AWIS Summer of Science Spotlight Charlee Bennett, PhD

From Scientist to Primary Patent Examiner, Charlee Bennett, PhD shares how her work promotes innovation

Jul 12, 2023

by Charlee Bennett, PhD

Introduce yourself and describe your work.

I am Jamaican-American, and my profession is as a Primary Patent Examiner for the US Federal Government. I examine patent applications to determine whether or not a patent can be granted for various new inventions, many of which are on the cutting edge of tomorrow’s technological breakthroughs.

What do you consider to be your most important career achievement or discovery?

My achievements include being the first in my immediate and extended family to obtain a STEM doctoral degree, mentoring girls and young women in STEM fields, and achieving Full Signatory Authority to grant patents (through a rigorous promotion process while caregiving for my [late] father).

During times of imposter syndrome or feelings of discouragement, what or who helped you persevere?

The support, encouragement, and reminders from trusted friends and close female colleagues, including longtime mentors helped tremendously. Additionally, I practice affirmations, keep gratitude journals/jars, and I volunteer in my community which remind me to “keep going.”

How does your work impact people and the world around us?

Before coming to USPTO, I worked as a scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) — it was so cool to see the research and names of colleagues I personally knew in those research fields attain patents, become recognized for their efforts, and for their patent-protected property to be out in the world for good use.

What is a unique fact about your career/industry?

Our agency (USPTO) has an extensive telework program — in existence for over 25 years (before 2000), and Patent Examiners remotely work in almost every state and including Puerto Rico!

What advice do you have for other women or nonbinary individuals considering this field?

I live by “The squeaky wheel gets the oil” meaning — advocate for oneself, ask questions, and build collaborative relationships. This career path is highly independent and at higher career levels there is a lot of autonomy to be balanced with several strict deadlines biweekly, which can be a challenge for work-life balance.