In this post, I would like to introduce Jeanette Roorda, a Chemical Engineer, Educator, and Law Student at the University of Florida. I’m excited to share this interview because it illustrates how engineering is a wonderful launching point to a variety of career paths. Life is about trying new paths and seeing what fits for you in the season of life you are in. Jeanette is a great example of a woman who has used engineering background in a variety of ways.
What has your career looked like up until now?
I chose engineering because I always enjoyed math and science. I received my undergraduate degree at the University of Florida in Chemical Engineering, with a minor in Business Administration. I always enjoyed the interaction between business and science. During college I had a summer internship at Anheuser Busch at the brewery in Jacksonville, FL. This internship led to a full time job in the St. Louis Brewing Group, where I became a Brewing Group Manager. As a Group Manager, I supervised the brewing process to ensure we met quality requirements and the production schedule.
After I got married, I moved to South Florida for my husband’s job. Unfortunately the job opportunities in that area didn’t fit my skill set or interest (my interest was mainly in the food and beverage industry). So I decided to teach High School math and science. There is always a need for upper level math and science teachers. I really enjoyed the opportunity to get students interested in math and science and to teach them how to apply those subjects in the real world. I taught for three years and then had my first son. After he was born, I stayed home with him and then with his younger brother for the next 6 years.
I had always known I wanted to get back into the workforce. I wanted to be challenged intellectually and I knew I wanted math and science to be involved. After a lot of thought and discussion, my husband suggested that I look into patent law – he thought it would be a good fit for me. I applied to law school at the University of Florida and was accepted. I knew the quality of education there, since that is where my undergrad degree is from, and knew it would be a great choice for me for law school. Additionally, the University of Florida Levin College of Law offers a wide variety of Intellectual Property law courses (patent law, copyright law, trademarks, trade secret, etc.).
What has been your experience in Law School so far?
I am currently in my second year of law school. Law school is definitely a switch from engineering. The biggest difference is the grading scale is much more competitive because you are graded against your peers. That makes it much more challenging to do group work, because others may not want to help others succeed. The course workload is comparable to the engineering course workload. It is a different type of learning than engineering coursework, a lot of reading and many more gray areas, but as an engineer you are used to pushing through and getting the work done, so it hasn’t been too bad.
This past summer I had an externship (an unpaid internship) at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in Alexandria, VA.. You don’t have to be a law student to apply for the externship program, so it is a great opportunity to understand the patent process before you commit to law school. I think the externship experience would be beneficial for any engineer whether or not they were interested in pursuing a law degree. The USPTO has many employment opportunities for individuals with a technical background as patent examiners.
What does a career path look like for an engineer turned lawyer?
There are two branches of law for those going into patent law. The first is Patent Prosecution. In this branch of patent law you draft patent applications. You define the invention through a list of claims and detail the scope of protection for the inventor. You work with the USPTO with the goal to get a patent issued for a client. In order to represent clients on patent applications and before the USPTO, you are required to pass the USPTO’s Registration Exam, also known as the Patent Bar Exam.
The second is Patent Litigation. In this branch of patent law a patent has already been issued and you are representing a client in court. Typical cases would involve the validity of a patent and patent infringement.
Another career path to consider is becoming a patent agent. For this role, you have to take the Patent Bar Exam, but you don’t have to complete law school. It allows you to write patent applications without being an attorney. This is a great path if you are contemplating law school, or if you want a part-time career path in this industry.
What advice can you provide for other women engineers?
Having a technical background gives you a solid base for any career you have. It gives you a lot of flexibility. You can use this foundation for a career in engineering, research, upper level math and science education, or even as a tutor. You are able to use these skills in so many ways. You don’t just have to be a stereotypical engineer. You have the ability to create a career that fits your lifestyle.
If you happen to be interested in pursing a Patent Law degree, here are few resources for you to investigate: