Sean Seymore (’93)
By Xylina Marshall, Honors & Scholars Communications Coordinator
Sean Seymore is an exemplar of hard work and research-minded focus. One look at his curriculum vitae will show that this is a man who set out to accomplish big goals and not only succeeded but thrived.
Seymore came to UT from Richmond, Virginia, in 1989 as a Tennessee Scholar. At the time, the program was UT’s only university-wide honors option and accepted just 25 students per year. The program director during that period, Bruce Wheeler, distinctly remembers Seymore, stating, “Sean was considered to be a real catch because he was a high-achieving out-of-state student with offers to other schools.” Ultimately, Seymore chose honors at UT and pursued an undergraduate degree in chemistry. He would go on to earn an MS and PhD in the field and become a professor of chemistry at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Rowan University.
But Seymore’s academic pursuits did not stop there. In 2002, he left his professorship in chemistry to attend law school at the University of Notre Dame on an Allen Endowment Fellowship. After earning his degree, he began practicing patent law in Boston with the knowledge that he one day would like to return to academia.
That day came sooner than anticipated thanks to one of his law school mentors who encouraged him to go on to teach and continue his scholarly work. Seymore’s fervor for research led him to continue writing journal articles even while practicing and eventually helped him decide to re-enter academia. Now he serves as a professor of law at Vanderbilt University, one of the top 25 law schools in the country. He also holds a secondary appointment in the chemistry department and teaches courses on patent law, torts, and remedies. Next year he will teach a new course titled Trade Secrets.
As a professor, Seymore enjoys being able to spend most of his time as a scholar. His current research revolves around the broad theme of how patent law should respond to the evolution of science and technology. Specifically, he is exploring how to strike a balance between ensuring that disclosure standards increase linearly with the complexity of an invention and ensuring that people will continue to file patents if the barrier to entry rises by increasing those standards.
Seymore sometimes takes on research assistants to help him with his work. He enjoys having them around because research assistants are eager and passionate, and he views doing scholarly research as a chance for students to think about issues they’ll deal with in practice more deeply before entering the field. When asked what he looks for in his students, Seymore responded, “Intellectual curiosity, a strong work ethic, diligence, integrity, and a commitment to excellence.
“A commitment to excellence is something I set for myself,” he said, “and I expect the same of my students. You should always do excellent work.” Seymore also mentioned a bit of advice for those looking to work in academia: “[First,] identify a mentor as an undergraduate in your field of study and engage in research with that person. Get to know them well and learn all you can. [Second,] read as much as possible in your field of study and find an opportunity to write. Being a professor is as much about writing as it is about reading.”
As for his time at UT, Seymore has been described as a light for all those around him. Wheeler recalls him having a smile that made everything bright. In addition to being a positive influence, he was a diligent worker. He kept up with a full chemistry course load, Tennessee Scholars seminars each semester, and a part-time job at former Strong Hall eatery Sophie’s.
According to Seymore, the best thing about his time in honors at the university was the unique experience it offered. “Being brought together with 24 other students with a shared mission made the large university feel much smaller,” he said. He also enjoyed being taught by some of the best teachers on campus and engaging in an intimate experience with other focused individuals through Tennessee Scholars. Seymore was a student that “everyone who works at a university likes to see,” remarked Wheeler. “A student who has climbed a couple rungs above themselves. He’d done things that I hadn’t, and I was proud of that.”