Elizabeth Dougherty

Director of Inventor Education, Outreach, and Recognition

"Diversity is key to success. It leads to stronger teams and better products and services by expanding the pool of available viewpoints and ideas from which to draw."

What do you enjoy most about working at the USPTO?

Simply put the people, the work, and the opportunity to serve my country. I frequently say that I work with the smartest, most-talented people I have ever encountered. This is true no matter which position I have held, whether they were the technologists in my technology center when a patent examiner, my fellow attorneys in the Office of Patent Legal Administration, or those whom I work with today in conducting outreach to independent inventors, entrepreneurs, makers, and university inventors. Employees at the USPTO are hardworking, smart, and dedicated to doing a great job, whatever their responsibilities and title may be.

In addition to working with outstanding colleagues, I frequently tell people that I have my dream job, one in which I am able to serve my country doing the work of the nation. Issuing patents and registering trademarks have a direct impact on the U.S. economy and the growth and development of businesses. While the USPTO’s role is second to that of the creativity of the inventor or the business, we are a vital part of the innovation lifecycle and one that encourages and supports the continued and future growth of innovation.

What is your view on the importance of women entering STEM fields?

Diversity is key to success. It leads to stronger teams and better products and services by expanding the pool of available viewpoints and ideas from which to draw. Encouraging women to participate in STEM fields is not an issue of competing with men or debating whether men or women are better in these fields; it is about recognizing and accepting differences and the success that diversity can bring. The world needs more individuals in STEM to solve the challenges facing our world today and in the future. Women make up more than half of the world’s population, yet the vast majority of STEM positions are held by men. It is a given that an incredible amount of talent is going untapped and unrecognized. Women bring creativity, vision, and talent to any equation they participate in, so we need to do everything we can to make them part of the equation.

What advice would you have for young girls and women starting out their careers in STEM?

My first piece of advice is BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. Know that you can do anything if you want it badly enough and you try hard enough. With that said, DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP. While we all come from different backgrounds and social/family networks, you should have some family members, friends, teachers, co-workers, etc. that are pulling for your success. Gravitate towards those individuals. They are there to help you succeed. It doesn’t make you weak, less intelligent, or less of a scientist or engineering to ask for help.

I fell into STEM somewhat haphazardly. I simply took an introductory physics class, liked it, and continued to take the courses. Before I knew it, I had chosen it as my major, and by the time it got tough, I was too stubborn to quit. I quickly realized that the physics department of my university was overjoyed to have a young woman joining its ranks (I was perhaps one of three during my time at the university). The Dean, my advisors, my professors, and even my fellow students worked as a team to see that I enjoyed the adventure and graduated with my class and with a degree in physics.

I would reassure young girls and women that NOT ALL CAREERS IN STEM ARE SOLITARY OR SEDENTARY. In imagining scientists and inventors, we often see the solitary figure working away in a lab deep beneath the building, hidden away from the sun and other human beings. Rest assured, this is rarely the case! A great majority of careers in STEM involve working as part of a team, building upon the strengths of others, collaborating to arrive at answers and solutions to the problem at hand.

Last but not least, IT IS OK TO BE DIFFERENT. You may be the only young woman in your chemistry class or the only woman working in your engineering team, but that is all right. I won’t say that it won’t present challenges at times, but let’s face it, life is full of challenges. The real issue is how we address them and what we learn from them.