To celebrate the 10th year of the Master of Science in Law (MSL) program—where STEM, law, and business converge—Northwestern Pritzker Law is highlighting alumni of the program from each graduating class since its 2014 launch.
The Master of Science in Law was created at a moment of tremendous technological and workforce change, when professionals from diverse fields were being called upon to interact with increasingly complex issues involving regulation, product development, privacy, use of data, contracts, business development, entrepreneurship, and more. The Law School recognized that STEM professionals in particular were often in the thick of these intersectional legal and business issues, but few had the training to address and respond to these challenges.
The launch of the MSL addressed this gap in the market, and the program has grown dramatically over the years – there are now approximately 200 students enrolled in the program annually. With both a full-time and part-time option, and the addition five years ago of an online format that caters to mid-career professionals, the MSL has sent more than 600 well-trained, interdisciplinary professionals into the market.
Following the interests of its students, and always looking to be on the cutting edge, the MSL program now offers more than 80 classes focused at the intersection of law, business, and STEM – including foundational classes in contracts, regulation, business formation, securities, and intellectual property, and an interesting assortment of specialized electives in such areas as fintech, privacy, data security, biotech, food, AI, forensic science, environmental law, IP strategy and management, and many more.
This week, we highlight Rory Fitzpatrick (MSL ‘22). She came to the program after completing a PhD in physics at the University of Michigan and is currently a senior advisor in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. We spoke with Fitzpatrick about her career trajectory since graduating and how she applies her degree in her work.
What has changed for you since graduating from the MSL program?
When I began the MSL program, I was a physicist looking to generalize while still applying my research and technical skills to a job that gave me opportunities to keep learning. As a grad student based at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), I’d been fascinated by the facilitation of large-scale, long-term international particle physics experiments built and run over decades by hundreds of collaborators worldwide.
Since graduating, I’ve been struck by how unique the Fermilab experience was as a PhD student. The skills I developed working with a large group of physicists, across many academic institutions, are some of the most valuable I gained while training as a physicist. Interpersonal relationships were crucial to advancing my work in concert with the high-level goals of each experiment. I wanted to take the skills I’d learned collaborating and doing research in the Fermilab setting and apply them in an interdisciplinary career.
How has the MSL program impacted your career trajectory?
There were always pathways to expand from physics, but the MSL program was an accelerator, opening doors that would have otherwise been challenging to access fresh out of a PhD when most assume you’re best suited for highly specialized work. The MSL honed or reinforced a set of skills that complements my arsenal as a physicist, including proficiency with legalese, the workings of the administrative agencies in the executive branch, business frameworks, and intellectual property. On any given day, I might interact with regulators, economic analysts, business executives, academics, press offices, foreign officials, and representatives of other federal agencies on issues at the intersection of economic and technology policy.
What is the best piece of advice you received in law school?
I’d long known the importance of networking for professional learning, development, and career support, but the MSL provided a uniquely focused and collegial environment for shaping a future career. I often return to the community I found there—of faculty, staff, peers, alumni, and affiliated professionals — to check in and share milestones. The MSL’s regular reinforcement of networking and creating space to develop deep connections and find mentors provides enormous value beyond the subject matter we learned.
How do you currently apply your MSL studies in your profession?
It may sound like an exaggeration, but in my current job, I utilize almost everything I learned in the broad MSL curriculum, from reading financial statements to parsing legal and regulatory documents and understanding intellectual property frameworks, business structures, and strategy. The year helped me fine-tune my ability to solicit and synthesize information from colleagues outside my expertise, write clearly and concisely on short timescales, negotiate to reach consensus across groups with independent interests and present complex topics to both specialist and general audiences.
What was innovative about the program during your time as a student?
The Innovation Lab embodies the best of the MSL, which I liken to a tech-driven mini-JD/MBA. What I learned working in project groups with computer science undergrads, JDs, MSL, and JD/MBAs, and collaborating with business professionals to build solutions for the legal profession led directly to my current position.
Also, in one year, we studied everything from corporate criminal law to hands-on patent preparation to business strategy, securities regulation, and technology standards. It made the MSL an unmatched opportunity to explore and identify career paths that excited me.
What advice do you have for future MSL applicants, students, and alumni?
You’ll learn as much from your peers as you do from your professors. Rarely do academic programs bring together people with such wide-ranging backgrounds and support students pursuing many diverse career paths. Recognize and take advantage of the opportunity to be “geeky” and share what interests you within the broad scope of the MSL. This program will support you and give you opportunities to do exactly that.
Don’t shy away from group work; it’s a sought-after skill. Understand that groups don’t necessarily gel immediately, but if you invest in adapting as a team, the long-term benefits can be striking. Throughout my career, I’ve learned the most while working with people of differing opinions; friction can be a healthy catalyst for innovation.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.