Like Natalie Imbruglia’s One Hit Wonder, I’m Torn

So it’s been a while since my last entry, but grad school has eaten me up. But over the past several months, I have been getting seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. No, I’m not talking about industry, I’m talking about another entity entirely.. the world of intellectual property law.

OMGWTFBBQ? That’s probably your response right now, but as someone who has been rather myopic in my career path due to academe being the only thing I know, (and me not really feeling like a perfect fit in industry), the seductive path of law school is in the way.

One of the things I have learned through informational interviews with my local alumni is that law schools LOVE technical backgrounds and patent law is one of the hottest and fastest growing fields at the moment. Of course, things are cyclical which means it might not be great later, but the past 5 years has seen tremendous growth.

There are lots of other scientists going to the other side, but here’s my dilemma…

There are firms that offer patent agent programs to seduce scientists to law. What is this patent agent program? You work at a firm (with zero to little experience in law) and get trained as you work. You get paid a great salary (think average 2.5 to 4 times the highest grad student stipend depending on where you go), with amazing benefits (401k plan, full medical/dental/vision benefits, etc), get to work in a fancy office, feel like a real world adult, get to dress up in fancy clothes and get trained. After a year, you’re probably ready for the patent agent exam, and if you pass, said firm will offer tuition reimbursement if you attend law school.

Yes, they’ll pay for expensive law school. Then you go back to the firm as a full J.D/(M.S. or PhD) as well, get promoted and commit for a few years, then you can go around to other firms as well!

So what’s a chemist to do? I do love research and academe, but my pragmatic side is telling me to join the dark side.

I know I’m not the first to be seduced, and I definitely won’t be the last! Intellectual property law, when it concerns chemistry, is actually quite fascinating. It’s like being a grad student with all the reading, researching and writing you have to do, but you get paid way more and you’re not inhaling chemical fumes. It’s another career path available out there for grad students in chemistry, and I know I hadnt considered it before and just recently learned about it, so I’m throwing it out there, so like me, perhaps your blinders can be taken off and you might consider more options post PhD!

That’s all! I’ll let y’all know what I do in the coming months! For now I have lots of thinking to do.


  1. My first question would be: will you be putting your knowledge to use for supressing any form of progress?
    My second: If yes, could you take it?

    My situation was the mirror image of yours, one year ago: I had been working in the industry for many years, making an OK salary, but hating every minute of my job.
    I decided to try out my luck in research and found a gig at a bioinformatics research center. I may be winning a little less, but the experience is so much more gratifying, that even my health has improved visibly.
    Now I do understand that you may be tired of academia, and a change is always a good idea, but beware what you whish for…

    My 2 eurocents

  2. Pragmatism be damned! You have to love what you do or you will never be motivated and everyone but you will see it. I’m sure you can tell in your department which people love getting their degree and which ones don’t.

    Once you leave the bench, it will be impossible to move back. My wife has tried to move back, but no one will even talk to her when they can talk to dozens of other newly-laid-off chemists who just last week were at the bench. Why would they talk to someone who left the bench a decade ago? If you go, consider it an irreversible decision.

    • Anything that moves you away from the bench is likely to be irreversible in being able to go back to the lab, or to be a research professor. It probably doesn’t stop one from teaching at high school or college, though, and it may open up opportunities in business or management in chemistry as well. It isn’t an unmixed blessing unless you want to be in lab, in which case it’s not so good.

      I also wonder how many opportunities in the lab will actually exist, or if they will become more transient and focused (which means that lots of research decisions may also be irreversible w/r/t the job market. Since I haven’t had much experience there, I don’t know. Where I am (not lab), lots of people like MBA or law degrees because of the potential flexibility, though we’ve made the decision to leave lab, and the irreversibility cited above w/r/t jobs comes into play.

  3. Eh? Miss I has certainly had more than one hit…

    • Confession time: for the longest time (remember, I was in middle school when the album came out) I thought the lyrics were: “I’m cold and I am chained, lying naked on the floor.” I though it was a bondage song. It was my mom who told me otherwise. Talk about an awkward car ride with your mother.

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