For the past nine years, the University of Tennessee Research Foundation’s internship program has offered valuable career experience to UT law students, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers interested in the commercialization process of innovations from the University of Tennessee. This year, the program has gone virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interns in UTRF’s Commercialization Analyst Program work closely with the technology managers, getting an inside look at the progression of innovations, from initial discovery to commercial product. In this year-long program, interns benefit from an approach that merges science with law, business development, and entrepreneurship.
Dalton Howard and Luke Erwin are rising second-year students in UT’s College of Law. They applied for the UTRF internship program at the Multi-Campus Office out of an interest in intellectual property (IP) law and a desire to learn more about the technology transfer and commercialization process.
“We could have tried to work at an IP firm this summer, but we would have only seen the process from a legal perspective,” Dalton said. “With UTRF, we see these technologies from start to finish. I think getting that extra perspective will be beneficial for a career in many other fields, not just IP law.”
Working from home presents a unique set of challenges, especially as a new team member. From interacting with co-workers over Zoom to being unable to go down the hall to ask questions, Dalton and Luke said that remote work requires a different communication style and approach. Finishing out their school year online and working alongside supportive colleagues have helped them to adjust to this unfamiliar environment.
“The staff at UTRF have been very helpful,” Dalton said. “Anytime I have a question, I am not hesitant at all to reach out. They have been very welcoming and are very willing to help us develop our professional skills.”
Dalton is from eastern Kentucky and has an undergraduate degree in public health. Luke is from Midland, Texas, and worked in political campaign media after college prior to starting law school. While their diverse backgrounds bring helpful outside perspective to the technologies they work with, both Dalton and Luke remark that some of the more complex innovations challenge their technical knowledge and push them to learn outside of their fields.
“Sometimes the invention disclosures are in fields I essentially have to learn a whole new vocabulary to understand; it’s a good challenge,” Luke remarked. “The UTRF staff takes time to work closely with us on complex technologies. They do a really good job and understand that we don’t always have experience in the area that we are working on.”
Overall, Dalton and Luke have enjoyed participating in the different components of the commercialization process, and they are excited to continue learning about technology transfer and commercialization to supplement and strengthen their academic and professional careers.
“Working remotely can present challenges, but Dalton and Luke have adapted and become great additions to the UTRF team,” UTRF Vice President Maha Krishnamurthy said. “UTRF’s Commercialization Analyst Program is an ideal opportunity for both students interested in the commercialization process and the UTRF staff who benefit from their unique, diverse perspectives. We have had over 20 interns and many of our interns have gone on to work for M&A firms, investment banks, law firms to name a few.”