Julia Miller had to think a little too long and hard when someone once asked her what she envisioned as her dream job at the biotech company where she was working.
A UCSD graduate with a degree in Cell Biology and Biochemistry who also spent two years as a undergraduate student in Wylie Vale's lab at Salk, Miller was enjoying her work in both the basic science and product development divisions, but the answer to the "dream job" question just didn't come very easily, she says.
"I realized I didn't really want any job in the company. I didn't want my boss's job, or to work in a department other than R&D such as marketing or sales. So I needed to figure out what I really wanted to do," Miller says.
The answer became abundantly clear when she started working for the biotech company's patent lawyer after returning from an extended trip to South East Asia. She had toyed with idea of going to law school before, but the experience at the firm solidified her decision. Within a year she enrolled at Boston University School of Law.
"I saw that I could be involved in the legal world, while applying some of the same skills that one uses in science," Miller says. "In the scientific discovery process, you put forth a hypothesis, then test it with experiments and analyze the results before giving a fair and objective interpretation of the data. And similarly in law, you gather and analyze facts and apply the law to those facts to reach conclusions and make judgments about what to do next."
Now after 10 years as a litigator and corporate patent attorney in the biotech field, Miller has returned to the Salk Institute to serve as its General Counsel. In her role, she is primarily charged with overseeing the Institute's commercial contracts, facilitating the technology transfer and licensing process, assisting with regulatory affairs and compliance, managing litigation matters, and providing legal counsel to the Institute's senior management team.
She spent the later half of her career at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP in San Diego in the corporate department focused on contracts, so in addition to having the essential experience, Miller says she's pleased to be back in a scientific environment – Salk's in particular.
"I always had a special place in my heart for the Institute, for the quality of the people and the science," she says. "I always kept it in the back of my mind that if I were to leave the law firm, it would be a dream to come back and work at the Salk Institute."