Perry World House Perry World House Announces Princeton’s Melissa Lee will be 2020-21 Lightning Scholar

March 23, 2020
By Perry World House

“The Lightning Scholars Program is one of our best means of catalyzing both policy-relevant research and campus engagement on critical global topics,” said Michael Horowitz, Professor of Political Science and Interim Director of Perry World House. “With Melissa Lee, we will continue to promote a top-flight junior scholar and bring a brilliant and enthusiastic intellectual to Penn.”

Perry World House, the University of Pennsylvania’s hub for global affairs, has announced Melissa Lee, an Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University’s Department of Politics and the Woodrow Wilson School, will be the 2020-2021 Lightning Scholar. Lee, who was selected for the impact her research is already having in both the academic and policy worlds, will be in residence in Philadelphia for the academic year.

Perry World House knows Lee’s work well. In 2019, she was one of the winners of the inaugural Emerging Scholars Global Policy Prize, which rewards scholars for making their cutting-edge research on significant global issues more accessible to policymakers. In the article, “Subversive Statecraft,” Lee argued that great power competition is more likely to play out indirectly, through a kind of proxy warfare known as “foreign subversion.” Foreign Affairs published the piece in December, and Lee led a seminar on it at Perry World House earlier in the fall.

The Perry World House Lightning Scholars Program gives Penn the opportunity to catalyze and promote the work of leading junior scholars who do cutting edge research that is also policy relevant. Each year, Perry World House invites a talented, untenured faculty member for a semester or full academic year in residence. Previous scholars have included Sarah Bush, Associate Professor of Political Science at Yale University, and Cosette Creamer, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota and affiliated faculty at the University of Minnesota Law School. In addition to producing major research outputs, the Lightning Scholar engages as a part of the interdisciplinary and vibrant community life of scholars and practitioners at Perry World House.

In addition to foreign subversion, Lee studies the international and domestic politics of statebuilding and state capacity. Much of her work examines how external actors disrupt political order and shape the development of the state. Lee’s first book, Crippling Leviathan: How Foreign Subversion Weakens the State, was published by Cornell University Press.

Lee received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford University and B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego. In 2016, she received the American Political Science Association's 2016 Helen Dwight Reid award for best dissertation in the field of international relations, law, and politics.

For more on Perry World House’s Lightning Scholars program and its research and programming, please visit