A post from our student blogger Catie
One year ago as a senior, one of the biggest mysteries to me was how the difficulty of graduate school compares to undergrad. As I was offered interviews to graduate school programs, I had the opportunity to speak with veteran grad students who could only tell me that “Grad school is harder than undergrad, but in a different way”. Although that statement is incredibly vague, I’ve come to learn in the last month and a half that this is very true, so let me try to shed some light on the weekly life of an MSPL student!
The fall semester schedule consists of four patent law courses, two technical electives, and at least one capstone project that is unique to each MSPL student. Each of the four patent law classes meets once a week for about two hours and focuses on one particular aspect of what a patent agent does (i.e. writing claims, performing patent searches, drafting a patent application, and learning the rules that govern patent law). There is moderate reading required for preparation of each class, but most time consumed for these courses is dominated by the (usually) weekly homework assignments. This program is wonderful because instead of just learning about the practices of patent law, we are thrown into it so that we learn by doing! The patent law homework assignments may take some quality time to complete, but it’s essentially practicing for our future career.
Any MSPL student who holds a degree below a Ph.D. must also take two technical electives of their choice from their previous field of focus. My degree is a Bachelor’s in Biology-Genetics, so I am taking two graduate-level biology courses: Advanced Cell Biology and Molecular Biology. These are your typical Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday classes. Although these courses are electives, it must be kept in mind that we’re still talking about Notre Dame graduate-level science courses; so it’s no joke! Homework and reading for the electives probably require the same (if not a little more) time commitment as the patent law homework. I personally think that one of the most challenging aspects of the MSPL program is balancing your time between patent law work and then changing gears to return to the mindset of analyzing scientific literature and their concepts. Nonetheless, these courses supplement the technical knowledge necessary to comprehend your potential clients’ inventions! Also, no worries: all ND professors that I have encountered so far are incredibly friendly and helpful, and they genuinely want to help you however possible if you begin to struggle.
Okay, so those are the de facto courses during the week! Other responsibilities for the week that may not be regularly scheduled consist of the capstone project and Lunch-and-Learns. Each MSPL student has an individual capstone project wherein they are working one-on-one with an inventor here on Notre Dame’s campus to draft a patent application for that inventor’s idea. This is our first real-life experience in performing patent law work. Also, any MSPL student who holds a Ph.D. (and subsequently does not need to take electives) will take on two capstone projects. Capstone projects span the entire school year, and they will occupy variable amounts of time outside of class. Most of the capstone-related work is integrated into the patent law courses, but it is the student’s responsibility to schedule meetings with the inventor(s) to discuss the related invention(s) outside of class. For my capstone project, I occasionally meet with my inventor to discuss the invention and solidify my understanding of the technology behind it, as well as attend the weekly lab meetings held by my inventor. It’s a really exciting experience, and I am personally grateful to have the opportunity to do guided patent application drafting before I graduate and do it on my own in the work force!
Finally, we have Lunch-and-Learns, which occur on football Fridays (the Fridays of ND home football games). On these days, a guest speaker from a law firm or another patent law-related corporation visits campus to speak to us about patent law careers. They generally give a presentation that provides an overview of what they do, and we are offered the chance to informally have discussions with them while eating pizza! It’s a fun experience while also providing the MSPL students a great networking opportunity with potential employers!
To round out this post, I want to put it out there that I do actually have free time as an MSPL student! Although, due to the class schedule and the weekly deadlines for homework submission online, I am consistently busy with homework. There is no point in time where I will ever say ‘I have nothing to do right now’, because there will always be something. Like all students are told: it’s all about time management. I may be perpetually working towards due dates, but that doesn’t mean that I am perpetually swamped with work. The MSPL’ers go to football games, occasionally get together at Fiddler’s Hearth on Monday evenings, and leave town on the weekends if they want. Graduate school is hard work, but we still have time to relax and take care of ourselves, too! Like always, if you have any other questions about the life of an MSPL student, feel free to ask!