Spotlight on Engineering Alumni: Michelle Lay Sams

image1Name: Michelle Lay Sams

Occupation: Patent Examiner

Education (UR and additional): UR BS ECE ’02, UR MS ECE ‘04

Current Job Title: Primary Patent Examiner

Current Employer: United States Patent & Trademark Office

Current City/State of Residence: Alexandria, VA

Family: Husband (Matthew), Son (Ty, 7 months)

Community Activities: Softball, teach piano lessons, bowling


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

The University of Rochester offered me the chance to continue with my music (piano) by allowing me to take lessons at the Eastman School of Music and also take additional music classes, such as music history, theory, etc.  I knew that I wasn’t going to make a career out of my music, but I still wanted to continue with something that was important to my life since I was 4.  What I found appealing with UR was that it had a strong engineering and science department, but also a strong music department, where normally you get one or the other.  It was the best of both worlds!

What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?

I lived at the career center the last year of graduate school.  I utilized their services to help me with my resume as well as line up interviews.  They were extremely knowledgeable and having them around to answer questions (even silly ones) made me feel confident in advancing to the next stage in my life.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

A month before I finished graduate school, I accepted an offer with the US Patent & Trademark Office.  I’ll be honest; I did not seek out the PTO.  They had found my resume through the career center or job sites, and asked if I would apply.  I didn’t know much about the PTO at the time, but since the job market was dry, I decided to give it a go, telling myself, at least for a year.  It was the best decision I’ve made, since I’m still working there after 8 years.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I currently work for the United States Patent and Trademark Office as a primary Patent Examiner.  A Patent Examiner reviews new inventions seeking patent protection and makes the decision if the invention has been invented before or it indeed, is something new.  I currently examine applications dealing with 2D and 3D graphics rendering, such as the displays on ipads and smartphones.  Prior to working at the PTO, I thought my engineering degree was only for R&D.  This is an avenue that I didn’t know existed.  It’s great for someone who doesn’t really care for R&D, but wants to still be in the know of the new and upcoming technologies.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

UR taught me to work hard.  I know that sounds like a cliché, but comparing myself to colleagues from other schools, I see the ease I have to do my work at the highest level, where they struggle to just “pass”.  I contribute this to the rigorous schedule and classes that UR requires in their engineering department.  Additionally, in my profession, I need a solid background in engineering, since I have to comprehend the newest technologies.  UR gave me that solid foundation.

 How do you balance your work and personal life?

At the PTO, we have a flexible work schedule, meaning, you need to work 80 hours in a biweek, and can distribute your hours as you see fit.  The PTO also offers their employees to work 1 day a week at home or can work at home completely and never come into the office.  The flexibility in schedule has allowed me to maximize my time with my family.

Where would you like to be in five years?

Career wise, in five years I would like to still be working for the PTO.  Personal wise, in five years I would like to have had my second child and a bigger home.