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Home » Discover Rackham » Alumni Spotlight: Christal Sheppard

Christal admits, “I’ve been a little bit of everywhere.”

Her career path has evolved in a non-traditional way, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Following her U-M Master’s and Ph.D., Christal obtained a law degree from Cornell and began her career as a patent lawyer in a Washington, DC firm, then transitioned into the government sector. She held positions ranging from Congress’ Committee on Science to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to the International Trade Commission to the role of Chief Counsel of Patent and Trademarks for the House Judiciary Committee.

Christal currently teaches patent law at the University of Nebraska Law School while staying involved in projects at the U.S. Patent and Trademark office and the National Institute of Health. “My whole career has been a combination of science and law, she says.

The traditional mindset that you needed to pursue a faculty position strictly out of graduate school has become less prevalent. “I had an interest outside faculty and wanted to pursue it, knowing I could come full circle to teaching again. I have always maintained a focus on interacting in an educational environment, but I took my time working in government; I really enjoyed what I was doing. Even though there is lot of contention in the government, intellectual property policy didn’t have that problem. There was no real political division – we were all able to get along extraordinarily well. I had finished my work on the America Invents Act, the most comprehensive change to the patent law in over 60 years, and was ready to transition to a new challenge.”

The University of Michigan was an easy choice for Christal. She recalls, “I loved Michigan when I came for a visit. U-M was on the forefront of molecular biology and genetic research and I was drawn to the school and the environment in it.”

When asked about her experience with Rackham when she was a student, she laughs and says, “The Rackham building signified a time when I was studying – and doing nothing else. That was where I studied, so when I walked into the building a sense of dread came over me. And now, I donate to it.” She explains the importance of giving back, “When I was in grad school, I was lucky to have a stipend that was enough to pay for a shared roof and the occasional bite to eat. I was able to finish my Ph.D. with no debt and, after frugal living, a little bit of savings. Ever since, I’ve given what I can to Rackham – even when I didn’t really have much to give back.”

She has strong feelings for the people she studied with as well: “The bonds I made with fellow students and people in my lab will never be forgotten. I don’t see them too often because we’re spread all over the world, but they’re as close to me as family.”

Since graduating, Christal has made an effort to connect with the Rackham community, talking with alumni and students when she can, and she urges fellow alumni to do the same. “All alumni on a regular basis get inquiries about career guidance. Most of us spend time and energy talking to these people, why not do the same thing for our alma mater? Students want access to career paths. It costs nothing to explain how we obtained the positions that we hold – the pitfalls and the joys. If explaining that makes a student’s path a little easier, or more wisely pursued, I encourage alumni to help.”