Blog Archive

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

#MeetThePhD 6: Louise Hatherall; Genetic Inventions + IP Law

#MeetThePhD 6

The idea behind this is to showcase PhD students, give a bit of an idea of what’s going on out there in PhDland, and show to the world what PhD life is like! Perhaps they are thinking of doing a PhD themselves, or just generally want to know more about it. Or they’re already doing a PhD and want to see that they’re not alone in their struggles or successes!

While Friendly Bacteria is a vaguely microbiology-themed blog, for this series of mini-interviews I’m wanting any PhD student no matter the field! I think it will be a fun way to connect with other PhD students we wouldn’t normally be able to get to know, too.

If you’re a PhD student and want to get involved with this, leave a comment here, send me a DM on Twitter ( @friendlybugblog ) or shine the Bacteria-signal into the skies above Aberystwyth and I’ll send you the questions!

Previous ones are here:

Today we have Louise Hatherall, investigating Intellectual Property law for genetic inventions! Tweets to @TwitTooLou (or @friendlybugblog if you want me)!

Tell me about yourself.

Hi! I am Louise Hatherall and I am in the first year of my PhD at the University of Bristol, although I still live in Cheltenham where I am from originally. My PhD is in law, specifically Intellectual Property law. Unlike traditional property law (which I hated when I studied at undergrad) IP law focusses on how intellectual pursuits are regulated and encompasses areas such as copyright, trademarks and patents – the last being my particular interest area.  I’ve studied law since I was a fresh faced undergrad: it’s a bit of an obsession! When I’m not pouring over a legal digest or case I can usually be found in the kitchen. Not only do I love cooking and baking, I love cocktails and wine. I really enjoy learning about the history and origin stories of different drinks and, of course, drinking them is pretty fun too. You can also find me on Twitter (@TwitTooLou) ranting about train commutes, talking about food and generally attempting to be funny.

What's your project all about?

My research looks at the impact patent law has on genetic inventions. My obsession with this area started with a U.S. Case. In this case a doctor, after removing a patient’s spleen, was able to gain a patent over a diagnostic test for a rare form of leukaemia stemming directly from research carried out on the spleen. The test made said doctor incredibly rich, partially due to the patent protection offered to the invention. The patient – who had no knowledge his spleen was used in this way – sued, arguing that the spleen was still his property even though it had been removed from his body. The U.S. Supreme Court found in favour of the doctor. Although this case was only peripherally about IP law the questions it brought up became stuck in my brain, like an earworm. How does the law create ownership of our genetic material? Is this ownership to the benefit of the wider world? Does the law strike the right balance between allowing a monopoly protection over genetic inventions on the one hand, and generating adequate access to knowledge, research and diagnostics, on the other? Patents are an incredibly complex area of law: with national, European and International laws, policies and politics all feeding into one another. I love a challenge and was fascinated by picking apart this complex web. I’m also of a stream of academics who see law as part of society, as opposed to an autonomous institution bearing down from above. Understanding the politics, the networking and lobbying and how this feeds into and shapes law is incredibly interesting. The overall aim is to assess IP law from this ‘social’ perspective and understand if the law is working effectively in this area.

How's that working out so far?

Having just started the PhD I would say I am pie-eyed with optimism! I’m really happy that I’ve chosen to pursue research as my career and, although things are plodding along slowly, they are plodding. I can begin to see the threads of my research slowly emerging and that is exciting. There are days when it can feel overwhelming. Staring at thousands of pages of information and having to synthesise that into a coherent, snappy piece of work is incredibly daunting. However, I am very lucky that we have an incredible support network of PhD students at Bristol, so there is always someone to make me a cuppa and put me back on track!

What are the best things about your PhD so far?

As mentioned above, one of the best things about the PhD has to be the people. We have a vibrant research community at Bristol Law and I get to work with some great thinkers, both in the PG office and with the academic staff too. Everyone is incredibly supportive and always open to talking about ideas – and aren’t afraid to challenge anything they want an explanation for!
I also love the opportunity to travel internationally. I am attending a conference in Mexico this year and will hopefully visit Toronto and Washington in the next couple of years. This is alongside travelling the UK and exploring different unis through conferences and workshops. This has been mentioned in other submissions and it is so true!
Finally, I really enjoy the flexibility. It means I can work around family events, or times when I just need to unwind by shifting my work to another day. This does mean working at odd times, in the evening or at weekends, but I much prefer having the freedom to work to my schedule rather than someone else’s.

And the worst things?

I attended a conference in London at the beginning of January and another woman attended, in a similar field, who had swathes more experience than I have. She had done everything I wanted to do and we were at roughly the same stage of study. I felt incredibly inadequate. It was a low moment for me as I’d felt so energetic about my degree and this small interaction made me doubt my ability to do the PhD. Luckily, the feeling passed but it was unpleasant, all the same.
I also learned the importance of triple fact checking early on. I quoted a piece of legislation incorrectly in a written piece I submitted and was mortified when it was pointed out to me. It was a rookie mistake – I took something I read in another article as gospel and it came back to haunt me!
I can’t think of any other horrible moments for now – which I hope means I’m really enjoying myself and not just oblivious to my faux pas!

If you could go back and do something differently, what would it be? Why?

I would have gone back to studying sooner. I went back to my hometown and settled into a boring office job once I had graduated my undergraduate degree. I soon realised that this was not for me. I spent a couple of years floating around before I finally dedicated my energy to applying for my PhD and I wish I’d done it sooner. I’m much happier reading, researching and writing than I ever was at my old job.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing a PhD?

Firstly, definitely do one. It’s amazing.
Secondly, really think about your topic. It has to be something that is going to keep you going for 3 + years. Once you have a topic stay on top of what is happening in that area. Who are the big names coming up? What are the big issues facing the area? And really think about your supervisor. Check out their research profiles and any open source articles they have published. Reach out to them (if the uni allows it – not all do). Knowing how they work will help you pitch your application.
Finally, don’t let your background hold you back. We have people from non-traditional backgrounds making amazing contributes to the law field. If it’s your passion, then go for it.

What's the plan after you finish?

I want to go into academia or policy work – anything where I get to carry on researching! This may change come 2019 but, for now, that is the plan.

Any further thoughts/comments?

I think blogs, like Gareth’s here, are amazing ways to share interests and ideas. I can’t wait to read about the research other people are doing in other areas.  

I loved reading this interview. Law is pretty far from my comfort zone but so much of what Louise is saying still resonates with me in a big way, it's a great reminder that while PhD work can be isolating, we are never truly alone in what is going on! Good luck with the rest of the project, and with your exciting international conferences!

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