For the past seven years, the University of Tennessee Research Foundation’s internship program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has given participants an inside look at the tech transfer process from initial discovery to commercial product in the health science field. Due to the pandemic, the six-month long program has gone virtual.

Interns work closely with members of the UTRF team, including Senior Staff Attorney Dr. Lakita Cavin, who oversees the program. They have the opportunity to evaluate intellectual property (IP), conduct market and industry analyses, develop marketing materials, and do targeted marketing. Ideal candidates are graduate students, professional school students, or postdoctoral fellows with a few years of graduate research experience.

“We would encourage students, postdocs who are interested in exploring other careers and fields to look at the UTRF tech transfer program because it’s a great way to utilize their scientific skills and expertise in a non-traditional manner,” Cavin said.

Liam O’Donnell, a Memphis native currently enrolled as a second-year law student at The University of Memphis, started the UTRF internship program in June 2020. He holds a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from Christian Brothers University and a Master of Science in patent law from the University of Minnesota.

O’Donnell applied for the program to gain more patent experience and insight into the inner workings of the commercialization process. His workload consists of conducting IP, marketing, and industry analyses.

The remote working environment hasn’t been a challenge for O’Donnell who remarked that online work “hasn’t been too out of the ordinary for my generation” and joked that it’s easier to get to work when you only need to open up your computer.

Through the internship, O’Donnell hopes to learn more about his future career path in IP law. Currently, he enjoys learning about UTHSC technologies and sitting in on meetings when third parties are interested in potentially licensing these inventions. His analyses, which he presents to the UTRF team, often impact these meetings by assisting in the evaluation and marketing of technologies. In one of his projects, he assisted the UTRF team in a marketing campaign by identifying and contacting potential commercial partners for development of a technology.  In another project, he provided a patent landscape analysis as part of the overall assessment of a technology.

Dr. Cavin has been with UTRF as a staff attorney and licensing associate since 2007. Previously, she was a postdoctoral research scientist and assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology at UTHSC. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Auburn University and a JD from the University of Memphis. Like some of her interns, she didn’t know she would end up in tech transfer after graduating from law school.

“[The program] gives them an opportunity to explore additional career options because most students haven’t even thought about tech transfer as a career field,” Cavin commented. “It creates another avenue for them as something to think about for those who don’t want to go the traditional science route.”