Professor Zhu Wins Research Awards from National Science Foundation, in Both the U.S. and China

Kevin Zhu

Rady Professor Kevin Zhu’s passion for research surfaced when he was a child growing up in Shandong, China. He was constantly exploring the world around him, and this desire for new knowledge motivated him to become the first person in his family to go to college. Despite economic challenges, he chose to undertake graduate study at Stanford University, where he received a Ph.D. in management science and engineering. Professor Zhu decided to pursue an academic career while at Stanford, upon realizing that his passion was “discovering new knowledge through research and sharing that knowledge with my students through teaching.”

Professor Zhu recently won the Overseas Outstanding Scholar Award from the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and he was also the recipient of the CAREER Award from the U.S. National Science Foundation in 2005.

Below is an interview with Professor Zhu about his research awards on both sides of the Pacific, for his work on technology-enabled innovation.

Can you tell us more about the research on which the Overseas Outstanding Scholar Award was based?

I have been doing research about technology-enabled innovation in the global environment. The research that won this award is technology diffusion/assimilation along the global supply chain. More specifically, it is about innovation spillover among R&D firms, suppliers and manufacturers, between multinational corporations and local firms, and how this process could stimulate two-way innovation diffusion in technology-intensive global industries (such as wireless telecom and the laptop computer industries).

“Globalization is a characteristic of our time. Innovation is what makes companies thrive.”
  - Rady Professor Kevin Zhu

What criteria did the NSF of China use make their selection?

The NSFC established this program for international scholars based outside of China. The NSFC makes its annual selection through a multi-stage process, which starts globally and narrows down to a small number of scholars in each field (engineering, management science, natural sciences and social sciences). The national selection committee makes its final recommendation to NSFC based on intellectual merit, academic leadership and broad impact. In management science (the category that management schools compete in), NSFC typically gives one or two awards each year.

You also won a similar award from the NSF here in the U.S. Can you comment on why this research area is so important to both countries?

Yes, the nature of this award is quite similar to the CAREER Award given by the NSF of the U.S. I won that award three years ago. I am grateful that these two national-level awards come with generous funding to support my research (and my students) in the area of technology-enabled innovation, but each has its distinct focus. The U.S. NSF supports my research on digital transformation of companies driven by the information technology revolution, while the Chinese NSF supports my research on innovation spillover/assimilation along the global supply chain. This area is becoming increasingly more important because of the trend of globalization and cross-border innovation between American firms and Chinese firms. Clearly, this kind of research can benefit both sides.

What advice would you give on how to gain experience which is valuable to international innovation-driven organizations?

Globalization is a characteristic of our time. Innovation is what makes companies thrive. Business leaders can better prepare themselves for leading multinational innovation-driven organizations by studying changes around the globe, gaining industry exposure, having an open mind to different cultures and being willing to explore uncharted waters.