March 2012

Taking technology out of the lab and into the world

Rachel A. Cassidy talks about
a career in technology transfer

Rachel Cassidy takes on the 20-mile Northern Central Railroad Trail in Maryland near the Pennsylvania border.

Science, intellectual property (which includes patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets) and business converge in the field of technology transfer. Its focus is the transfer of IP rights from the nonprofit academic sector to the for-profit sector for commercialization so that academic innovations can be turned into products and services for public good.

The interdisciplinary nature of technology transfer attracts people with all kinds of academic backgrounds. Some may have science or engineering undergraduate degrees and law degrees. Others may have earned M.B.A.s. As an associate director at Johns Hopkins University’s Technology Transfer Office in Maryland, I fall into the group of people who have doctoral degrees in science. I earned my doctorate in biophysics and biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins University in 2003 under the guidance of Paul S. Miller. My thesis project focused on triplex formation in DNA, and it touched upon biochemistry, biophysics and chemistry. I enjoyed my time in the lab and really liked working with my adviser. However, in the third year of graduate school, I realized that I did not want to pursue the traditional academic career path. Although my experience in lab was great, it wasn’t a perfect fit for me. I wanted to interact more with people. I was interested in science on a broader scale and didn’t want to spend the rest of my life focused on a tiny microcosm of science. I also found the idea of working with science that was closer to being a product very exciting.

Luckily, my adviser supported my search for a career away from research. One of my first resources was a book called “Alternative Careers in Science” by Cynthia Robbins-Roth. A good friend of mine from college was working as a patent attorney. I picked her brain about what a typical day was like for her. She helped me contact others in her field so that I could request informational interviews. I asked people to share with me the stories of their career paths and tell me about their job descriptions.

As I entered my last year of graduate school, Johns Hopkins University’s Technology Transfer Office started a two-year internship program. I immediately applied. I knew that I was interested in technology transfer, but I wasn’t sure if I was more geared for science and law, or science and business, or the combination of science, law and business, which is technology transfer. I saw the internship as the perfect opportunity to determine where my interests and strengths lay and was overjoyed when I got accepted.

In my first year of the internship, I passed the Patent Bar Exam. Individuals may sit for the Patent Bar Exam if they have a certain number of undergraduate science credits even if they have not gone to law school. Because I hadn’t gone to law school, passing the exam made me a registered patent agent (as opposed to a patent attorney). I was actually promoted early from the internship program to a technology-licensing associate position. I took to the work quickly and loved it, managing my own docket of cases.

I left technology transfer for a while and took a position as a patent agent within an R&D group at a medical device company. I wanted to gain experience working in industry and see things from a different perspective. Working in industry was a great experience, but, as sometimes happens, the company disbanded the R&D group where I was working. As luck would have it, my previous technology transfer office was hiring!




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