Kaitlin Soye graduated from the Department of Experimental Medicine in 2011. She is currently an Intellectual Property Litigation Lawyer.
Q: What made you interested in pursuing a PhD?
I did my Master’s in Microbiology and Immunology at McGill and when I was finishing up, I wasn’t ready to move on. I was done with that project, so I started looking for projects in other departments and in another lab. That’s how I moved over to Experimental Medicine.
Q: How did you choose your PhD lab?
I have always been interested in infectious disease, so I wanted to stay in that field. My Masters research was focused on HIV treatments, and I wanted to work with other viruses in my doctoral work. I was looking for something different. I found an opportunity with Brian Ward and Wilson Miller, my PhD co-supervisors. I really liked the project and the fact that it combined two different research teams: an infectious disease lab and a cancer research lab!. The various research projects in the labs were very diverse—there were a lot of different things going on! It was a great opportunity for cross-disciplinary research, and to learn about a variety of different areas of science and medicine.
Q: Were you involved in other communities outside of the lab as well?
I played varsity lacrosse and also coached the women’s lacrosse team at McGill. I was also involved in the student associations at the research institutes and on campus. In the Montreal community, I coached youth soccer and lacrosse. My involvement in sports helped my stay active and build relationships outside of the lab.
I was a TA in the department of biochemistry and microbiology. I also held a teaching fellowship with T-PULSE that focused on developing pedagogical methods to enhance undergraduate science teaching and learning. This was a great way to meet and learn from graduate students in other science disciplines.
Q: Were there any other experiences during your PhD that you found valuable?
When I was doing my PhD, one of my supervisors started a collaboration with Concordia University for a program for McGill science graduate students to take Concordia business classes. There were classes, seminars, and workshops on the business side of science. It was valuable to learn and understand the “business” side of science!
Q: What was the biggest challenge for you during your PhD?
I had two supervisors, so I had two labs—one was at the Montreal General Hospital and the other one was at the Jewish General Hospital. This required a lot of planning to coordinate experiments in two different labs, as well as participating in both lab meetings, meeting with both supervisors, and attending classes on campus.
Q: What was your life like after your PhD?
I started law school right after I completed my PhD. I was able to submit my thesis in the late spring, but my defence was not scheduled until late in the summer. I defended on a Thursday and I started law school on the following Monday. There was not much downtime!
Q: When do you know you wanted to go to law school?
When I was a child I thought about being a lawyer. When I was in high school and applying for university, I thought about going to law school again. I have an uncle who is a lawyer and he talked me out of it! I had really enjoyed science courses in high school, and in the end decided to study molecular biology and genetics as an undergraduate. Following a great undergrad program, I decided to pursue academic research and started graduate school. Then in the last year of my PhD I still wanted to go to law school so I applied! I had attended a number of career events and learned about intellectual property law. I saw an opportunity to combine law and science in my future career.
Q: What kind of law do you practice?
I practice intellectual property litigation. My practice primarily involves patent rights. I work with inventors, scientists and companies to enforce and defend patent rights, analyzing technology, and protecting innovations.
Q: What’s your typical day in your job like?
Right now I’m preparing for a trial, so my days involve witness preparation, team strategy meetings, drafting arguments, conducting legal research, and preparing materials for court.
Q: Does your PhD help you with your current job now?
In my field, we work with experts to help explain the patented technology to the court. It’s important that the court understand the science and the technology so that a legal decision may be made. My scientific training helps me understand the science and technology at issue, and work with my team so that we all understand. I also use my scientific training to communicate with experts and help them understand the legal analysis.
In the end, there is a significant amount of “translation” between science and law. My training and experience helps the expert translate their knowledge and expertise into material that the court can use. It’s hard for scientists to understand legal tests because legal tests are just decision making tools—they’re not scientific tests. So I do a lot of translating back and forth between the science and the law. I help the science get to a point that it’s understandable and still accurate so the court can use it.
Q: Are there any other benefits of having done a PhD in your law practice?
The ability to work with the unknown. I often work with other lawyers. If their issue is an easy legal question, they know the answer. But when they come to me and my team, it’s because it’s a big issue—it’s something that’s unknown and there isn’t a clear and easy legal answer. So it requires researching and problem solving. My training in the lab and working with the unknown helps me work in this area of law where there’s not a clear answer.
Working in the lab has prepared me for failure, because you set up an experiment and then three days later, you run your PCR and there’s nothing. Or you run your Western blots, and there’s nothing, or the wrong things came up. So the trial-and-error, and the failure that you experience, is such a great life tool for working somewhere else because I have a lot of colleagues who never experienced a failure like that and the ability to say, “Okay, this didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? How do we change it next time?”— so that’s a really good skill.
Q: Do you have any advice for someone who is working on their PhD?
I would say keep going, if you really want to. No one says you have to finish your PhD—it’s your choice and either outcome is fine. You’ll move on to the next step. Keep your eyes open and take up opportunities that come. I saw lots of people who ended up in careers they never would have thought of because they took an extra seminar, joined a club, or helped out with something unexpected, and it turned into an opportunity and a new area of interest.
This interview took place in July 2020. Interviews are edited by the TRaCE McGill Editorial team for length and clarity before publication.