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.