Law, Policy, and Regulation

Scientific careers in law involve researching, writing and submitting patent applications and investigating the originality of ideas in law firms and university technology transfer offices. These positions research skills and a working knowledge of science, which Ph.D.-trained scientists possess already, as well as contract and intellectual property law, much of which professionals learn on the job. Scientists also find careers with many government agencies engaged in funding science and the regulation of technology produced by scientific research. All of these areas require knowledge of the health product and services sector, strong oral and written communication skills, as well as, the ability to comprehend and synthesize large amounts of complex regulatory information. Trainees can gain relevant experience through the University of Chicago Higher Education Fellows program and work with regulatory entities on campus, such as the Offices of Clinical Research, University Research Administration, Institutional Biosafety Committee and Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee.

Examples of institutions where you could work in this field:

Law Firms
Governmental Regulatory Agencies
Think Tanks

Examples of job titles that you might find at those institutions:

Regulatory Affairs Specialist, Lobbyist, Science Policy Analyst, Legislative Affairs Officer

Professional societies that are relevant to this career category:

Regulatory Affairs Professional Society, National Academy of Science Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy, Association for Politics and the Life Sciences, UNESCO

Alumni Working in Law, Policy, & Regulation

Karen Imgrund Deak

PhD Genetics, Genomics and Systems Biology 2008
Director, Master of Science in Law Program, Notre Dame

What did you do as a trainee to prepare for your current career?
As a trainee, I learned “science” with a capital S – I went out of my way to learn broadly about a wide variety of topics, both in and out of my specific area of research. Most importantly, I learned to think critically and ask good follow-up questions about whatever I was thinking about.

What are the typical things your job entails each day?
My day-to-day varies widely. When classes are in session, I’m teaching (or prepping), or helping students one-on-one. When it’s summertime, I work unofficially for Notre Dame’s Office of Technology Transfer, helping them move patents through their pipeline.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Since I’m a professor, I feel like I should say, “Working with students.” But in my case, many faculty members are “students,” too — I have a special set of knowledge that they don’t usually have, and I can help make their professional lives better. So maybe the best answer is “Helping people.”

Ben Krinsky

PhD Evolutionary Biology 2014
Legislative Affairs Officer, Federation of American Scientists for Experimental Biology

What did you do as a trainee to prepare for your current career?
As a trainee, I tried to find time to pursue at least a few activities related to politics and policy. For example, I worked to be an advocate for research funding, and I volunteered to be a trainee representative for my professional society’s public policy committee. More generally, I do think that my scientific education has been incredibly helpful in my new career. In graduate school, I honed my abilities to evaluate evidence and to think critically and rationally about complex subjects. Also, studying evolution in particular gave me a deep appreciation of history. These academic competencies have proven to be transferable, and I am endeavoring to put them to good use in the policy world.

What are the typical things your job entails each day?
My day-to-day schedule varies quite a bit, but a typical day consists of meetings and a fair amount of writing. One of my main tasks is to keep track of bills making their way through Congress that might have some impact on researchers in the biological sciences, and then share that information with our constituent societies. I also go to a lot of different kinds of meetings in order to learn about forthcoming science policy proposals and budgets, and to make the case for increased basic research funding.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is the feeling that our organization is actually having a positive impact on the scientific community. There is a lot of cynicism about our government these days, but I can now see that advocates for science do have an effect on legislators and can help them to make informed decisions. This is very gratifying to see, even if positive change is often incremental and takes a great deal of time.

Jennifer McPartland

PhD Microbiology 2008
Senior Scientist, Health Program, Environmental Defense Fund

What did you do as a trainee to prepare for your current career?
Critical thinking skills are critical to policy work. Fortunately, learning to think critically is a fundamental element of training in scientific research. Communication, both written and oral and at different levels for different audiences, is a core part of my job that I have had to strengthen and hone overtime. I would encourage trainees to take as many opportunities as possible to formally and informally present their research and to practice distilling complex information into a format understandable to the lay person. I would also encourage trainees to engage in activities outside of the lab. I volunteered with a few non-profit groups while at the University. Engaging in outside activities demonstrates multi-dimensionality to prospective employers. This is particularly helpful when trying to distinguish oneself from other scientists pursuing careers in the policy arena.

What are the typical things your job entails each day?
The mission of the health program at Environmental Defense Fund is to protect human health and the environment from harmful chemicals by reducing exposures to toxic substances and driving safer chemicals into the marketplace. Effective governmental and corporate policies as well as strong science are needed to achieve this mission. My job largely involves 1) communication with others internal and external to my organization about actions needed to make progress on complex, sometimes contentious scientific and policy issues related to chemicals, 2) heavy analysis of government activities related to chemicals ranging from how their safety is assessed to how they might be regulated, 3) developing corporate chemicals management frameworks and managing chemical innovation projects, and 4) engaging scientists on important issues relevant to our work.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Definitely a sense that my team’s efforts, however challenged at times, are working to make the world a better place to live.