Q. I’ve been working in industry for 15 years and now I’d like to transition into academia. I don’t have many publications, but I’ve stayed on top of the technical research in my company. It would be a career setback if I came in at the assistant professor level because I’ve had so much experience in my field. What do I do? Will I be expected to publish in academia?
A. You will certainly be expected to publish in academia. It’s a core activity. You will also be expected to get grants to support your research for the publications. Your industrial experience, even without publications is very valuable. Your experience will help you publish and get grants; your experience will also help you get a position. You can apply for an assistant professor position and ask for early consideration for promotion and tenure. Without publication experience, there are very few universities that would hire someone into a tenured position. But, what you should do is apply, take an assistant professorship if that’s the only option, and flourish because of your skills and experience.
Prof. Gordon A. Thomas is Professor of Physics at New Jersey Institute of Technology. He began his career in at Bell Labs where he worked on optical communications and helped develop the purest optical fiber. He holds 16 patents, has published over 150 research articles, and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
by Mark Sincell
The short answer is that this may be the easiest career transition available IF (and this can be a big if) you really like to write about technical subjects. Practicing patent law requires spending many hours a day drafting letters, patent applications, and similar materials. Patent lawyers do virtually no “technical” work, like programming, calculating, setting up experiments and the other familiar tasks of the practicing physicist. If that sounds good to you, then start calling patent law firms and tell them you want to talk to them about working in patent law. Most large firms and many smaller firms are constantly on the look-out for new talent.
Physicists can be very valuable to patent law firms because their expertise can be applied to many different fields and they can work in several different capacities for a law firm. Without any additional credentials, physicists can be hired as technical advisors who assist attorneys in preparing patent applications. Spending a few months studying for (and passing) the patent bar exam administered by the USPTO qualifies you to practice as a patent agent. Agents can prepare and prosecute patent applications before the USPTO, but can’t litigate or become a partner in a law firm. For that, you need a law degree, which takes three years of full-time study in law school or 4-5 years of night school. Even if your long-term goal is to be a lawyer, starting as a technical advisor has many advantages. You will gain valuable experience and in some cases law firms will foot the bill for law school. At the very least, they will be very understanding about the burdens placed on part-time law students and they will likely hire you as an attorney when you are done.