Five minutes with… Dr Marianne Privett
Five minutes with
Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science , which is a UN General Assembly initiative to inspire progress toward gender equality in science and technology. To celebrate women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), our Marketing and Operations Director Soizic-Arzhele Peyrusse talks to Dr Marianne Privett, Patent Attorney and Partner at Intellectual Property law firm AA Thornton.
Marianne, you’re a UK Chartered and European Patent Attorney in your firm’s Chemistry, Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals patent department. Could you please tell us what your role entails?
Most of what I do is helping my clients get patents to protect their inventions. I have a Masters and PhD in Chemistry, which helps me understand the science behind inventions based on chemistry and related technical areas. I really enjoy learning about innovative developments and getting to understand the science behind it. I also like the variety in my job since I work on a range of technical areas. For example, I may work on a patent application for a new method for the manufacture of food packaging in the morning and a patent application for an improved pharmaceutical composition in the afternoon.
That sounds fascinating! How did you end up working in the complicated world of patents?
I enjoyed studying chemistry at university but realised during the first year of my PhD that I didn’t want to work in a research role. However, I also realised that I didn’t want to leave science behind entirely. I considered a few science-related careers including science communications and scientific publishing, but once I heard about patents I knew that was what I wanted to do. I have never regretted my decision!
I know you are really passionate about science, and in particular about increasing the number of young women studying STEM subjects. According to the DfE, between 2011 and 2020, the proportion of women entering full-time undergraduate courses taking STEM subjects increased from 33.6% to 41.4%. What do you think about those numbers? Are they high enough yet?
It’s great to see the numbers increasing but I’d like them to increase more! I understand that often girls are put off studying STEM subjects at school and that feeds into lower numbers of young women studying STEM subjects at university, so I think we need to encourage girls to consider STEM subjects at GCSE and A’ Level. I think it helps to celebrate high achieving women in STEM-related careers but I also think it helps if a diverse range of women working in STEM-related careers engage with school children virtually or in-person to help normalise women in such roles.
You have two young daughters yourself, do you think they are hearing enough about STEM opportunities at school?
My daughters’ school encourages all children to take an interest in a range of subjects including STEM subjects. They have a different theme each half term and this half term it was “innovation and invention” so I went into the school and gave an assembly on intellectual property. I really enjoyed explaining patents, designs, trade marks, copyright and trade secrets to an enthusiastic and engaged audience of 5 to 11 year olds! I know my interest in science was encouraged by opportunities I had when I was at secondary school (such as school trips and spending a week at a local university) and I hope children today are also encouraged to take part in a range of extra-curricular activities that help them discover what sparks their imagination.
Finally, I know there is another topic that is very close to your heart: Diversity & Inclusion. You are the driving force behind IPAbility, IPInclusive’s community for disabled people, carers and their allies working within the Intellectual Property professions. Please tell us a bit more about this!
IPAbility aims to provide a supportive and informative network focusing on issues relating to disability, including neurodiversity and health conditions of all kinds. I subscribe to the social model of disability, which means that I consider that people are disabled not by their impairment or difference but instead by barriers in society. For example, an autistic STEM graduate might not perform as well in an interview with open ended questions but by providing all candidates with clearly defined questions in advance of an interview, it enables a fair comparison to be made of diverse candidates. As another example, a visually impaired science graduate could do just as good a job as a patent attorney with full sight if they had access to software that enabled them to read and write documents. IP Ability seeks to educate employers so that they reduce or eliminate the barriers that prevent some people from being able to join the IP professions (including the patent profession) and succeed in those professions. We also support disabled people and carers already in those professions and we are keen to support disabled people and carers seeking to join the IP professions.
It helps if a diverse range of women working in STEM-related careers engage with school children virtually or in-person to help normalise women in such roles
If you’d like to have a chat with Marianne about a career in Intellectual Property, you can contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, if you are a teacher or a parent looking to inspire a young person to pursue a career in IP, you can find lots of resources at careersinideas.org.uk/help-me-inspire-someone.