contains two essays:
My interest in the law began with
donuts. As a child, I developed early persuasive skills during family
disagreements on how to divide boxes of the treats. My parents belonged to the
“biggest people deserve the most donuts” school of thought; while as
the youngest family member, I was a devout believer in the “one person, one
donut” principle. The debates were often cutthroat, but when it came to
donut distribution, I sought justice at any cost.
As my family grew older and more
health-conscious, we stopped eating donuts, and for many years I forgot our
childhood debates. However, some recent life decisions have brought to mind
those early explorations of justice. When I
first arrived at the American International School of Rotterdam, I quickly
learned that my colleagues were a diverse and talented group of people. Unsure
of how to establish my own place among them, I tried phrases that had always
worked to impress college friends. “When I work for the UN . . . ,” I
told the second-grade teacher, and she answered with an erudite discussion of
the problems she faced as a consultant for that organization. I told the
kindergarten teacher, “When I’m in law school . . . ,” only to hear
about his own experiences in law school. By the time I discovered that even many
grade-school students were better travelled than I, I learned to keep my mouth
Living alone in a new country,
removed from familiar personal and cultural clues to my identity and faced with
these extraordinary co-workers, I started to feel meaningless. How, I wondered,
could I possibly make a difference in a place as vast as our planet? To my own
surprise, I found that answer at church. Although I was raised in the Bahá’í
Faith, I have only recently understood the essential place that religion plays
in my identity. Bahá’í social beliefs include the need to work against extreme
poverty, nationalism, and prejudice; and I now realize that I cannot hold those
beliefs without doing something about them. My identity rests on these
convictions; I cannot see the need for help and just move on. I have to help;
it’s who I am.
The lessons I’ve learned from my
international colleagues have channeled my desire for service into the field of
international development. I still wish to fight the “‘Biggest Get the
Most’ Theory of Donut Distribution,” but now on an international scale.
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 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 about 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 U.S. 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
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
In October, I took the complex
patent bar examination. My determination to take the examination straight away
was derived from my desire 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
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.
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