Maria Nikolova – Oxford University Innovation

Oxford University Innovation new logo

Maria Nikolova, a 4th-year student at the University of Leeds, completed her PIPS at Oxford University Innovation (OUI), which is the technology transfer company of the University of Oxford. She worked within the ‘A Team’, which encompasses interns and Assistant Licensing & Ventures Managers.

What did you do?

As part of the ‘A Team’, I assisted Licensing & Ventures Managers with their commercialisation projects. I received training and participated in all aspects of the commercialisation of science.

Mainly, I was involved in assessing the new disclosures that came in from academics within the university for inventions they thought to be of commercial value. This entailed:

  • patentability searches, so looking for patents, journal articles or other documents in the public domain that related to the invention to understand the broader context of the invention and which parts of it were novel (this does not apply to inventions which benefit from other forms of intellectual property protection, e.g. know-how, copyright for software, etc.);
  • marketing searches, so understanding how big the market is, what the current trends are, what deals had been made in this area (that we could benchmark against) and which companies and products are leading in the space.

I also helped write marketing profiles for technologies where the patent had been granted and the project was ready to be actively marketed. For projects which were already in the process of being actively marketed, I sought and approached relevant contacts within industry to broach the potential of a licensing agreement. Additionally, I helped to secure letters of support from industry for a translational funding grant.

There were a couple of projects that I was involved with on an ongoing basis for the duration of my internship, providing support with paperwork, customer management and marketing strategies. I was able to follow the progress of these projects and the strategies employed to make them successful.

There were also work shadowing opportunities to sit in on disclosure meetings with academics, discussions with patent attorneys, observe spinout investment negotiations and learn about ongoing licence agreements and negotiations.

I also helped with onboarding the new cohort of participants in the start-up incubator and attended some of the training events. The incubator was for students or alumni of the university whose ideas were not directly related to their university research. The team at OUI helped the participants refine their ideas and come up with a pitch for investors.

Throughout the internship I directly interacted with and managed the relationships between different stakeholders in the projects, such as the Licensing & Ventures Managers, the academics, patent attorneys and contacts in industry. I also organised for someone from the translational research office to speak to the A Team as a guest in one of our meetings, introduce the resources we can access and facilitate better collaboration between us.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

I am interested in pursuing a career as a patent attorney and had spoken to a couple of people who worked in that area who recommended a placement in a university technology transfer office (TTO) as the most relevant work experience I could get during my PIPS. I also took part in the YES competition earlier that year, which had broadly introduced me to commercialisation, and really enjoyed that experience, so I thought this placement would be a great opportunity to advance my knowledge and skills in the area. OUI also played a big part in commercialising the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and is one of the most exciting TTOs in the UK, so I thought I’d have the opportunity to see a variety of different technologies and business strategies there.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

I looked at some tables and rankings on the technology transfer offices of universities in the UK to see which ones were most active and where would be best to go. As I already mentioned, OUI stood out for its excellence and, additionally, they were already advertising for an internship position. After the pandemic happened, I thought it may be best to go for a TTO which was already well-prepared to host an intern. The positive experiences of other students on the DTP who did their PIPS at OUI (conversations with Jack Wright from my lab and the Case Study from Maia Harvey) solidified my choice.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

I have learned so much about what the day-to-day job in a technology transfer office entails and the considerations that need to be taken when you want to commercialise an invention, the main one being – there has to be a market for it! I was always involved in a breadth of different projects across life and physical sciences so I even learned about some new science! There was no formal training on this, but I do feel like I have absorbed some project management skills just by being part of the organisation and processes. I also felt like a really valued member of the company, I was given responsibilities from the start and my skills and opinions were sought after, which has been a great confidence boost. I think it’s very easy to feel incompetent during your PhD, especially when you are stuck on an experiment which is not working, so it was good to be in a workplace where I could see how my skills and experience can be applied in a professional setting and bring value.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

It has been an incredibly enjoyable experience for me (and I only wish I had more time to be able to see projects through to success as the timelines are so long for most!). I believe the experience I gained will be invaluable in my future career as I was exposed to the different parts of commercialisation and was able to find out which ones I enjoy and which I don’t. Patents are still my favourite!  It has been so refreshing to focus my mind on something different, especially after the draining months of doing a PhD in a pandemic. It has broadened my horizons on where my skills and knowledge can be useful by interacting with the commercial side of science.

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

PIPS has been an incredible opportunity to learn about an area outside of academic science that I am interested in as a potential career so I would encourage others to seek opportunities that they feel could help them expand their work experience in a relevant field. Or just follow your curiosity if you haven’t quite figured out what you want to go into yet! Outside of this, it has also been refreshing to see that my skills can be very useful in a professional setting and it has made me feel more confident about my place in the job market.

Careers Spotlight: Rachael Evans, Trainee Patent Attorney

Rachael Evans was a White Rose DTP student in the 2014 intake at the University of York. Rachael was one of the alumni panelists who came to the 2019 Away Day to speak to us about their career – for Rachael, this is patent law at Mathys & Squire. I caught up with her recently to speak about how she got into the profession and how she’s finding it!

Read moreCareers Spotlight: Rachael Evans, Trainee Patent Attorney

Catherine Russell – Babraham Institute

Babraham Institute logo
Catherine Russell, a fourth-year student at the University of York, spent ten weeks working remotely for the Babraham Institute in Cambridge. The Babraham Institute is a world-leading research institution that carries out research into how our bodies work, with a key focus on how they change as we age and during disease.
The featured images is of the Babraham Institute logo.
What did you do?
I was an intern with the Knowledge Exchange & Commercialisation (KEC) Team, in which I was involved in a wide range of projects and gained training in technology transfer. The KEC Team are responsible for translating scientific research and discoveries made at the Institute into benefits for external organisations. This is done through commercialisation and interaction with these other organisations. During my placement, I had the opportunity to gain experience in many different KEC activities, including licensing, patenting, policy making, database management, start-ups, and even book publishing. I also had the opportunity to write two blog posts, one about a policy workshop I attended and one on my internship as a whole.
What made you want to do that particular placement?
I was keen to do a placement that would give me experience in aspects of science research that I hadn’t had the chance to get involved with as part of my PhD. Specifically, I wanted to know more about the commercialisation side of research and gain new skills in areas distinct from those I have acquired throughout my PhD that would broaden my scientific knowledge overall. I was also really interested in the work done at the Babraham Institute, and particularly wanted a placement here because I was intrigued in their research into epigenetics, signalling and immunology.
How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?
I was lucky enough to find a PIPS placement advertised through the White Rose DTP website that was just what I’d been looking for. I applied for this position and then had a meeting with two members of the KEC Team in which we discussed the placement and what aspects of technology transfer I’d like to get involved in. I was very pleased to later find out I’d been accepted for the internship and we organised my start date for later in the year.
What have you gained from doing your PIPS?
Through my PIPS, I gained a much deeper appreciation of the commercialisation side of scientific research and how complex this is. I learned a great deal about a wide range of areas of KEC, including licensing, patenting, IP, policy, and even had some experience in the book publishing process. I also got to learn a lot about the Babraham Institute, and the work the KEC team does in connection to the research being done.
How would you sum up your PIPS experience?
Overall, I really enjoyed my PIPS placement and I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to work at the Babraham Institute. The whole KEC team for made me feel so welcome, and I have gained useful new skills and a much deeper understanding of technology transfer.
What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?
I would highly recommend looking for a placement that will give you the chance to gain skills and experience that you wouldn’t otherwise get from your PhD. For me, this was knowledge around the commercialisation side of science research, and this not only gave me a greater understanding of science research as a whole, but also provided me with new and useful transferable skills.

Royal Institution – Science Engagement Intern – Apply by 12 Jan 2022

The Royal Institution is world-renowned as the home of science and we are now looking for a PhD student to take on an internship with us as Science Engagement Intern to join our Schools Programme for a 3-month placement to gain experience of education outreach and science communication. The internship is from end of February to end of June 2022.

The Science Engagement Intern will lead on the launch of the new ‘Faraday Box’ pilot scheme to develop partnerships with our local school communities.

I am attaching the job description for the internship in PDF (for sending out to students as necessary).

For more information about our internship programme and details on individual placements, timeframes and how to apply, please direct students to our website via this link:

The closing date for receipt of applications is 9.00am on Wednesday 12 January.

Please note, the Ri offers placements for students who are enrolled on a research degree under the Doctoral Training Partnership programme funded by Research Councils including the BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, AHRC and NERC. These opportunities are only open to PhD students who are eligible for a stipend via their DTP/University/research council in order to undertake a 12 week professional internship. Students should check with their university that they are able to secure funding before applying. They will need to obtain the grant holder’s written permission to undertake the placement, outlining any funding arrangements, before a position can be offered.

The role is based in Central London, with a mix of home and office working; students will be expected to base themselves within or near to London for the period of the placement.

Get to know… your WRDTP reps – Karolina Pyrzanowska

Karolina did her undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences at the University of the West of England. In between her 2nd and 3rd year she spent 12 months working in a research laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University in the USA, where she investigated an in vivo cleavage assay for a phage-related ribosomal cysteine protease. By the time she returned to the UK she was very keen to continue exploring the world of phages and so chose a 3rd year project characterising a giant Acinetobacter phage.

Read moreGet to know… your WRDTP reps – Karolina Pyrzanowska

YES20: Team Mycrobio’s journey

You may have heard about the YES competition before – but what does it actually entail and why should you consider joining? We caught up with our DTP-funded team Mycrobio, made up of 5 White Rose DTP PhD students, who took part in the YES20 edition of the competition and won a prize at the final! Read our interview with the team below to find out all about their experience.

Read moreYES20: Team Mycrobio’s journey

James Henderson – Green Room (Fukuoka, Japan)

James Henderson is a PhD student at the University of Leeds who went to Fukuoka, Japan for his PIPS to teach English to Japanese students in a company called Green Room. The students ranged from 15 to 70 years old, and from beginner to advanced levels. Read on to find out more about Jamie’s experience and see the photos that illustrate it!

What did you do?
From the outset of the placement I was a teaching assistant; helping the full-time teachers and having private lessons with more capable students. As my time progressed I was responsible for my own classrooms, up to six students at a time, either following textbooks, or creating my own schedules. I was also responsible for the conversational café that would require me balancing the outspoken students with the more anxious individuals, ensuring everyone was able to practice their English. I would often interact with at least 15 people during these sessions.

What made you want to do that particular placement?

For several years I have considered a career in Japan, but was fully aware that getting a job there is quite difficult without any previous experience of the country and its customs. PIPS gave me the opportunity to live and work in Japan, which I otherwise would not have been able to do. I have also previously considered a career in education as I have enjoyed my short experiences of teaching. This placement allowed me to experience both of my potential future aspirations. Initially I was unsure if teaching English would be a waste of time and if I should do something more science-related. Eventually I decided that the benefits of working abroad, practicing a career I enjoyed and going out of my comfort zone outweighed doing a science internship.  

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

As I had no contacts in Japan, it was initially very difficult to obtain a placement there. I had to use the help of a company that specialised in finding internships for non-Japanese citizens, Meiji Internships. Through them I was able to apply to several different fields such as education, agriculture and so on. Once they found a company interested in working with me, they gave me their contact details so that we could plan my internship and responsibilities. Without Meiji Internships I don’t think I would have been able to find a placement so easily, so I am very grateful to them. 

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

The biggest personal gain I got from my PIPS was an improvement in my confidence. I had to interact with students of all ages and maintain interesting discussions on a daily basis, which forced me to come out of my comfort zone. Many Japanese students were very shy, so I had to encourage them to talk by asking them questions and keeping them engaged. The language barrier also helped improve my explanation of complex ideas, such as my PhD project, as I had to describe the concepts in a very simple manner. Something I wasn’t expecting was the level of enjoyment I obtained from teaching. Previously I thought teaching might be a good career path, but now it is a genuine career I may pursue. 

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

My PIPS experience was excellent. In first year I thought it would be a pain and assumed I would do some dull job in or near Leeds for ease. Halfway through second year I started seriously considering what I could do and when I realised it was (almost) anything I wanted, I jumped at the opportunity to work in Japan. It has helped improve some of my weaker characteristics, such as my shy persona and fear of trying new things. I was able to live in a new country, adapt to a completely different culture, see things I would never see in the UK, meet new people and form some strong contacts. It reinforced future career paths that I may follow and, as a plus, was a nice break from the lab. PIPS has evolved from something I was dreading to my favourite part of my PhD so far.    

What advice would you give to other students about PIPS?

I would suggest to other students that they go abroad if they haven’t been before and have the opportunity to do so. My placement was the first time I have ever been out of the UK for anything longer than two weeks, and has changed my views about working abroad. Previously I had only truly considered working in either the UK or USA (and a desire to work in Japan), but my placement has now made me more than happy to try working in other non-English speaking countries. Also don’t worry if your placement isn’t completely science-related, which was a fear of mine. I assumed I would have to do science as it was what others were doing and I thought it was expected of most students; but you really can do what you want to do.

Maia Harvey – Oxford University Innovation

Oxford University Innovation new logo

Maia Harvey is a final year student at the University of Leeds who did her PIPS with Oxford University Innovation (OUI) – Oxford University’s technology transfer office. OUI helps academics if they want to form a spinout company, protect a technology with intellectual property, form licensing agreements and market technologies to potential investors or licensees. Read Maia’s PIPS case study to find out what a placement in technology transfer entails!

Where did you go and what did you do?

I spent 3 months at Oxford University Innovation. I was working with the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Digital Health departments – which meant I worked on projects ranging from sustainable energy to drug delivery!

When I arrived I trained alongside a new Assistant Licensing and Ventures Manager. We were trained on patents and other intellectual property, so that I could work with an inventor to decide whether the technology they had invented was novel or not (if it’s not novel or useful, it won’t have commercial value!). This involved meeting with University professors and listening to ‘pitches’ of their inventions before going away and researching if something similar had been done before and how they might patent their idea. I enjoyed this as it felt like detective work, and looking at science from a different point of view was really interesting.

Once an invention has intellectual property protection, it can be licensed to companies that want to use the technology. Part of my role was to market these inventions, finding companies that might be interested in licensing the technology. I also wrote profiles of the technology to ‘advertise’ what the invention was.

I also attended Oxford University’s spinout training at their ‘incubator’ for new potential start-ups. As someone with a business mindset, I relished this opportunity and learnt lots about what you have to consider when developing your own business model – where to look for investment, how to market a product effectively, and how to master the perfect ‘elevator pitch’ to use at networking events.

During my time at OUI I also worked with OxReach – Oxford University’s crowdfunding platform. This year they were raising funds to digitise plant samples so they could be used worldwide in food security research.  I helped manage the social media campaign, creating posts for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I also secured a radio interview with a local radio station to help spread the word!

What made you want to do that particular placement?

Throughout my undergraduate degree and PhD, I’ve always been interested in the commercial potential of scientific inventions. Working in a drug discovery lab, I was interested in how the research conducted in academic labs can be translated to create businesses and products to be used in industry. I really wanted to find an internship that combined my passions for science and business.

How did you go about finding and planning your PIPS?

It was a very straightforward process. I saw an advert posted on the BBSRC website and sent my CV and a cover letter. I then had a chat on the phone to the head of Licensing and Ventures at the company and arranged a start date.

What have you gained from doing your PIPS?

Where to start! Firstly, this internship confirmed to me that I’d like a career working at some stage of the science commercialisation process. I feel like I left OUI with a solid knowledge base including specific skills in patents, marketing and business development.

As PhD students, we are working on one main project for 3-4 years, so suddenly working on several projects in a week made me quickly learn how to juggle my time and prioritise.

Completing my internship in Spring 2020 meant that a national lockdown started halfway through my 3 months – so I quickly had to adapt to working from home and becoming a Microsoft Teams expert! It was really interesting to see how a company can adapt so quickly to 100% WFH while maintaining revenue in completely new circumstances.

How would you sum up your PIPS experience?

A fast-paced science commercialisation internship with good office company! Thank you, OUI!

What advice would you give to other PGRs about PIPS?

I found it useful to complete an internship in a career area I was considering. Through conversations with colleagues about their own career journeys, I was introduced to roles and careers I didn’t know existed before! Completing my PIPS really helped me narrow down what I want to do after my PhD.

Lizzy Parker – Hope for the Future

Lizzy Parker at Hope for the Future webinar

Lizzy Parker is a PhD student at the University of Sheffield who spent 6 months working part-time at ​Hope for the Future​. ​Hope for the Future is a national climate communication charity which works to equip communities, groups and individuals across the country to help communicate the urgency of climate change with their local politicians. Keep reading to find out more about what Lizzy’s role involved and why she chose to do this particular placement!

Read moreLizzy Parker – Hope for the Future

Get to know… your WRDTP student reps: Alex Scott

It’s time to meet our second rep from the University of York – Alex Scott. He also did his undergraduate degree in York – however, that was an integrated masters in physics, not biology! With only 10 weeks of wet lab experience before starting his PhD, every day has come with new challenges and an awful lot of learning.

Alex Scott

Alex has just now, in October, entered third year – how time flies!

3-Minute Thesis – Alex Setchfield and Katie West

Two of our DTP students – Katie West and Alex Setchfield – took part in the University of York 2020 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition and presented their work in the final round on Wednesday 10th June 2020. We talked to Katie and Alex about the whole process – from their motivation to take part, through the preparation they did, to their reflections on the process! We would like to say a very big ‘well done’ to Katie and Alex on making it to the final of the competition, especially with the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic! Read their full interview to find out more about their experience and the invaluable advice they have for anyone who wants to try taking part in 3MT in the future, as well as a link where you can watch the event in full.

3-Minute Thesis logo

Read more3-Minute Thesis – Alex Setchfield and Katie West

Get to know… your WRDTP Comms Team: Maria Nikolova

My name’s Maria Nikolova and I’m a second year PhD student at the University of Leeds. I am the Comms Team group lead and most of the Tweets you see will be from me. Who knew a lifetime of endless scrolling through social media and subsconsciously absorbing what content gets the most attention will be useful!

Maria Nikolova intro
Like Ioannis, I also prefer spending my holidays by the beach because of where I come from (in my case, that’s a city called Burgas in Bulgaria).

My research focuses on the structural and functional investigation of PACE transporters. They are a family of multidrug efflux pumps that can transport a number of biocides out of bacteria and facilitate resistance. I chose this project because protein biochemistry was my favourite part of the integrated masters I did at the University of York (I just need a post-doc in Sheffield to complete my White Rose collection) and I think antimicrobial resistance is the most urgent global health threat we are facing. I also wanted a challenging project and membrane proteins fit neatly into that category so I can’t complain when it’s hard now (although I still do). It has been a steep learning curve but a rewarding experience and I feel like I have already learned a lot. Now I just need my structure!

I have recently got into cycling as it’s such a great way to get active and explore the green spaces around my plain old terraced house (I have not enjoyed spending a lot of time indoors…) and I get some satisfaction out of getting there all on my own. I may have got a little too into tracking my rides on Strava… Just another social media obsession to add to my list. I also love meeting up with friends in my spare time and getting involved in science communication projects. It’s no surprise then that I’m involved in organising Pint of Science for the second year running as it combines two of my favourite activities! I joined the DTP Comms Team because I see great potential in using our social media and website to showcase and amplify all the great achievements of our students and also provide a platform for students to share what they’re passionate about. I’m also quite excited about connecting with and sharing ideas with our cohort so it’s been great fun for me really. I hope everyone enjoys our posts and our DMs and emails are always open for new suggestions!

Tips on giving a conference talk from Oli Herd

Oli Herd is a final year PhD student at the University of York characterising haematopoietic and immunological changes using a mouse model of chronic immune thrombocytopenia (ITP) under the supervision of Ian Hitchcock and Paul Genever. In December 2019 he presented a talk at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida (USA) on his research in defining changes in haematopoietic stem cell populations and the bone marrow microenvironment during ITP progression. We asked Oli for his top tips for preparing to give a talk at a conference, read below for a first-hand account of his experience!

Oli Herd at ASH
Here is a picture of Oli presenting his talk!

Read moreTips on giving a conference talk from Oli Herd

Marcus Holt – FindAUniversity

Marcus Holt at PIPS

Marcus Holt is a final year PhD student at the University of Leeds, who did his PIPS with the internet-based company FindAUniversity. The company is geared towards students looking for a postgraduate course. He told us what was involved in his role within the Content team (part of which was carried out remotely due to COVID-19) and gave us some great insight into what he took away from his PIPS experience!


Read moreMarcus Holt – FindAUniversity

Get to know… your WRDTP student reps: Evie Farnham

It’s time to introduce our first student rep from the University of York! Evie is currently in the second year of her PhD. She also did her undergraduate at York, with a year working in the agriculture industry in Gloucestershire. Her PhD allows her to combine her interests in crop protection, microbial evolution and genetics into one project. Evie thinks time has really flown by and she can’t believe she’s already halfway through her PhD!

Evie Farnham

Read on to find out how Evie’s interest in crop protection has evolved to bring her to her current project and what it entails, what she loves doing in her spare time and one of the misfortunes she’s had during a late night in the lab (don’t worry, it has a happy ending)!

Read moreGet to know… your WRDTP student reps: Evie Farnham

Dani Pierce – MRC Research Unit The Gambia

Sunset from Dani Pierce's PIPS placement

Dani Pierce is a third year PhD student at the University of Leeds who undertook her PIPS placement at the MRC Research Unit The Gambia. Read her full PIPS case study to find out what scientific work was involved in the two clinical trials she was part of and what it was like spending 3 months in The Gambia (complete with more pictures that capture her experience)! Dani also shared her tips and advice on looking for a PIPS placement.

Read moreDani Pierce – MRC Research Unit The Gambia

Get to know… your WRDTP student reps: Roz Latham

Rosalind Latham

First in our new blog series ‘Get to know… your WRDTP student reps’ is Rosalind Latham! Roz did her BSc in Biology at the University of York, with a year in Industry in Pharmaceutical research. Highlights of her degree were learning about biotechnology and how to genetically engineer plants/microbes for human benefit.

After gaining industrial experience in a Fast-Moving-Consumer-Goods Graduate Scheme, Roz decided to go back to science and plant biotechnology, which she specialised in as an undergraduate. She’s now 8 months into her PhD and loving it!

We asked Roz a few more questions about her life in and outside of the lab – keep reading to find out how DNA origami can help us get better crops, Roz’s favourite Yorkshire spots and what you should (not) do when growing archaea!

Read moreGet to know… your WRDTP student reps: Roz Latham

How will protein structures help us in the fight against COVID-19?

Mpro with inhibitor

Alex Holmes is a second-year White Rose DTP student at the University of Leeds and volunteers as a Pint of Science team leader for the ‘Our Body’ strand. She works at the interface of structural, computational and chemical biology, using these techniques to study a family of membrane proteins and their potential druggability.

Read moreHow will protein structures help us in the fight against COVID-19?