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Get to Know the New Professor: Prof. Dongil Lee

  • Date 2022-08-12 10:30
  • CategoryStory
  • Hit679

The expanding faculty at KDIS brings diverse, qualified, and approachable professors, and Professor Dongil Lee is all three. He shares with us a little about himself and experience!

Welcome to KDIS, please introduce yourself. 

I am Dongil Lee, and I am the new Assistant Professor in Political Economy of Development. My research interests are foreign aid and its effectiveness, political accountability and elites, public service delivery, bureaucracy, corruption, and international organizations. Also, I am originally from Daegu. 

You made a shift from nuclear and quantum engineering to political science, how did that come about?

I enjoyed physics and natural sciences when I was in high school and applied to KAIST to pursue applied physics. I knew I wasn’t a genius, but I wanted to study something that would impact people’s lives thus my choice in nuclear energy considering its potential impact. However, as I was on that track, I was not enjoying it as much as I did like when I was in high school. There is a huge difference between high school physics and mechanical engineering due to the specificity and technical aspects of the subjects. 

I started to develop an interest in social science, and there are some courses offered in KAIST in that field. I realized I enjoyed them more. It was too late to change degrees at that point but I was advised by one of my seniors to pursue my master’s in political science and make the transition from my undergraduate choice. 

A lot of your research focuses on developing countries, particularly in Africa, what inspired that?

I spent time in Senegal for two years through the KOICA volunteer program, which was an alternative option to military service at the time. Similar to the Peace Corps program, I was placed in a small village called Dagana and was exposed to African politics, foreign and development aid which sparked my interest. I had other country options to choose from; however, Senegal felt completely unknown to me and therefore became my natural choice.  That was a seed that interestingly led me to where my research areas lie today. 

Why did you make the choice to come to KDI School?

I had already heard amazing thing through some of the professors here. I knew the school provides comprehensive support for research and to the faculty. I was also excited to work with and meet students from African countries as my research predominately focuses on that region. 

I think this positions KDIS to have a unique advantage, and the diversity in this school is usually synonymous with big metropolitan cities. This unique environment allows me to learn more and understand how things work in different contexts, which is what attracted me to this institution. 

What are your impressions of KDIS so far?

One of the first events I have attended was the PhD colloquium, and I was struck by how friendly and warm hearted the students are. They offered me pizza, were hospitable and thus made feel included, which was amazing because I felt I should have been playing that role! I have also been impressed with how incredibly talented and supportive the KDI staff is. I was working on reviewing some conference papers, and they made sure I had all the additional information I needed and ensured I had it in advance, which is reflective of their good work ethic.

Have you had deal with any challenges coming here?

Thankfully, no. I moved back from New York City during the peak of the pandemic, and it has been a blessing in disguise. My in-laws have been supportive of my family and raising a young son, which has allowed me to focus on completing my PhD. I was already familiar with Sejong, and my parents are based here. Being on the KDIS campus also reminds me of my time in KAIST as KDIS is a research-oriented institution and so it honestly felt like coming home. I also prefer quieter cities, where while you can access everything you need, and there is are still opportunities to enjoy beautiful landscapes. 

What advice do you have for students who take your class or want to approach you as a supervisor?

When it comes to being a supervisor, I would firstly prefer students who are working on similar research interests as myself. I would also be looking to work with students who have a solid foundation in quantitative methods and not only understand the “how”, but the ”why” and what those results mean for their research. In the classroom I am quite excited about being in a learning environment that is not necessarily about my delivery of information but where everyone contributes. I am looking forward to having intellectually stimulating conversations. My hope is that it won’t just be about me conveying knowledge but have it been more about mutual exchange. Of course, I do have a long way to build that ideal class while I am in KDIS.  

Lastly, what are some of the activities you enjoy outside academia?

I enjoy watching and following soccer news, especially about player transfers oddly enough. I support Liverpool FC and, of course, Tottenham Hotspur FC for obvious reasons. I also watch the Champions League. It was easy for me to keep up my passion for following soccer as when I was in New York City, there were a lot of international students in my school that followed the sport, so I had camaraderie in that sense. Unfortunately, my interest does not translate in my ability to play!   

Professor Dongil Lee is open to meeting and discussing relevant areas of interest and is accessible via email to anyone who might be interested.  You can read more about his work and previous professional experience here.

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