Our interview with Richard about physics, experiences in St Andrews and life after graduating.
Tell us a little about your time as a physicist in St Andrews
I came to St Andrews in 2008 having studied for my undergraduate degree elsewhere. While in St Andrews I studied for a PhD in theoretical physics under Natalia Korolkova, which I received in 2012. My research was somewhat varied – I began by looking at how to increase the amount of quantum entanglement (non-local correlations that have no classical analogue) between two samples of caesium gas, which led me to look into various measures for quantifying quantum correlations. Believe it or not, the maths can be beautiful!
What have you been up to since then, and what is your current job title?
After completing my PhD, I moved to London with my then- girlfriend, now-wife (another St Andrews alumnus). I started work as a trainee patent attorney and after several years of on-the-job learning and passing several difficult professional exams, qualified as both a chartered patent attorney and a European patent attorney. I am now a Senior Patent Attorney with HGF.
What does your job involve?
Patent attorneys act at the interface between the technical and legal worlds. I spend a lot of time talking with inventors at large multinational firms, in cutting edge start-ups, and in universities/research institutes in order to understand their new inventions and then translate their ideas into suitable patent applications. A lot of time is also spent arguing with patent offices as to why an invention is worthy of a patent – a patent gives the owner an effective monopoly over a patented invention for 20 years – and this can culminate in oral hearings in which one has to provide complex highly- technical and legal arguments. These days I work with several start-ups who primarily operate in the fields of quantum computing, machine learning, and blockchain technologies, and advise them on how to best protect their ideas, and how to deal with competitors. Although they are relatively rare, one can be pulled into large court cases, which are particularly interesting.
Why did you choose your career path? (or maybe you didn’t, in which case “how did you end up here?”)
Several factors were involved in my decision to become a patent attorney. A friend of mine had gone into patent law and she was very positive about patent law as a career choice. I have always enjoyed learning about new technologies and, after the deep focus of my PhD, wanted to be able to learn about a wider range of topics – this has certainly proved to be the case. Also, the job of a patent attorney can be fairly lucrative.
What do you see as the most crucial skills a person needs for your role? What makes a physicist a good candidate?
All patent attorneys need a strong background in science or engineering in order to understand the inventions that crop up – in that respect, physics has proved invaluable. While a PhD isn’t necessary, I have found that my time at St Andrews has helped with some of the more challenging technologies, such as quantum computers. A good written ability is also essential.
If you hadn’t done a physics degree, what would you have studied instead?
I considered becoming an electrician as a teenager. Then, at around 16, I read a book on the history of codes and codebreaking, and the final chapter discussed how quantum mechanics could in theory be used to crack bank codes. At that age cracking bank codes sounded like a good skill to have, so I studied physics to learn more about quantum mechanics.
What is your fondest memory of your time in St Andrews?
Jazz in the Byre Theatre.
What do you wish you’d have spent more time on during your time in St Andrews?
I wish I had taken the opportunity to pick up another language
What do you miss about your time here?
Easy access to the beach!
Do you know someone that went on to do something exciting and would like to tell others about it? Why not share it with us!
Email us at [email protected] with the subject “Graduates”.