PPE Alumnus Spotlight: Nicholas Work

The Kellogg Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics is proud to feature Nicholas Work, a Spring 2018 PPE graduate, as he discusses work experience post-graduation, career goals, and more. 

Nicholas, can you tell us about your academic history when you were a student at Virginia Tech?

In 2018, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Management, with a concentration in management consulting and analysis, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, with a minor in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. I was fortunate to be a part of the first cohort to participate in the PPE program and the PPE Pathways minor. 

Then in 2019 I graduated with a Master of Arts in Political Science, on the 4+1 accelerated M.A. track. My thesis research analyzed the application of labor regulations and employment law in the gig economy. Specifically, I explored the disconnect between the New Deal era American social welfare state that was conspicuously designed to deliver benefits through standard employment, and a burgeoning industry whose business model is entirely reliant on contracted labor that is largely excluded from these protections and benefits. My thesis was tremendously influenced by my time in PPE, as Dr. Moehler served on my thesis committee and my thesis was an outgrowth of my PPE Capstone paper at the conclusion of the PPE Pathways curriculum. 

Tell us about your post-graduation work experience.

Since early 2020 I have worked at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) in Washington, DC. BIO is the world’s largest life sciences advocacy association representing member companies, state biotechnology groups, academic and research institutions, and related organizations across the United States and in 30+ countries. I work in our Legal and Intellectual Property Department, where I am responsible for several key roles. First, I am the primary manager for our contracting process. I work with our contracts counsel and lawyers from other companies we do business with to ensure the expedient processing of our numerous legal documents. This entails the drafting, editing, and negotiating of all of our external vendor contracts, contract amendments, licensing and sponsorship deals, non-disclosure agreements, termination letters, and cease and desist letters. Since early 2020 I have worked on executing over 700 contract agreements. My second primary responsibility is the production and submission of quarterly and semi-annual federal lobbying disclosure reports which detail our firm’s federal lobbying activity and political campaign spending. Lastly, I am responsible for managing our Intellectual Property Counsels Committee, where we coordinate policy response with IP counsels from our member companies as well as our internal IP working groups. This has granted me a unique window into the world of Intellectual Property law and offered one-of-a-kind opportunities, for example last month I was able to attend a meeting with the newly confirmed Director of the United States Patent and Trade Office at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, VA. 

My primary responsibilities at BIO have given me an unparalleled chance to work closely with our attorneys on real legal issues and learn from their guidance and teaching in a hands on way that few other roles would have allowed for. In addition, working at a Biotech firm during the Covid-19 Pandemic has really opened my eyes to the importance of this industry in addressing pressing global problems, not just in health care but in global agriculture, sustainable energy, and climate change. Without having a STEM background myself, it was a tremendous opportunity to grow my own experience and see what our industry, including BIO members like Pfizer and Moderna can do and the legal and political work that goes on behind the scenes to support their life-saving science. 

Can you provide information about your acceptance process into law school and what you’ll be focusing your work on?

I will be starting 1L in August at the University of Virginia School of Law as part of the class of 2025. While I will always be a fiercely proud triple Hokie, I really could not be more excited to get to Charlottesville and embark on this next journey. I am not yet 100% sure which area of law I intend to specialize in, but my academic and professional experience have given me some clues. BIO has allowed me to see the day-to-day work of transactional/corporate law which I have enjoyed, as well as some aspects of political law that greatly interest me. My academic work lead me  toward regulatory and administrative legal fields where I also have interest. Really, I am just excited to find out what area I like best! 

I have known that I wanted to go to law school ever since high school, but my path to UVA this fall was a lot less linear than I ever expected it to be. When I was an undergraduate, I never imagined going to graduate school prior to law school. When I was in graduate school, I fully expected to continue straight on through to law school rather than pursuing professional work experience first. Then, once I started working, I ultimately ended up working longer before starting law school than I initially expected due to the pandemic. But now that I have been out of school for several years, I feel vastly more prepared mentally, emotionally, and professionally for the challenges and opportunities of law school and legal practice. I wouldn’t have changed how things played out one bit. 

Additionally, the law school application process has gotten increasingly competitive in the past few years and having a high GPA and LSAT scores have really become necessary but not on their own sufficient to being accepted at top law schools. In the abstract I think this is probably a good thing, it means people aren’t judged by admissions offices on numbers alone. But it also meant that even after years of hard work to achieve top marks in school and on the LSAT, I still was left with a great deal of uncertainty as to where I ultimately would end up. I applied to nearly 20 schools in states all across the nation, a far cry from applying to Virginia Tech early decision on the very first day the application opened for undergrad! After many months of trying to imagine where I might end up moving, it is comforting to now know I will get to stay in the Commonwealth I have loved and called home for so many years and still be close to family and loved ones. 

How did PPE help set you up for success?

PPE has really had a commanding influence on my academic and professional success. First and foremost, it gave me a coherent framework to connect the things I was learning in my business and political science coursework. PPE made me a far better argumentative writer and helped clarify how to distill an argument succinctly to meet your audience without sacrificing depth or nuance. This ability to think and write in an interdisciplinary manner via PPE made me far stronger in both my Business and PoliSci coursework than I ever would have been without PPE. Furthermore, that overlap and the creative academic space to explore it eventually became the entirety of graduate school and thesis work, which has continued to yield immense benefits in my professional advancement.

But in a more theoretical sense, PPE really helped shape how I think about the world and problems in it, both in my own work experience and also more generally. While my own economic research in PPE was more qualitative, I have found the exposure to the quantitative side of economics to be immeasurably valuable in the years since leaving school. It has given me a more statistically grounded framework to think through problems, particularly those relating to uncertainty in decision-making and probability. So many policy problems in the world are in response to changes in rates vs levels and that distinction was really clarified for me in the coursework and reading I did as a part of PPE. I now hold degrees ostensibly in business management and political science but when I think about the concrete skillsets that shape how I interact with the world around me they are dominated by what I have learned from PPE. That continues to be of great strength to me now and I expect it will only continue to do so in law school and in a long, challenging, and rewarding legal career. 

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