Stories From the Field: Lessons Learned in Training Interns

As many of you get into the swing of intern season and begin the application and hiring process, I just wanted to share with you some of our lessons learned for the next step of the process: training.

Selecting the best interns for your particular technology portfolio is very important. But even the best interns will flounder if improperly trained. Fuentek (and our client) learned this lesson very well in a case in which we were asked to help set up a summer internship program.

I have to admit, things got off to a rocky start. The interns our client selected to perform technology screenings (which is what we recommend for TTO interns) did not have the skill set and career drive aligned with what was needed–essentially they were researchers with no business background. (Interestingly enough, we experienced the opposite problem at another organization where they picked business students with no technical competency, resulting in the interns’ inability to understand the technology disclosures. Balance is key.) In addition, most of the interns had very similar backgrounds, and this lack of cross-disciplinary skills was challenging in evaluating the breadth of technologies produced by the organization.

But even more challenges came along as the summer progressed. After our initial training, the guidance that the client was to provide to interns on an ongoing basis dropped off. And it showed in their screening reports, which became decidedly less effective.

Having high-quality training for the interns up front is important, but just as important are the day-to-day opportunities to reinforce their learning and to ask questions. For example, because each technology is unique, it takes time and practice for interns to learn how to consistently apply a screening methodology to unique innovations. The TTO staff need to help the interns along this path. Mentoring and providing feedback on each screening report in the beginning of the internship is a key success factor. Leaving interns alone to do their analysis in a vacuum can lead to a misunderstanding of the goals and methodology. (Check out this post discussing our experiences in training and mentoring a university’s tech transfer interns.)

In the end, we (and our client) took away a wealth of lessons learned about training interns. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Match intern background to your portfolio: When looking at applicants, seek a combination of backgrounds to cover the different technical competencies represented in your portfolio. Also look for students who have an interest in the business side of technology to gain that market-based perspective.
  • Present the big picture: From the outset of the training program, include a thorough explanation of the entire technology transfer process, from technology screening through commercialization. This helps the interns understand where their piece fits into the larger puzzle.
  • Explain the goals of their work: Teach (and continually remind) them that the goal is to find the best technologies among all the disclosures. In focusing on technology screening, they are charged with identifying the technologies that do not have a high likelihood of commercialization success as well as the technologies on which the TTO should be focusing its deal-making efforts.
  • Provide step-by-step guidance: Explain each step of how to perform an efficient, effective, and accurate technology screening. Cover each step in depth with time for practical application, evaluation of the intern’s work, and questions and answers (not just on the first screening, but on several to ensure their understanding). At its core, this training is similar to that given to professional staff and consultants.
  • Expect a learning curve and provide one-on-one supervision: Even with quality initial training, interns will have a longer learning curve than more experienced technology transfer professionals. Providing many relevant examples and hands-on support is essential for helping the interns get truly comfortable in doing screenings.

Now is the time to start finalizing your plans for hiring and training your summer interns. To read up on further information, register to download Fuentek’s white paper: “Developing an Effective Internship Program for Your University’s Technology Transfer Office.” And check out our webinar, A Step-by-Step Process for Technology Screenings: Technology Triage for TTO Professionals and Interns.

If you have any questions or would like Fuentek to help you set up an internship program in your TTO, feel free to contact us.

Posted by Laura Schoppe

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