Sima Godfrey began her post-secondary education at the Université de Lausanne, where she completed a teaching diploma in French. She has a B.A. and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. from Cornell University. From 1978 – 1989, she was a member of the Department of Romance Languages at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and she has been Associate Professor of French at UBC since then. Godfrey was appointed Acting Director of the Institute for European Studies in 1997 and was Director from 1999-2006.

Godfrey is a specialist in 19th-century French literature and cultural history, where she has written on such authors as Balzac, Flaubert, Mallarmé and Baudelaire. (In recent years, she contributed the entry on the latter poet to the new Oxford Encyclopaedia of Aesthetics (1998)). Her review essay of the work of French cultural historian Alain Corbin appeared in French Historical Studies (Spring 2002). Her current research is in the concept of fashionability in French culture, portions of which have appeared in English and French, notably in the special issue she edited of Esprit Créateur on Fashion and Fashionability in Modern French and Francophone Culture (1997). Within the Institute for European Studies, she has recently been investigating the politics of cultural diversity in Canada and Europe. Together with Frank Unger, she is the co-editor of The Shifting Foundations of Modern Nation-States: Realignments of Belonging (2004).