From PhD student to trainee patent attorney

Annie Miles completed a PhD in Medical Science at Cambridge before swapping the lab for the law firm office. She is now training as a patent attorney with J A Kemp, and spoke to us about the challenges of her new career, what inspired her to choose it, and advice for others considering  a similar step

I completed an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at University College London before applying for a PhD programme in Medical Science at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research. My PhD research focused on understanding the regulation of oxygen-sensing pathways and iron metabolism in cells. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to present my research at numerous conferences, both in Cambridge and further afield, notably at the European Bioenergetics conference in Italy and at the European Iron Club conference in Zürich.  During my PhD, I also chaired a conference aimed at discussing and promoting interdisciplinary approaches to tackle the global health challenges of the 21st century. Towards the end of my PhD, I was keen to pursue a career outside the lab that enabled me to use my scientific training in a commercial setting. I applied for a trainee patent attorney position in the biotechnology and life sciences group at J A Kemp, and I am now in my second year of training at the firm.

As a trainee patent attorney, you are continually learning new areas of the law and I find this aspect very rewarding

What’s your favourite thing about what you do?

A career in patent law provides a unique interface between science and the law, so my work as a trainee patent attorney is very varied. I deal with inventions in different areas of technology every day. and I get to use my science background in a commercial setting. The clients can range from small biotechnology startups to global pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions. As a trainee patent attorney, you are continually learning new areas of the law and I find this aspect very rewarding.

I knew that I wanted to pursue a stimulating yet challenging career where I would be exposed to a broad range of scientific disciplines with real-world commercial application

How did you choose the attorney path? What influenced your career choices as a new graduate?

My first exposure to the patent profession arose during my undergraduate degree, where I undertook a research placement in a lab that was using patented retinal stem cells to try to restore visual function. I later attended a number of careers events and talks, where I gained a better understanding of what the career involves and I became fascinated in the commercialisation of biotechnology. I knew that I wanted to pursue a stimulating yet challenging career where I would be exposed to a broad range of scientific disciplines with real-world commercial application.

Describe some of the most challenging things about your role.

As a trainee patent attorney, you must successfully complete a number of exams to become a qualified European and UK patent attorney. It can be challenging to balance working and sitting professional exams. However, my firm provides a structured training programme with in-house tutorials and generous study leave, which ensures that all of the trainees are well prepared and supported during examinations.

What are your hopes for the future, career-wise?

My short-term goal is to complete my exams so that I can qualify as a European and UK patent attorney.

Tell us about your interests outside of work?

During the week, I enjoy working in London with its bustling and vibrant lifestyle. Usually I particularly enjoy spending time attending music events and sampling London’s expanding food scene in the evenings. I also make time before work to go to the gym in order to help maintain a healthy work/life balance. My weekends are spent in the countryside, where I live with my partner. You will often find me out running or hiking to a nearby village. I am also a keen baker and gardener and I take a lot of pride in my home-grown vegetables! I love to travel and to explore new places, and can frequently be found planning my next trip.

I would recommend contacting recent graduates that have joined the profession to better understand what the job entails and to gain an insight into the interview process

One final piece of advice to students thinking of getting into your sector?

I would recommend contacting recent graduates that have joined the profession to better understand what the job entails and to gain an insight into the interview process. To find alumni working in your sector go to the Cambridge University LinkedIn and search in the extensive Alumni tab using filters.

If you’re interested in a career in law, explore our handy Career Sectors A-Z pages for further advice

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