Graduate student speaker Wei Zhu adds a JD to her PhD and MBA


With a master’s degree in statistics, a PhD in chemical engineering, an MBA and, soon, a JD from Washington University School of Law, Wei Zhu is clearly brilliant.

But also, perhaps, a little crazy?

“Oh yes,” Zhu said with a laugh. “I am definitely crazy. My parents say to me, ‘Another degree?’ They are very supportive of my desire to study, but even they ask me why I need so many degrees.”

The short answer:  Zhu’s commitment to innovation demands a broad spectrum of knowledge.

Zhu has been selected by William Tate, dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for graduate education, to deliver the graduate student address at Washington University’s 156th Commencement Friday, May 19. After spending much of the past decade in graduate school, Zhu has accumulated a great deal of wisdom to share with her fellow graduates.

Wei Zhu

Home: Hunan Province, China

Family: Hyunsu Kim, husband

Campus life: Board of Trustees graduate student representative, China Law Society vice president

On her campus mentors: “I have had many terrific professors, such as Rachel Sachs and Brian Tamanaha. But I really thank John Drobak, who taught me to think like a lawyer. As engineers, we go straight. … He helped me see that, in the law, there are many different lines with many different results.”

“As students at one of America’s finest universities, we all know to work hard,” Zhu said. “But it’s important to always be nice to people too. That is what I have liked about Washington University. People say law school is very competitive, but here everyone is nice and helps one another.”

After graduation, Zhu will work in intellectual property law in the Washington office of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm that has represented some of the globe’s biggest technology firms, including Apple and Google.

“Zhu has an exciting career ahead of her as an intellectual property and technology law attorney,” said Nancy Staudt, dean of the School of Law. “She is a fantastic member of our law school community, and I know she will continue to do great work at Wilson Sonsini.”

Zhu said her path from PhD in chemical engineering to career in intellectual property was quite linear.

Raised in China’s Hunan Province, Zhu arrived at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign to study clean technology. She weighed many academic and industry offers after graduation but ultimately decided to work for a clean-tech startup company.

In her second year, she became the principal investigator for a National Science Foundation project. That’s when she decided she needed a stronger business background and enrolled in a part-time MBA program, again at University of Illinois. There, she learned how vital it is for startups to protect their intellectual property.

“From my perspective, the most important asset of a company is its intellectual property, especially in the international environment,” Zhu said. “Without these protections, there can be no innovation.”

At Washington University, Zhu brought her expertise in engineering and business to her intellectual property studies.

“What I like best is that intellectual property law is so broad,” Zhu said. “As a PhD student, my studies were very narrow. But intellectual property law allows me to work on many things, from drug delivery to electronic cars. It is perfect for someone like me who is so interested in technology.”

During her time here, Zhu also worked to help fellow Chinese students through the China Law Society and to advocate for graduate students in her role as graduate student representative to the Washington University Board of Trustees.

“I obviously really like to study,” Zhu said. “But I also like being part of the campus community. At Washington University, I have been able to do both.”

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