Although it’s tempting to think of interns as cheap/free labor, it is important to remember that you must invest in them before they can provide a valuable return to your technology transfer office (TTO). To get the most of your interns—and for them to get the most out of their experience in your TTO—give them the support they need to be successful. Here’s how.
1. Be clear. Have a clear process for the interns to follow in terms of their work, and train them adequately in all aspects of that process. For example, if your interns are doing technology screenings, which is what Fuentek recommends as the focus for interns, give them clear guidance and training regarding those steps, the timeline for their work, what they need to submit, and the review process. (You might find Fuentek’s webinar on how to perform technology screenings useful.)
If interns interview the inventor as part of the screening, make sure they understand that they are representing the TTO and be clear about how you expect them to interact with inventors. Setting clear expectations helps interns meet their milestones on time and at the appropriate level of quality.
2. Be realistic. Your interns are students, not professionals. Be realistic about how much work they can do and how long it will take them to do it. A task that full-time professionals could tackle in 1 or 2 days will take interns weeks to do because they are learning and their time is interrupted by classes and other academic activities. As noted in earlier posts, Fuentek recommends having interns start during the summer when they can work full time, which means spring is the time for résumés and interviews.
Similarly, be realistic about what your interns can handle, recognizing that being a student is their top priority. Help them figure out how to balance their interests (studying and getting a full-time job) with those of your office (good relationships with inventors and information you can act on) to avoid any unfortunate situations (for example, rather than contacting an inventor to reschedule an interview, the intern simply doesn’t show up). You can’t expect them to intuit the organizational and political nuances of technology commercialization and tech transfer offices.
3. Be honest. Giving good feedback is essential to interns’ success. And by “good feedback” I don’t mean only compliments. What the interns are doing is very new to them, and they won’t recognize where and how to improve on their own. They need to hear about what they should do differently and better next time. Have a professional review interns’ screening reports or other work over the course of several months, not just the first few weeks of their internship. (Read more about giving guidance and feedback to interns.)
4. Be positive. Head into the internship program thinking that you are there to teach the interns, not get something out of them. You are training the next generation of tech transfer professionals. If you have this mindset, you can feel good about the work you get out of the interns. If you expect them to make your job easier, you might end up disappointed and frustrated… and so will they.
Remember: Internship programs are great, but they are not inconsequential to manage. The person in charge of the interns must be allotted significant time to train, mentor, and manage them effectively. Interns will have lots of questions, and answering those questions can be time consuming. But in doing so, you are helping them learn. And that is a key part of the internship program.
Editor’s note: For more guidance, register to download our white paper, “Developing an Effective Internship Program for Your University’s Technology Transfer Office.” It’s free and we won’t share your contact information with anyone… ever.