• Name: Maria Nikolova
  • Job Title: Technical Assistant
  • Location: London
  • University: Leeds
  • Degree: PhD in Biological Sciences

Why did you choose a job in this profession?

When I was in the third year of my PhD, I started considering my future career opportunities outside of academia. I was looking for careers where there was more certainty around career progression, more control over working hours, and a more straightforward relationship between the amount of effort I put in and the ‘successful’ results of my work, as those were all things I felt were lacking in academia, but were important for me.

However, I still wanted to use my scientific knowledge and training in my future career. I came across the profession of a patent attorney through talks and workshops organised by my university and Doctoral Training Programme and it seemed to provide all the things I was looking for and, additionally, the opportunity to work on cutting-edge technologies, which are close to entering the market and benefitting society.

I spoke to a few patent attorneys to get a sense of what the day-to-day job is like and they all seemed to be really happy with their career choice, the work-life balance, how intellectually stimulating the role was, the variety of the tasks and technologies they worked on, and the opportunity to use their scientific and legal knowledge to help clients. I felt that this role would be the right fit for me given my career priorities and my skills, so I started looking into how to get into the profession and, fortunately, secured a position in the summer internship programme and, later, a trainee role with Carpmaels & Ransford! 

What was the application process like – any advice?

The application process consisted of submitting an initial application (which covered what a CV and covering letter usually do), going through a recorded video interview, then two further interviews with senior associates/partners at the firm. The firm’s HR team and the interviewers were really approachable and friendly, they communicated timely and were open to my questions – there was nothing daunting about the process! There were a mix of motivational and technical questions I was asked at the interview stages. I asked my university careers service for help in preparing for the motivational questions and that was really useful – I even did a couple of mock interviews, which took away some of the nerves!

The key take-away for me was to make sure your enthusiasm and your skills come across in your answers – for example, if you’re recalling a project you helped on, make sure to outline what your contribution resulted in. For the technical questions, my advice would be to try and structure your answer so that you show your thinking and how you arrived at your conclusions. Don’t be afraid to take a minute to collect your thoughts before answering, rather than jumping straight into it without a clear idea of where you’re heading.

I would also look into the firm you are applying for to see whether it would be the right fit for you, in terms of what sorts of technologies the firm works on, how many patent attorneys work in your area of interest, what the training process is like, what the culture is like – this would be also be useful when it comes to the end of the interview, when you should have a couple of informed questions prepared for your interviewers. 

What skills are useful in this profession?

There are many skills that I’ve developed through my university work and other experiences that I use daily on the job! Time management is very important in the profession, as the work is very much driven by the deadlines set by the patent offices. You will have several projects on the go at any one time, with various deadlines associated with them, so you will need to manage your time around those. You will have to also think about time management within your teams – for most deadlines, you would need to prepare a draft, which will need to be reviewed by your supervisor, then sent to the client for approval before it can be filed with the patent office, so you need to be aware of the timelines associated with each step.

You will have had to do this for any group project you’ve been involved in. This leads me on to the importance of being able to work individually, stay motivated and deliver work on time, as well as use your team work skills to work with the other people on your team in order to complete tasks efficiently and to a high standard.

Communication skills are important, too, as you will not only be working within teams at your firm, but you will also be speaking to clients and patent attorneys in other countries, for example, to coordinate the strategy for each patent or patent portfolio. I’ve quickly learned the importance of writing a clearly worded email! And, of course, the problem-solving and technical skills you gained in your degree will be key for this job.

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