Once in a while, I am approached by past research associates who heard that I “got out,” as several of them put it, and who want to know how I handled the switch. Some of them have no idea that people with science backgrounds have options other than research and teaching, and many are discouraged by the thought that they would have to leave their beloved science in other to engage in those activities. Several of them have called me from home to ask these questions, for fear of being overheard at the laboratory.
The first thing I tell them is that there is far more to science than the “bench”. I myself entered the science field as an undergraduate when I chose to study veterinary microbial genetics. I worked in the laboratory of Dr. William Sischo, an epidemiologist who specialized in number-crunching but who needed technical assistance with field sampling and laboratory work to generate the data. Dr. Sischo instilled in me a strong desire to learn and experiment in genetics. I was fascinated by the many ways genetics can be used to help understand how or why certain biological functions occur, and I wondered how I could use my knowledge of genetics to benefit society.
After I obtained my bachelor of science degree, I went on to graduate school earning a master of science degree part-time while working full-time jobs in a couple of well-establish research institutions. I enjoyed both graduate school and working in the laboratory. I also learned the “correct” career path — an academic position at a respectable research university — was what we were supposed to want out of life. More specifically, academic laboratories were acceptable, but working in industry, even to do research, was generally looked upon as “selling out”. I believe this attitude has relaxed somewhat since then, since grants and jobs have become harder to secure and tenured positions lack the security they once possessed.
It was during my graduate studies that I began to question my goals and the assumptions they were based on. I was becoming increasingly unhappy with the direction my career was heading, and I began to question my abilities and motivation. Finally, when I heard myself mutter out loud “I don't want to do bench work forever,” I sat up and took notice. I decided that in spite of my training, and even though I still loved science, research was not right for me.
I wanted a career, or at least a job for starters, that valued my graduate degree and training, and that was a better fit for my skills and future ambitions. I decided I would do best with a job that was externally driven either by deadlines or by the needs of others; in addition, I wanted to talk, write, and/or evaluate science as a whole rather than focus on one particular aspect of a research project.
As a molecular geneticist, I had occasionally interacted with the patent department at SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals in support of my supervisor's patent applications. They worked on a variety of intellectual property issues in a number of scientific disciplines that were of interest to the company. I realized then that I could make very good use of my science background as a patent attorney.
Earlier this year, I accepted an offer to work as a patent agent in the Corporate Intellectual Properties Department at SmithKline Beecham. The job involves writing and prosecuting patent applications, which in turn requires broad knowledge of both science and law. I soon realized that, in order to become an effective patent practitioner, I must become intimately acquainted with US patent law. Because SmithKline Beecham is an international corporation, I have also learned a great deal about international patent law so that I can assist in foreign prosecution of SmithKline Beecham's patents. When I first started the job, it occurred to me that my learning curve was a cliff with an overhang, and I was at the bottom looking up.
I was extremely lucky to find a job almost immediately following graduation last January. However, this opportunity was not trouble-free, there were additional risks to consider at the time I made the decision to change. Our company was in the middle of negotiations to merge with another international pharmaceutical company, GlaxoWellcome Pharmaceuticals. As details of the merger were released, we were informed that the majority of the money saved in the merger was going to be invested back into research and discovery. In other words, because of the patent applications that I draft and prosecute, my job as a patent agent will play an essential role in the inventive process in the new company. Daily interaction with inventors keeps me up-to-date with cutting-edge technology in the biotechnology field. As my work progressed, I knew I had made the right decision, and I have never looked back.
In October, I took the complex patent bar examination. My determination to take the examination straight away was to become a registered patent agent before entering law school, so that my academic studies will not suffer while I attempt to balance a career and my education. I am now hoping to complete the career transition over the next four years by attending law school at Villanova University and becoming a patent attorney. A few weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity to move to our new research facility in North Carolina, but declined the offer in hopes of attending Villanova's law program, which is well respected among the various pharmaceutical companies on the East Coast for its intellectual property education.
Intellectual property is a crucial asset to our company, and I take generating and protecting these assets very seriously. A considerable part of my job involves “translating” science for attorneys and patent law for scientists. I also have to be able to understand a new result quickly enough to grasp what the specific invention is and ask further questions which allow me to distill the invention down to its bare essence. Organization is also key — this is something I learned as a matter of self-preservation, since this is a deadline-driven, and sometimes crisis-driven, job.
I now believe that my job as a patent agent is not a break with the past; rather, it is an exciting, alternative continuation of my career as a scientist. The patent applications that I draft and prosecute make me a critical part of the inventive process at SmithKline Beecham. Furthermore, my interactions with inventors on a daily basis keep me up to date with the latest technology. Not so long ago, when I began research as an undergraduate, I wondered what impact I would have on the development of new scientific knowledge. Through my work as a patent agent, I know that I am a key participant in the promotion of scientific progress.
I still run into acquaintances from my research days who ask me why I “left science”. I am quick to set them straight. I may not get my hands wet, but I use far more of my education and training than I ever did at the bench, and I am very much still in science. I firmly believe my experiences in science and patent prosecution will allow me to be a creative and contributing member of Villanova University, both as a student and as a future attorney representing achievement.
我告訴他們的第一件事是，科學遠不止“板凳”。當我選擇學習獸醫微生物遺傳學時，我自己作為一名本科生進入了科學領域。我在William Sischo 博士的實驗室工作，他是一位專門研究數字運算的流行病學家，但在現場採樣和實驗室工作方面需要技術援助來生成數據。 Sischo 博士向我灌輸了學習和試驗遺傳學的強烈願望。我對遺傳學可以用來幫助理解某些生物學功能如何或為什麼發生的許多方式著迷，我想知道如何利用我的遺傳學知識造福社會。
作為一名分子遺傳學家，我偶爾會與SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals 的專利部門進行交流，以支持我的主管的專利申請。他們致力於公司感興趣的多個科學學科的各種知識產權問題。那時我意識到我可以很好地利用我作為專利代理人的科學背景。
今年早些時候，我接受了一份在SmithKline Beecham 公司知識產權部門擔任專利代理人的工作。這項工作涉及撰寫和處理專利申請，這反過來又需要廣泛的科學和法律知識。我很快意識到，為了成為一名有效的專利從業者，我必須熟悉美國專利法。因為SmithKline Beecham 是一家國際公司，我也學習了很多關於國際專利法的知識，因此我可以協助SmithKline Beecham 的專利在國外進行訴訟。當我第一次開始工作時，我突然想到我的學習曲線是一個懸垂的懸崖，我在底部向上看。
我現在相信我作為專利代理人的工作並沒有與過去斷絕關係；相反，這是我作為科學家的職業生涯的一個令人興奮的、另類的延續。我起草和起訴的專利申請使我成為SmithKline Beecham 發明過程的關鍵部分。此外，我每天與發明家的互動讓我了解最新的技術。不久前，當我作為一名本科生開始研究時，我想知道我會對新科學知識的發展產生什麼影響。通過我作為專利代理人的工作，我知道我是推動科學進步的關鍵參與者。