Career Interview: Oona Johnstone, PhD

Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C.

ASHG: What non-scientific skills (communication, artistry, athleticism, etc.) are important for your job? Were any of these skills unexpected assets for you?

Dr. Johnstone: Communication skills are very important for a career as a patent attorney. In our daily job, we frequently need to get up to speed quickly on a wide variety of technologies. We also need to be able to take a complex scientific issue and translate it into something that will be widely understood and broadly applicable. For example, we work closely with clients and inventors to develop strategy for protecting their inventions.

Additionally, clients count on us to manage their patent portfolios, which involves interacting with them regularly to provide updates on projects and to provide strategic advice. Part of our job also involves attending regular industry and networking events.

I think communication skills were an unexpected asset for me when I transitioned to my current career. When I worked in research, I always enjoyed communicating science, especially by giving presentations. I found those skills very helpful for my current career because I was experienced in thinking about ways to simplify complex issues.

ASHG: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?

Dr. Johnstone: My favorite part of my job as a patent attorney is that I am always learning new things. We get to work on a wide variety of projects with a range of clients, so each day is different. The work is fast-paced and rewarding.

I also enjoy the fact that the projects are shorter in term compared to lab research so I am able to experience the satisfaction of completing projects more regularly. I also enjoy the travel component of the job, visiting clients and attending conferences.

My least favorite part of the job is that due to the high intensity, it is sometimes difficult to balance all the deadlines and prioritize work from different clients.

ASHG: Can you describe your transition from trainee to working professional? How did you land your first “real” job?

Dr. Johnstone: I was working as a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School when I transitioned to a job as a Technology Specialist at Wolf, Greenfield. At the time, I was evaluating career options and I attended a career fair organized by the Harvard Biotech club. At that event, a Wolf, Greenfield patent attorney was participating in a career panel. I had been considering patent law but I did not have a very clear understanding of the career path until I attended that panel discussion.

Listening to the attorney from Wolf, Greenfield discuss her career, I realized that it sounded like a very good fit for me. I contacted her by email to ask if she would be willing to conduct an informational interview. They were hiring Technology Specialists at that time so following the informational interview, I submitted an application and was fortunate to be hired as a Technology Specialist.

I worked in that position for five years, during which I attended law school part-time and became an attorney. I encourage trainees to contact people who are working in careers that they are interested in and to ask for informational interviews because I found that approach to be very helpful in learning about career options.

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