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   Ph.D. Chem/Phys/Optics - The BIG Question
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tisapphire
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Ph.D. Chem/Phys/Optics - The BIG Question
« on: Oct 13th, 2006, 11:38am »
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Okay, well, I have read a number of posts on this list, and this question falls into the "There's nothing new under the sun" category.  So, preemptive apologies to those who read this and think "Haven't we covered this already?"
 
I have  Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry, heavy background in lasers, optics and electro optics, and am working basically as a physicist at a federal government laboratory.  Recently, I started thinking about the possibility of a career in the patent field.  Standard questions to follow:
 
1.  I have read in some places that the "Patent Attorney Gold Rush" is long since over.  Is this true for all technical fields?
 
2.  I have noticed that there are a number of different ways to go about this path, including patent agent, technical specialist, etc.  Any idea which would be the most appropriate for someone in my shoes?
 
3.  Is this even worth it?  I am making over $90k in the DC area right now.  Anyone willing to give a ROI analysis as to whether or not this would even be worth pursuing?
 
4.  Am I out of my cotton-pickin' mind?
 
All comments would be most helpful.
 
Thanks,
 
JG
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Re: Ph.D. Chem/Phys/Optics - The BIG Question
« Reply #1 on: Oct 13th, 2006, 1:35pm »
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You're out of you cotton picking mind.
 
You're making as much now as you would make as a patent agent after a few years of experience. So, unless you happen to hit just the right jackpot, you'll take a cut in pay to get started in patent work.
 
But money isn't the real issue for many professionals. Ok, maybe I should point at that only people satisfied with their incomes ever say that. I'm satisfied with my income as a patent agent. I was once a physicist in a federal government laboratory. I had a sense that only my own real limitations, and not the prejudices of others, would ever hold me back from the work I wanted to do. All I want to do now is write and prosecute patent applications. I don't care about the other stuff attorneys do. But I don't have a J.D., so now much of what I do should be called assisting those who write and prosecute patent applications. Sure, I do the typing, but others typically make all the substantive available decisions. This is more true in patent prosecution (the negotiating process with the patent office) than in the original writing of the applications. What few decisions there are to make after the clients provide their instructions are made by supervising attorneys. Then I sign the work. That's right ... I do what I'm told and then sign the documents like my judgement stands behind the work. And wouldn't you know, those supervising attorneys seem to get younger and less experienced every year.
 
I recommend doing one of two things:
(1) Stick it out with your current career.
(2) Make a career change into a field where you hold or are willing to obtain the highest reasonable degree.
 
If you switch to patent work, without attending law school, you'll have chosen neither of my recommendations. Why did you get a PhD? I did it in part to set aside any future career roadblocks. But here I am with a wall of roadblocks in my way ... I have no J.D. My career is a roadblock.
 
Don't go into patent work without a J.D. my friend.
That's my recommendation.
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tisapphire
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Re: Ph.D. Chem/Phys/Optics - The BIG Question
« Reply #2 on: Oct 14th, 2006, 10:46am »
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Interesting.  I think you have given me some very sound advice.
 
So, just on a purely hypothetical basis, what would a patent attorney (obviously, with a JD) with a Ph.D. and experience in chemistry, physics and optics/electro-optics actually make starting out?  Does it justify the cost of law school?
 
Thanks,
 
JG
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smgsmc
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Re: Ph.D. Chem/Phys/Optics - The BIG Question
« Reply #3 on: Oct 25th, 2006, 3:12pm »
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So, tisapphire, you want to pump up your career with non-linear gain?  Smiley Sorry for the bad EO pun.  Patent Agent makes some good points, but I'd like to add some qualifiers.  By the way, I have a PhD in physics and used to work in optoelectronics.
 
How much control you have over your career depends on the position and your degree for sure (and, of course, as with everything in life...luck).  If you're doing R&D in quantum optics, a PhD is de rigeur for a principal investigator; a BS will land you a slot as a technician.  In a manufacturing environment, a BS may qualify you for plant manager; a PhD may be a liability in some instances.  Here's one thing to keep in mind though.  If your org is run by PhD research scientists, you'll be OK.  But if your bosses are business managers, you can still run into trouble.  Another path for you:  Someone I know who worked for a major federal R&D lab in DC joined their intellectual property department working on IP transfer with outside companies.  After working a number of years he got to know people in many of the IP firms.  He then left the federal lab and went to work for one of the firms.  The salary is much better.  He didn't do patent work, he did business analysis.  Something for you to consider.
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