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From a Chemistry Major to a Career in Law


Alexa Ashworth ’09
Alexa Ashworth ’09

I have always been interested in science and math through middle school and high school, and knew that in college I wanted to continue to take classes in the sciences. Starting at Hamilton as a freshman in 2005, I enjoyed the benefit of the brand new science building on campus and from my first days at Hamilton, I enrolled in the intro science and math courses. The great thing about Hamilton was that I could also round out my science classes with writing and history courses, French classes, continue to take flute lessons, and participate in various intramural sports.

I spent every summer on the Hill working with various professors and other students in the Computational Chemistry lab. I really enjoyed this work and was able to gain great experience presenting my work at conferences to other schools and even getting published.

By the end of my junior year, it was time to start thinking about life after college. As many of my peers were applying to medical schools or graduate schools, I didn’t think that was the right path for me. By chance, a former student with whom I had done research, and had graduated a few years earlier, stopped by campus to visit the Chemistry department, and he told me about what he was up to after graduation. After getting his degree, he had gone to law school and was interested in doing something called ‘patent law.’ I had never heard about this, but it intrigued me. I began to do some research about law schools and the field of patent law and became very interested in this career path.

My first stop was over to the Career Center to get all of the information I needed to apply to law schools and so began the process. Ultimately, I decided to go to Albany Law School (the first professor I met at my interview and current president of the school is a Hamilton College grad) and pursue a concentration in Intellectual Property Law.

While all first-year law students take the standard introductory courses, it wasn’t until my second and third years that I was able to start taking more advanced classes in patents, trademarks, licensing, and copyrights. Additionally, I was able to do a joint internship with a patent law firm and RPI in their Office of Technology Commercialization during my summers, which gave me some hands-on insight as to what it was like to work in the field.

After I graduated from Albany, the job market was pretty tough. Many firms were not hiring new graduates with no experience, so I had to use more resources than just my resume. I reached out to many attorneys in the field using any connections I had and met up to discuss what their daily work consists of, what they liked about the field, and any advice on looking for first jobs.

Through my job search, I eventually was introduced to a recent Albany Law grad who worked in patent law at IBM. I reached out and was encouraged to apply for their open position, as they were hiring new attorneys for a brand new in-house patent drafting center. I applied and went through the interview process, and shortly after, started my first day at IBM. On my first day at IBM, I was sent an e-mail invitation to join an IBM-internal online community group called “Hamilton graduates at IBM”.

I recently celebrated my 5 year work anniversary at IBM; I have been able to have many diverse experiences working as an attorney at a large corporation in a relatively short time.

The start of my career consisted of writing and arguing patent applications. In this role, I was able to work directly with IBM inventors as they described their inventions and I wrote them up into a patent application. In this role, my technical background and writing intensive courses at Hamilton helped a lot. I was able to write clear, concise documents, and quickly moved up to become a lead in the department.

After a few years, I moved on to a new role in which I support all intellectual property matters across specific products within IBM, including Cloud products and products in Watson Health. In this role, I get to work with developers, answering their questions as they take ideas and code to the product stage. I also get to work with the business side of the company, helping to advise the business team in the areas of law that affect their decisions. As a large company with many attorneys practicing different specialties, I get to collaborate and learn directly from my fellow attorneys. For example, if questions about data privacy come up in my work, I have resources to help me and learn from, right in my office. I love the unique role I have where I get to solve problems, review all of the new and interesting inventions being created, and advise on legal issues every day.

My advice to current students is to not be afraid to go down a non-traditional career path. As I have learned, chemistry majors do not have to become Ph.D. students, and attorneys do not have to be political science majors!

Also, do not be afraid to reach out to Hamilton graduates for help or advice as you begin the process of looking for a career path. As you can see throughout my post, the Hamilton connection has continued to touch my life after graduation in many ways.

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