the research school. It was crucial," says Soo-hyun Lee.

He describes the first time in the research school as extremely valuable, when all doctoral students were new and building the business together. They shared an interest in sustainable development, he had great freedom in designing his research topic, and he also gives the university's research resources the highest rating. Belonging to a research school also has social benefits.

"Doctoral studies is a fairly solitary job, and then the social dimension has meant a lot, especially during the pandemic. The close relationships I created through Agenda 2030 were essential."

In addition to interdisciplinary courses, the research school has organized, for example, doctoral conferences, exhibitions, workshops, and study visits, such as to the UN City in Copenhagen.

Combining law, economics and sustainability

Soo-hyun's interest in sustainable development, economics and law was born during his childhood in South Korea. In the late 1990s, the country was on the brink of bankruptcy, with mass layoffs and great economic turmoil following controversial neoliberal law reforms. Prior, Soo-hyun Lee's mother, a toy inventor, had one of her best innovations, a popular ball game, stolen. The idea was stolen and mass-copied by a large American toy company, and Soo-hyun spent a lot of time in courtrooms as his mother fought for justice in an impartial system.

Over time, his interest in law and sustainability grew. 

"Our environment is not in good shape; it is exploited by companies not very interested in sustainability issues. The combination of law, economics and sustainability seemed important to me."

While completing the doctoral studies, he continued to work part time at the UN Development Programme, which works on the UN's global sustainability goals. Now Soo-hyun Lee is the first of the Graduate School's PhD students to defend his thesis. Last week he successfully defended his doctoral thesis 'Right to Regulate for Sustainable Development in International Investment Law: The Challenge of Incomplete Assessments, Promise of Sustainable Investment, and Need for Reserved Optimism' at the Faculty of Law. Soo-hyun shows how international investment law could play a powerful role in promoting sustainable development.

And it doesn't stop there. He has now moved on to Tokyo for further research. 

"I am at a crossroads, whether I should focus on research and an academic position or whether I should return to the civil service. Whatever it is, I will somehow continue my work on international investment law and sustainable development. I am happy to return to Lund University if I get the opportunity."