Karen Imgrund Deak, PhD
Director, MS in Patent Law and
Certificate in Patent Prosecution
University of Notre Dame
ASHG: What non-scientific skills (ex. communication,
artistry, athleticism, etc.) are important for your job?
Were any of these skills unexpected assets for you?
Dr. Deak: Written communication is HUGE in the field of patent
law -- you are emailing with attorneys and clients; and
corresponding with the US Patent Office in writing. You need
to be precise with language. Period.
Also important is a real attention
to detail, while juggling many projects (ie, time
management). Patent law is very deadline-driven, and dates
can't be missed. So projects have to be done on time, no
Finally, a real knack for logic is
helpful. The most important part of the patent is the
claims, and there is a logic to how good claims are written.
ASHG: If you could go back to when you were a trainee, what
is one piece of advice you would give yourself for your
Dr. Deak: I would say to myself to stick it out, because a PhD
in a life science field is very valuable in the practice of
patent law -- the PhD really does open doors for you. It
proves that you're good at learning technology, which is
really what the day-to-day of practicing patent law is all
about. I'm glad I did finish my degree.
The other thing I would tell myself is that it's possible
to leave the academy. People do it, very successfully, all
the time, although it wasn't much spoken of at the place
where I did my PhD work. If you're sure you want to get out,
do it at a reasonable checkpoint -- leave after your PhD
(instead of slogging through a post-doc that you know you'll
Can you describe your transition from trainee to working
professional? How did you land your first “real” job?
Deak: I landed my first real job by doing lots of hard work.
I sent out around 100 resumes and cover letters, each
tailored to the position I was applying for, and asked for
lots of informational interviews. I landed my job by
combining those two efforts -- the position I interviewed
for was posted, so I applied to it; and by the time I sent
in that application, I'd had so many informational
interviews that I had a really good "story" about both my
PhD work and why I wanted to make the transition into patent
law. Leaving the academy can be scary, but it was the right
move for me, at the time.
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