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There can be many catalysts for returning to study later in life, but for Julia Zhang adding an Australian-based law degree to her experience is a way of enriching her career.

A former journalist and business development executive, Julia is now a corporate board member and mid-way through Deakin’s Juris Doctor (JD) program.

Law and journalism in China

Julia grew up in China, the daughter of a nuclear physicist and medical doctor who instilled in her a strong work ethic.

With a life-long interest in law, she completed an undergraduate law degree during a time, she says, that coincided with the early development of China’s legal system.

‘In order to build up a modern legal system to accommodate foreign investment and economic reform, China ratified many international trade agreements in a relatively short period of time.’

After graduating from JiLin University’s law school, she then worked as a political correspondent for one of the China’s official newspapers.

‘As a news journalist during that time, I was fortunate to witness the amazing transformation of China and be a part of that process reporting and researching foreign investment and technology transfer in major infrastructure projects.  It was compelling to observe the gaps, cracks as well as the resilience of social institutions as monumental shifts took place in China. I began to be aware of the various trade-offs in policy making and developed a strong interest in studying different legal systems.’

Australian career

Moving to Australia, Julia carved out a career in the private education sector; first as a business development executive and then as a member of the organisation’s corporate board.

‘During this time, I’ve had the good fortune to be mentored by some of Australia’s most respected corporate leaders and been able to develop strong corporate governance skills. This means that my long-held interest in studying law in Australia becomes even more relevant,’ she says.

The right decision

Julia first made the decision to study Deakin’s fully-online JD because its flexibility enabled her to fit study around family, work and personal commitments.

‘Online delivery made studying a law degree feasible for me … its commercial law focus also particularly suited me and I knew that Deakin was both quintessentially Australian and internationally renowned.’

From the commencement of the course, she knew it was the right decision.

‘The first unit provided me with a solid foundation for the JD study – the introduction to legal reasoning and research skills help me build confidence and develop an enduring interest in law. From that moment, I knew I’d made the right choice to study at DLS.’

Challenges and highlights

With English as her second language, Julia says that one of her main study challenges is tackling a degree that’s not only in the English language but also underpinned by its culture and history.  

However, with her inherent love of learning and the law – along with the support of DLS lectures and workplace flexibility – she’s successfully navigating her studies.

‘Thanks to this support, I’m able to expand my vocabulary and I enjoy reading case laws. Reflecting on my experience, I think studying law is probably one of the best ways to learn another language.’

One of the highlights of the JD curriculum, she adds, is that it’s a well-delivered balance of academic research and legal practice.  

‘I enjoy both these aspects. While the JD does demand a high level of endurance, if you are intrinsically interested in learning law, these challenges become inspirations. I love the energy and rigor of the law school and I am proud to be part of this supportive learning community.’

Finding the balance

For Julia, one of the keys to the successful life/study balance lies in carefully planning, prioritising and setting a strict study timetable.

‘From the start I’ve made it a priority to attend e-seminars … these keep me on track and I really enjoy the online discussions.’

And while online learning affords her flexibility, she also believes it’s important to have a sense of on-campus connection.

‘This enriches my learning experience. For example, I like to regularly visit the Burwood library, speaking to highly-experienced and dedicated law librarians, and attending various DLS events. This all helps me feel connected to a vibrant learning culture that’s not limited to online study.’

The future

Planning to complete her studies in 2021, Julia is expanding her skillset and looking forward to embedding advocacy and legal research skills into her career.

‘Combined with my experience in international business and corporate governance, the JD will equip me to provide legal advice on commercial matters with an understanding of corporate strategies. When you have knowledge and experience, going back to study makes it all the more relevant – it’s an investment for the future.’

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