Originally from the UK and also now naturalised Dutch, Dr Helen Gubby has won RSM’s Teacher of the Year Award for 11 consecutive years, and is not only a stellar lecturer but is also a member of the RSM Faculty Council and University Council. What is it about her that students like so much? And what motivates Helen to bring her best to her job? She openly tells me with a lot of wit and laughter.
Why did you choose to study Law?
“I first studied history, then I converted to law because I found it intriguing and enjoyed putting an argument together. At the University of Nottingham, where I studied history, the emphasis was on constructing the argument and the reasons for taking an opinion. So I thought that’s what law does. Plus, I was ready to do something more practical and more ‘in the world’. After my study, I was called to the bar and practiced as a barrister (advocate) in London.”
How did you get to RSM?
“I moved to the Netherlands because my husband is Dutch. It was difficult initially to fit in because at the time I came to the Netherlands a Dutch ‘doctoraal’ degree took five years and the UK had a system of three-year bachelor and one-year master degrees. This meant that a person from the UK was not seen as having an equivalent degree. I did give in at a certain moment and decided it was easier to get a Dutch university qualification. So, I obtained a master degree from the University of Leiden. As the Netherlands now also has three-year bachelor and one-year master degrees, that would no longer be necessary!
“At first, I worked for myself as an editor of texts and then when my Dutch was good enough to translate Dutch to English, I became a translator. That’s how I got involved with the Erasmus University. Then the Erasmus School of Law (ESL) invited me to teach an English legal terminology course, which is what law students need to know these days because it’s the language of commercial transactions
“I worked part-time at the Erasmus School of Law and also as an advocate at a large Dutch law firm. After a while, I realised I enjoyed the teaching more than being a lawyer. I left the law firm for the university, worked as a lecturer in the law school and finished my PhD. Then Rudi Holzhauer of the ESL asked if I’d be prepared to teach a course on business law at RSM. This was a challenge, as I had never taught non-law students before. But I very much enjoyed it. Then I was put in touch with Hans van Oosterhout of RSM and we taught a course together. Hans recognised that law and business are not separate worlds, but very much intertwined. The course was a great success and Hans asked me to join his department. At the time it was a bit scary to leave the Law school and go to the business school but I have absolutely no regrets.”
What do you enjoy the most about teaching?
“With teaching, I feel like we are in something together. It’s us together trying to create something and work as a team. The communication is really enjoyable and so is ‘seeing the penny drop’ when people get it. Often with business students, they initially don’t know what law has to do with them. Then as the course develops, they see how it can be useful for them. It’s so enjoyable at the end of the course when they ‘get it’ and see that you need to have at least some basic knowledge of law.”
You’ve won Teacher of the Year Award for 11 years. What type of feedback do you get, and what sets your teaching apart?
“I think it’s my typical British humour. I think I’m quite an old-fashioned teacher. I have my PowerPoint slides and that’s about it. I also like having structure in my classes, so at the beginning I lay down some ground rules and don’t accept distractions in my class. Students might appreciate this clarity, but they also appreciate that I don’t see us as teacher and student but as a team.”
Did you have any examples of really good lecturers that have motivated you to bring your best self to teaching? What motivates you?
“At university, I had a criminal law teacher who seemed ancient to me when I was 21, and he was funny. I later understood that to survive at the bar in criminal law [the part of the legal profession that deals with criminal law] you have to have some humour because some of the things you see are so awful. The way he taught exceptions to law (because life is messy and not tidy) was so light and humorous, that inspired me.
“My research has also meant quite a lot to me. I’m now working predominantly on patents and the monopoly of pharmaceutical companies on markets. There is too often abuse of that monopoly position. I also have another ‘little campaign’ going about intellectual property. I really think we should not be releasing students into the world without any, or virtually no, knowledge of intellectual property. Organisations have so many intangible assets with so much value such as copyright, designs, trademarks and patents; I strongly believe intellectual property should be a core subject, more than just a guest lecture or elective.”
How has COVID-19 affected your work?
“When the lockdown was announced in the Netherlands in March, I was two weeks away from teaching a master’s course so we had to transition to online teaching in a really short, stressful timeframe. It’s difficult because you get to know people much better in a face-to-face setting and I really miss the spontaneous chats, with students as well as colleagues. I also see the role for online learning though, and think that blended learning is the best. Some people are entirely happy online but some might feel more involved when they are physically present.”
Helen takes true joy in teaching students and has a wealth of knowledge about the importance of the nexus between business and law. She champions changes and flexibility in the curriculum.