Those are some tough questions! The more glamorous answer to your first question is that collectively the US Patent and Trademark Office has reduced the backlog of patent applications waiting for examination from the peak backlog of about 720,000 two years ago to the fewer than 600,000 right now. The average time that inventors have to wait before their application is looked at by a patent examiner has also been reduced by about 6 months from a peak of 25 months. These improvements are achieved as a result of the collective effort of the thousands of patent examiners, and I have diligently done my share and a little more. On a more personal side, I went from a new hire to a primary examiner in a little over 5 years. Now I am able to work completely independently with inventors/attorneys to determine whether or not the invention can be patented. That is a great deal of autonomy. It is also a lot of responsibility to strike a balance between letting inventors get protection for their inventions but also ensuring that only good ideas can become a patent.
As to your second question, eventually I'm hoping to have an opportunity to work in the policy office of the Patent and Trademark Office. During my short stint as a policy fellow at the National Academies, I found that I enjoyed the opportunity to work in a team and be in an environment where it would be easy to keep abreast of changes outside of my cubicle.
To your third question, I initially chose bioengineering because I was very curious about how the human body works, so choosing a degree that allows me to learn and provides a good job outlook became the obvious choice. The interesting thing is that after spending 5 years working at the bench, I learned that bioengineering research is not what I like to do as a lifelong career. The good thing is, the training I received in school in engineering and research has given me the qualifications to be a policy fellow at the National Academies and now at the Patent and Trademark Office. As I have told many others, learning what you don't like is just as important as learning what you do like. Remember, your field of study should not limit the career opportunities but rather open more doors for you.