How do I switch from physics to patent law?

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.

How do I market my physics degree to industry?

by Michael Johnson, Associate Dean, College of Sciences
University of Central Florida (8-April-2009)

Here are a few thoughts about this common question, first for recent graduates. The issue in industrial settings is satisfying the job requirements. If you are a recent graduate, you should reply to job postings and ads by matching the employers stated requirements to the course content, extra-curricular activities and internship experiences you’ve had. For example, a response to a financial analyst job could stress business, economics, finance, statistics and math courses as well as experience in the business world. Look for a fit where you could use your specific background and experience to contribute to the business. After you have addressed your future employers stated requirements, point out that your background in physics adds an additional dimension to what you offer. Your analytical skills, understanding of technology and in-depth understanding of “how things work” give you the tools that add to your long-term value as an employee. Finally, your having completed a demanding degree program demonstrates both your intellectual capacity and your work ethic.

If you have experience and are ready for a career move, the task of positioning yourself becomes easier, for two reasons. First, you will have had experience and know how industrial hiring managers think and work. Secondly, your work experience expands your value to a new employer; you bring more to the table. You will be able to relate your broadened experience to the key elements of a job specification in terms that a hiring manager will understand. At this stage, your experience becomes the dominant aspect of what you offer an industrial employer.

New NSF Proposal Policies

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.


Will the stimulus package help science?

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??

Postdoc Best Practices

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.”

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