Meet Will Schrot: Maryland patent attorney, business owner and father of two, who went to law school after studying other subjects.
“I had a biology background,” he explained. “My initial focus was pre-med, and then law school, toward patent law, which allowed me to focus on biotech and biology.”
Fortunately, he was able to build a career that draws on and incorporates his early interests.
“My firm does a lot of biotech and medical device work. We work with professors, engineers, sole inventors, and people doing research with companies. My day-to-day work is on intellectual property projects, mostly patent or trademark. Another attorney and I are the owners of the firm, and we have paralegals and support staff.”
Why would this successful intellectual property specialist return to school for an online master’s in engineering?
The Drive for More
Will chose to earn his master’s for the ways it will strengthen his career. His first motivator “was to update my understanding on some of the subject matter. Secondly, it gives me a certain level of confidence that I have a master's degree under my belt. I can [use that to] promote myself or the firm.”
Ultimately, he felt that this degree would validate his other credentials.
“Many of our clients have graduate-level degrees,” he noted. “I think they like to see that background in their patent attorney.”
In choosing his program, “My starting point was, ‘I'd like to get a master's that is focused on biomedical engineering.’ And from there, I also wanted name recognition and an online program. Case Western Reserve University had the best fit for me. The online Master of Engineering with the Biomedical concentration seemed to have exactly the combination of [required] courses and electives that I was looking for.”
A Multi-Faceted, Horizon-Expanding Education
Will calls out three particularly valuable areas of his master’s curriculum.
Emotional Intelligence Education
This program places attention on identifying issues one would need to develop or overcome in managing engineers. Will noted that, “a big focus was, ‘You can't solve all the issues yourself, so you have to build a team. You have to be good at teamwork.’”
For him, the courses centered on team-building, emotional intelligence, identifying an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and utilizing that knowledge for team problem-solving were very helpful from a management standpoint. They developed, “not only my interactions with my business partner and other attorneys globally, but also with our employees: What's the best way to manage the firm and employees with regard to projects and feedback? Those courses gave me good insight into how I can best interact with others in a positive way.”
Subject Matter Expertise
“There were also classes that helped shore up my molecular biology knowledge. My firm gets a lot of inventions through biotech research companies or universities. Being able to speak on an engineering level with the inventors is helpful.”
The concentration in biomedical engineering is strengthened by courses in biomedical instrumentation and signal processing, translational research for biomedical engineering, cellular and molecular physiology, and principles of medical device design and innovation, among others.
New Perspectives on Intellectual Property Law
Will described himself as “outside counsel working with companies, versus in-house counsel that sees all of the lead-up to the invention and trying to get patent protection on it.”.
With his professional focus on intellectual property, he was comfortable with the program’s attention to innovation. He found further value, though, in the work viewed more from a company’s standpoint.
“The engineering master's program gave me a good feel for the types of issues that companies or in-house people would deal with. And interacting directly with those students was a fantastic component of the program.”
Online Program, Global Appeal
As he hoped, the online experience at Case Western Reserve was an asset.
“[It] has allowed me to get up early and do reading or listen to some of the lectures, and/or do the activities in the coursework at night. Being online was helpful. If I had any travel, for work or family, I could just take the laptop with me.”
His classmates tuned in from across the country and around the world, which proved to be a high point of the program, and it aligned well with his professional life.
“We had Zoom calls, which worked seamlessly. Just as the students in the classes, our clients are scattered throughout the country and the world. One of the students was from South Africa. She would log in, have Zoom conferences and/or interact by email. We had to factor in a little bit of the time change, so she wasn't getting up in the middle of the night. But it was great to be able to draw from students throughout the world.”
Success at Managing School, Work and Life
Excelling at three major life endeavors at once is a very tall order. It turned out that the online format of the program worked in Will’s favor.
“I found [it] most helpful to do the readings and listen to the lectures online at the beginning of the week and then do the discussion post. To the extent the course had any homework assignments or group project assignments, I could work on that throughout the week; [they] would typically be due at the end of the week.”
“If I segmented it throughout the week, it was definitely manageable. If I had more reading, I would try to get some done early in the morning, but I could also finish up in the evening. Being able to take just one course per semester allowed me to focus and enjoy [it] without feeling overwhelmed, and still keep up with work.”
Several other members of his cohort were also balancing multiple demands on their time, and he discovered a shared willingness—among colleagues and faculty—to accommodate tight schedules.
“Many of the students had families, kids and full-time jobs. [We] could manage around that by way of email. I also found the professors very flexible. There were a couple of times when I had to travel for work. As long as you emailed the professor and said, ‘This is what I have coming up,’ [they] would always be very understanding. They understood that these are mostly working professionals who have full-time jobs and family obligations.”
For these reasons among others, this 2020 graduate recommends online education at Case Western Reserve.
“I think it works out great for somebody who might have a full work schedule or a family schedule,” he said, “because they can still move forward with their degree and have interaction with other students. It gives you much more flexibility.”
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