By Wakanene Kamau
1 Broadway, New York, NY 10004. Take the 6, transfer to the 4 at Grand Central and get off at Bowling Green. That seemed easy enough, even to someone from the cornfields of Ohio. But before I get ahead of myself, it would probably be helpful to give some background as to how I ended up in New York City this winter break. I spent this past summer working full time in a molecular biology research lab. I had always imagined myself having a career in research science however, after spending forty hours a week for eleven weeks at the lab bench; I realized the traditional science route was not for me. So I began exploring other career paths that allowed for me to be involved in the scientific community without actually conducting research.
In this search I came across the field of patent law. It seemed like the perfect alternative to lab work, I would be able to indulge my interest in science without the tedium and repetitiveness of research. I wanted to learn more about the field beyond what I could find online or in career brochures but didn’t know how to go about doing that. Enter the University of Chicago. In the rush of RSO fairs, SLMs and placement tests that is O-Week I decided to go to a career fair and ended up signing onto the Chicago Careers in Law list host. In the following weeks I would skim over the emails hoping to see anything related to patent law or intellectual property law. Towards the end of October I became aware of the Alumni Board of Governors externship program specifically for 1st and 2nd years and there happened to be an alumnus in patent law looking for externs. It was exactly the kind of opportunity I was looking for, so I applied for the program and two weeks later was accepted.
The firm I “externed” in was Kenyon & Kenyon LLP, a law firm specializing in intellectual property law, at their headquarters in New York City. The alumnus I shadowed practiced in the patent litigation arm of the firm in cases dealing with biotechnology companies. While I was there I was able to try my hand in both the technical and legal sides of patent litigation. Each of the three days I was at the firm was radically different from the next. The first day I spent mainly researching the history of the case I was assigned online and familiarizing myself with the type of technology used. The second day I spent mostly reading old Organic Chemistry textbooks and cross-referencing them with FDA record books on approved drugs similar to the one involved in a separate case. The third and final day was spent looking through legal references to find past cases similar to the ones the firm was currently trying.
I found the experience especially valuable because it gave me the chance to see, first-hand, a career path that I might not have considered otherwise. I’ve always had a penchant for science and only recently came to realize there was a market in the legal world for people with science backgrounds. Being able to actually visit this kind of specialized law firm gave me the ability to see if I liked the work as well as talk to other people about their career paths leading to patent law. I had a wonderful experience and certainly the externship made me seriously consider pursuing a career in patent law, much more so than I had previously. I would definitely recommend this sort of experience to others students. It’s one thing to read about some career or job in a brochure or online second-hand, it’s a complete other thing to actually experience the work for a few days; it allows for the opportunity to be immersed in a field of study. It was also reassuring, since externs are paired with an alumnus of the university, to see that people do make it out of the university all right.
Wakanene Kamau is a First Year in the College majoring in Biological Chemistry.