Discovery is one of the most important activities at a research university, and taking new technology from the laboratory to everyday use that improves lives is part of the mission of land-grant institutions like the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Law students CeCe Ging and Stephanie Prager are enhancing their education at UT Knoxville by being part of the discovery process. They have spent a year learning about and helping in technology transfer as interns at the UT Research Foundation (UTRF). The internship program is open to all graduate students.

Interns CeCe Ging and Stephanie Prager

In the UTRF internship program, graduate students work alongside licensing professionals to screen technologies, interview inventors, conduct research and analysis and recommend the next steps for technologies.

And they stay busy. In the last fiscal year, UTRF helped establish nine startup companies based on discoveries across the UT System. UTRF received 141 new invention disclosures in 2012, a record high. Among the companies spun out by UTRF over the past 15 years, the most successful include Memphis-based GTx, a pharmaceutical company focused on developing small molecules that modulate the effects of estrogens and androgens. GTx now employs more than 100 people in high-paying jobs and has raised more than $300 million in venture capital to fund its operations.

“Technology transfer is at a unique point where scientific research, business and law intersect,” says Ging, who plans to graduate in May and has an undergraduate degree in chemistry. “To work at a technology transfer office at a large research university such as UT allows a student to be exposed to the whole story of how new products, services, and even entirely new industries are developed. There are also opportunities to meet and network with professionals and leaders in science, business and law, which are valuable to all students.”

While Ging and Prager are both law students, the internship is geared toward any graduate student. It could be a student in a science or engineering field with an interest in entrepreneurship or a business student curious about venture capital and business development. There are also career opportunities to be a licensing professional at a university or a corporation.

One of the most important skills interns learn is communication, and that is important for every field, says Maha Krishnamurthy, a UTRF licensing associate who leads the internship program.

“Learning to explain to someone why their ‘baby is ugly’ is a very important presentation and communication skill to develop. Cold calling potential licensees to get their input and assess their interests on an invention is an important marketing skill,” she says.

Prager, who earned a master’s degree in public administration at West Virginia University before coming to law school, says the internship has been very helpful and educational.

“UTRF has given me the opportunity to hone my analytical thinking, writing, and speaking abilities through communications and presentations to university inventors and potential commercial business partners. Furthermore, I feel that this internship has given me a competitive edge over my fellow colleagues in my intellectual property law courses as I have been afforded hands-on experience in this field,” she says.

Ging and Prager, the first two interns in the UTRF program, agreed their experience was valuable, and the program empowered them to work as if they were professionals.

“I never felt like I was just an intern,” says Prager. “I have thoroughly enjoyed this internship as well as the many associations I have made here. I appreciate having been selected to serve in the first group of UTRF interns, and feel that my experiences will certainly aid me in my future endeavors.”

Click here for more information about UTRF and the internship program.