Lessons Learned in Training Tech Transfer Interns
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.
A Challenging Start
I have to admit, things got off to a rocky start. The interns our client had 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 university. That TTO had picked business students with no technical competency. As a result, the interns were unable to understand the technology disclosures. Balance is key.)
In addition, most of the interns had very similar backgrounds. This lack of cross-disciplinary skills was challenging in evaluating the IP portfolio’s breadth of technologies.
The Importance of Ongoing Guidance
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 key. And 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. Explain everything 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. The focus of the screening is to identify:
- The technologies that do not have a high likelihood of commercialization success and
- The technologies where 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. Allow time for practical application, evaluation of the intern’s work, and questions and answers. This is needed not just on the first screening, but on several to ensure their understanding.
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. Provide many relevant examples and hands-on support. It 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, 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.