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.
According to the 2009 “Proposal & Award Policy and Proceedures” guide released by the National Science Foundation, any new proposal that requests funding for postdoctoral researchers must include a separate section on Postdoc Mentoring that details “the mentoring activities that will be provided for such individuals”. All new proposals must have this or they will be returned with out review. This new requirement is part of the 2007 “America Competes Act”.
The CCPD believes this is a good thing, at least in theory. It remains to be seen how this will be put into practice.
President Obama recently signed into law a trillion spending plan designed to stimulate the sagging (and perhaps crashing) US economy. His emphasis is on Energy, Education, and Health Care Reform. As part of this, the various science funding agencies will receive multi-billion dollar boosts over the next few years with much of it targeted towards basic energy research. This should be good for physics and engineering… thoughts??
APS has recently approached physics department chairs to ask them how they deal with the problems that many postdocs face. Below is an excerpt from the January 17, 2007, letter to department chairs from APS Executive Officer Judy Franz, followed by a link to some of the responses and additional information.
“I’m writing to ask for a few moments of your time to help us with an important initiative regarding postdocs. As you know, physicists in their postdoc years are especially vulnerable—their future careers depend critically on the success of their research during this rather brief period. Yet we hear of concerns from postdocs about their isolation, poor health benefits and maternity leave policies, lack of travel funds, and being tied too closely to one advisor or one project.
APS would like to learn how your department deals with such concerns, as well as any other ideas you have that would help postdocs be more productive. We will then circulate a list of departmental best practices and post it on the APS website with the hope that more physics departments will adopt these practices.”
Click Here For More Replies