Rules are meant to be broken, that is, if that serves the bigger purpose of taking you closer to your goals !
Aishwarya Vijayaraghavan, our next pathbreaker, Patent Agent & IP Lawyer, predominantly works on Intellectual Property related issues, advising clients on the patentability of their inventions, as well as other technology laws related to cyber law, defence law, trademarks and copyrights.
Aishwarya talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about deciding to do her bachelors in law after her masters in chemical engineering to build her expertise in the niche field of technology law.
For students, there are no set guidelines to achieve your career goals. And always remember, it is never too late to turnaround your career and reinvent yourself at any point of time!
Aishwarya, where are you from, tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in Chennai, and like most middle-class Indians at the time, studied engineering. Engineering wasn’t a conscious decision that I took, I was just another kid who was passionate about a lot of things but did not know what I was passionate enough about, to choose as a career. While I was passionate about the English language and reading books, I also had an unquenchable thirst for learning new things, especially related to science. When I was in the eighth grade, as part of our school’s science project, I was selected to explain an invention related to the field of biotechnology. There were several other students alongside, explaining other inventions relating to the same field. At that time, biotechnology was still an emerging field. I was fascinated to learn about all the new inventions that were being discussed in that room and biotechnology immediately caught my fancy. So after tenth grade, I took up science group with biotech as my elective.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
Like I said before, as much as I was passionate about learning new things, I was also considering a career in law because I thought I had a flair for communication and enjoyed arguing, and at that time, most of my knowledge about careers only came from Jeffrey Archer novels and he didn’t write novels about scientists, at least not the ones that I had read! But coming from a middle-class family with little to no background knowledge about the field of law, my dad was skeptical about me pursuing it for a career, and I was also not completely sure about it as even I knew that I couldn’t take a career decision solely based on Jeffrey Archer novels. So like many Indian students, I decided to follow the herd and engineering became my natural choice. I chose to specialize in biotechnology as my tryst with the subject in the eighth grade was gratifying.
I then did my Masters in Chemical Engineering from the National University of Singapore (NUS).
I also have a Bachelor’s degree in Law now, from Dr. Ambedkar Government Law College, Chennai.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
My dad is also from the medical field, so I already had the habit of reading scientific manuals, medical journals, etc., and my dad’s numerous talks about how the biotech vaccine technology revolutionized the field of medicine, gave me a natural push towards pursuing industrial biotechnology for my undergrad. I did an industrial internship at Biocon during the final semester of my undergrad and worked in the R&D department, doing my project on developing biologics. I was literally living the dream of any biotech student. I should have been happy, but I realized that something was missing – I wasn’t passionate about the work – research is monotonous as it requires dedication to do methodical work. I did not thrive in monotony. So I decided to change fields and pursued a masters in Chemical Engineering (Industrial Biotechnology was an amalgamation of Chemical Engineering and core Biotechnology subjects) from the National University of Singapore (NUS). I was faring decently in the course, but again, something was amiss – while my friends and classmates tried to be exceptional, I was only doing the needful and didn’t have the inclination to go above and beyond. NUS is quite competitive and so is the job market in Singapore, but I still didn’t go out of my way to make myself stand out. But little did I know that I was about to learn about the perfect career for me! During my final semester at NUS, I took an elective from the law department – Intellectual Property Laws for Engineers and Scientists, and I aced the subject with little effort.
Tell us, how did you get to where you are today
After I completed my post grad, I had an education loan to repay, so I started looking for jobs in the line of patents (an Intellectual Property Law related field), but couldn’t get a break. I got a job at Berger Paints Singapore as a Technology Executive in the R&D department. Although it paid well, I had quite a bad experience with the Technology Manager I was reporting to, and as I was simply not passionate about the job, I felt it just wasn’t worth undergoing such hostile treatment. So I quit and started looking for a job again, and in my free time, I was helping out professors and students at NUS fill invention disclosures for filing patents. I slowly came to realize that this was my passion – I excelled in technical writing and had a flair for understanding technology. So I came back to India and started my career in the field of patents at Surana & Surana International Attorneys, a law firm in Chennai. Working in a law firm exposed me to the field of “technology law” and I realized that it is a niche area which requires techno-legal expertise, which is a combination that is rare among legal professionals. So I decided to pursue a law degree and here I am today, having reinvented my career – a techno-legal professional practicing technology law – particularly patent law, cyber law and defence laws!
How did you get your first break?
When I came back to India, I had applied for an internship at Surana & Surana International Attorneys, to learn to draft patents. My initial plan was to go back to Singapore with my hands-on learning and experience in drafting patents, and find a job there. For the first time in my life, I was really passionate about the work I was doing and was loving every minute of work and every assignment that was coming my way. The firm realized my potential and started involving me in legal assignments which required an understanding of technology as well. My involvement in such assignments encouraged me to pursue law and so I decided to stay back in India and started pursuing an undergraduate degree in law. Although it meant starting from scratch again, it has been a rather rewarding choice – mentally, emotionally as well as career wise. I have since learnt that it is never too late to pursue your passion – the path is very rewarding.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
The only challenge that I had to face was starting again from scratch – at the age of 27, when most of my friends had already had a head start in their careers, I was just beginning all over again! Sometimes it was embarrassing, trying to explain what I was doing. All I did to overcome this challenge was to keep working and doing things that I was truly passionate about. All I cared about was the satisfaction I got out of working on an assignment. And like I said, I have since realized that it is never too late to pursue your passion and there is nothing embarrassing about reinventing yourself and your career at any point of time!
Tell us about your current work
I work at a law firm, Surana & Surana. I predominantly work on patents – for example, some of the work I do related to patents is to advise clients on the patentability of their inventions, draft patent specifications for their inventions, attend hearings before the Patent Office on behalf of them, etc., to name a few. I also work on other technology laws such as on cyber law related assignments, defence law related assignments, trademark and copyright assignments, etc. What I most love about my job is the absence of routine/ monotony. Each assignment is unique and I learn something new everyday. I work together with inventors to protect their inventions and I’d like to think that I play a small part in helping them get credit for their hard work and meticulous research.
How does your work benefit society?
Like I said, I’d like to think that I play a small part in helping inventors get credit (name as well as monetary gains) for their hard work and meticulous research!
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Each patent assignment that I have worked on so far is memorable to me. Most memorable assignment of it all is probably the first patent that was granted – it is related to a fire prevention technology. Another assignment close to my heart is a legal opinion we had prepared for the Ministry of Defence at Surana & Surana International Attorneys – we were a team of 4 ladies (Ammu Sasidharan, Anmol Gulecha, Ankita Singh and myself) who worked day and night, several months at a stretch, on a rather unusual area of law. The assignment, a first of its kind, was well received and appreciated. Our efforts were equally acknowledged by the client as well as the firm, which was gratifying.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
I cannot stress enough about the importance of following your passion. When you are passionate about work, every day is enjoyable, so my only advice to students based on my experience is to do what they enjoy doing most!
I take each day as it comes and for now, I’m riding the tide, trusting that it’s taking me the right way! However, I trust that the destination at the end is my own consulting firm someday!