When searching for her PhD, Tharsini Sivapalan wanted to find a course that offered her something extra. Previous experience during her undergraduate degree had led Tharsini to the realisation that gaining work experience could make a vital difference in improving her career options; “The PIPS internship was the main reason I applied to the DTP”, says Tharsini, adding “I’d learnt that you need experience to get anywhere in life so I saw PIPS as a great opportunity to get three months experience somewhere new”.
Tharsini was concerned and felt a bit under pressure about fitting in her PIPS with her research schedule as this was very inflexible due to the nature of her study. When her supervisor put her in touch with a contact at an Intellectual Property company based in Cambridge this provided an ideal solution. She undertook her internship from April to July 2016 and during the three months gained an understanding of patents and commercialization of IP. “This was a steep learning curve, but I really enjoyed it and benefitted from it”, she reflects. She’d already taken part in the Research Councils’ Biotech Yes competition and IP seemed interesting. After grasping the basics of IP, Tharsini’s objective was to assist the company, Stratagem IPM, with advising and managing the IP portfolio of one their large clients, the Institute of Food Research (now the Quadram Institute Bioscience), and to work with patent attorneys on other client cases. Tharsini was trained to become familiar with the publication approval process, which became her main responsibility during the internship. Her work consisted of logging in all incoming approvals requests, reviewing the publications and providing background information to the senior patent attorney ahead of the deadlines.
Tharsini found her internship to be an invaluable experience, developing many transferrable skills, including time management and communication skills. It also gave her the opportunity to master working in a different environment. “For someone who has been in education for a long time, this gave me an opportunity to experience a 9-5 office job.” says Tharsini. “The internship has strengthened my self-confidence. During my three months, I’ve learnt how to prioritise tasks, meet deadlines and be committed to the work that I undertook. I had opportunities to discuss how the all the attorneys got into their careers and their route to qualification”.
Tharsini impressed her internship hosts so much that as a result she was offered a job with the company, following completion of her PhD. Originally, Tharsini had assumed that she would always go in to science but as her PhD progressed she became increasingly unsure about her career path, as although science research is something that she enjoys she was concerned by the lack of stability this might offer as a long-term career option. Being offered the opportunity at Stratagem provided Tharsini with an interesting alternative option. “When you do a PhD and you’re really involved in your project you think about science [research] as the only career option. I didn’t know much about IP as a career, but going to Stratagem made me realise you can train on the job and move up the ladder”. Tharsini found everyone at Stratagem made her feel very welcome and were extremely supportive, which was another reason she enjoyed the internship so much. “They all encouraged me and that’s why I decided to apply for training programme”. Tharsini reflects that had she not been offered the job with Stratagem she would have applied for a position on their training programme anyway, but this is a highly competitive market so doing the internship and getting offered the job has made the process a great deal easier. Knowing that there is a job lined up and waiting is a great relief, meaning Tharsini can now focus on completing her PhD.
Even had Tharsini not been offered the job she considers that the PIPS experience would have helped her career. “PIPS is a great opportunity”, Tharsini reflects. “PIPS provided me with a good experience, I learnt new skills related to a career in IP and was provided with a platform to be able to apply for IP related careers because the internship helped me understand what the role is like and skills required before applying. PIPS is why I applied for the PhD in the first place, so that it would help my career. And it has”.
What advice would she give future students? Get out of the lab and try something different!