Lisa Lee always expected to become a doctor. It wasn’t so much that she wanted to go into medicine, but that’s what her parents wanted. Plus, she liked science and she was good at it. Her younger brother, her parents expected, would be a lawyer.
“Typical Asian parents,” says Lee. “To be successful, you either become a doctor or a lawyer.”
Then the plot twisted. While pursuing a graduate degree at WPI she took a class that opened her eyes to the intersection of science and law, forever altering her career path. Today she is a lawyer, not a doctor, but she does help people who are sick or injured. As an associate attorney in the Boston office of Andrus Wagstaff, a national mass tort law firm, she represents clients who were severely injured because pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturers placed profits before people. In that role she strives to effect long-term changes, including making high-powered healthcare companies more accountable, with the goal of saving people from unnecessary pain and suffering in the future.
Finding The Right Career Chemistry
Lee was as surprised as anyone by her career pivot. To stand out from all of the biology majors applying to medical schools, she majored in chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular cell biology at UMass Amherst. But before applying, she did some soul searching. Was she really prepared to commit nearly a decade of her life to undergrad studies, medical school, residency, and internship?
“I needed a couple of years to decide if I really wanted to do that,” she says. “So, why not get a master’s in chemistry?” The decision led her to WPI and that life-changing course, Medicinal Chemistry, taught by Professor James Dittami. It explored the discovery and development of therapeutic agents—such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices— from a pharmaceutical research and development perspective. It also delved into the drug approval process overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In other words, it sat right at the intersection of healthcare and law.
“The lightbulb moment came during class when he talked about lawyers doing something related to science,” says Lee. “It’s different from medicine, but it was an avenue I hadn’t considered. You have this stereotype in your head that science is as removed from law as you could get.”