I like to observe the world and know how it works. The thing that always fired me up was how incredible it is that mothers and daughters and fathers and sons could look and act so alike. This is where my fascination with genetics began.
Seth Zonies completed his graduate work in the lab of Geraldine Seydoux in 2011. Before he was a BCMB student, Seth worked at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the NIH in Bethesda, studying the development of hearing in zebrafish. Even before graduate school Seth was thinking about his future:
I was a biochemistry major in college and thought about patent law, but got a research opportunity at the NIH… This seemed way cooler than the law.
After graduating from BCMB, Seth decided to take his research experience and revisit his passion for the U.S. patent system. When asked about his motivation for returning to patent law, Seth gives me some perspective:
Modern research is about specialization. Going deeper and deeper. I wanted to go broad, to learn something different about a new field every day. Also, the project cycle time of 2-3 years felt too long.
Seth works for the Johns Hopkins Office of Technology Transfer. He quips about his job title “Some people call it a Technology Commercialization Specialist“. I asked him what he does on a day-to-day basis:
My primary responsibility is to analyze technology that Faculty suspect may have commercial value. I look for patentability, development stage, potential market size, and competition and then I recommend what type of patent strategy may be appropriate. I also reach out to companies to pitch the technology. I work with faculty to guide them through the commercialization process.
In other words, if you develop a method or discover a result that may be commercially valuable, Seth performs the footwork to determine whether anyone else has patented it, and whether it is feasible to patent. Not everyone is suited to this type of work. Seth is modest when he explains the skills necessary to be a successful Technology Commercialization Specialist:
I’m still new at this. I have a lot to learn. I am good at seeing the big picture and not getting bogged down in details. I explain things well and I work well with different personalities. I am very patient. This is something I learned in graduate school.
I asked Seth if he has any advice for new and current BCMB students deciding what type of career suits them:
Try and understand where your natural skill sets exist. When are you happiest during the day, what specific tasks are fun. Alternatively, what is tedious and stressful. Develop a research style where you can do more of your strengths and less of your weaknesses. Are you a natural collaborator? Do you like to write? Are you good at the bench? All blends of skills can excel at research. Try not to let others intimidate you into an approach that works for them.
Seth was influenced very much by his mentor:
My mentor Geraldine encouraged me to do what made me happy! When you’re passionate about your job, and feel it has meaning, you look forward to waking up. What else can you ask for?
When I asked about the differences between academic research and working in technology transfer, Seth joked:
In terms of a lifestyle change, mostly I write a heck of lot more e-mails. Luckily, I don’t have to come in on the weekends to feed the worms!