Career Options Series: Technology Transfer

February 22, 2016

OITE’s Career Options Series will give you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this series is to help you explore a variety of different options by connecting you to new resources. A large part of making a good career decision is done by gathering information about that field. We encourage you to follow up this online research by conducting informational interviews with individuals in each field. Search the NIH Alumni Database to find alums doing similar work.


What is Technology Transfer?

Cartoon image of a scientist throwing puzzle pieces to an administrator and then technician
Technology transfer is the sharing of scientific and technological advances from one enterprise, institution, or country to another for further development and commercialization in the fields of science, health, agriculture, industry, business, etc.

What can be transferred?
Technology transfer includes discoveries, inventions, innovations, and intellectual property like patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Tech transfer includes patenting and licensing.

Sample Job Titles
Licensing and Patenting Associate; Licensing and Patenting Manager; Technology Transfer Specialist; Technology Transfer Policy Specialist; Royalties Assistant; Royalties Coordinator; Marketing Coordinator; Monitoring and Enforcement Officer; Senior Licensing and Patenting Manager; Senior Advisor for Licensing; Senior Advisor for Intellectual Property Transactions; Senior Technology Transfer Policy; Advisor; Senior Royalties Administrator; Senior Monitoring and Enforcement Officer; Senior Expert Monitoring and Enforcement; Senior Advisor for Monitoring and Enforcement

Sample Work Settings
Government Agencies; Government Contractors; Universities; For-Profit Companies; Patent Law Firms, Trade Organizations, Non-Profit Organizations

Sample Employers
NIH Office of Technology Transfer (OTT)
University of Pennsylvania Center for Tech Transfer
Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM)
Licensing Executive Society (LES)

Key Skills
– Strong science background and understanding of the needs of scientific community
– Technology transfer knowledge, including: patents, IP, licensing, policies/laws, standard agreements and procedures
– People skills, especially the ability to deal with multiple constituencies while working as a member of a team
– Communications skills, both verbal and written
– Negotiation skills – in tech transfer, negotiations go around license agreements with inventors, owners, other parties, etc.
– Time and management skills

How to get started
• Fellowships/Internships in NIH OTT, NCI, NICCK, NIAID, NHLBI, etc!
• Patent Examiners (USPTO)
• Patent Agents/Attorneys (Law Firms)
Trainings:
– Technology Transfer courses/certificates (FAES)
– Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) Technology Transfer Training
– Intellectual Property classes/programs
– Meetings (AUTM, LES)
– Other degrees: JD or MBA

Professional Organizations
American Associations of University Technology Matters
Licensing Executive Society
Alliance of Technology Transfer Professionals
Association of European Science and Technology Transfer Professionals
Technology Transfer Society

Additional Resources
OITE’s How To Series: Technology Transfer, including an archived video, slides, and more resources!

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Coming up in the Career Options Series, we will be highlighting the field of Regulatory Affairs.

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NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Chief Executive Officer

February 16, 2016

Name: Catherine C. Swanwick, PhD

Job Title & Company: CEO, Catlilli Games

Postdoc Advisor, IC: Dr. Robert Wenthold, NIDCD; PRAT Fellow through NIGMS

What was your career progression like after your postdoc?

Near the end of my postdoc, I wanted to look into details to gain experience away from the bench. I ended up getting a position as a Scientific Writer for a non-profit lab called MindSpec in McLean, VA. This was a good fit for me because I was a neurobiologist and I studied synapse development and regulation at the NIH, so I was able to contribute to the scientific conversations. I started doing bioinformatics research for them, but after a couple of years, I decided I wasn’t getting enough people interaction.

Even though I love research, I am more of a people person and I am more of a big picture person where I like to see the direct impact on people’s lives, so I found a job doing science education at a children’s science center. It was kind of like the Little Gym but for science, so we ran a lot of after school programs, fieldtrips, workshops, taught home school groups. I was there for two years as the Director of the Life Sciences Program. I wrote the entire curriculum for ages 3-14 for biology, chemistry, anything in life sciences. I also taught about 14-15 classes per week. It was a pretty intensive teaching boot camp. I worked really hard and since it had such a large age range, one hour you would be teaching three year olds about density, for example sinking or floating; then the next hour, you would be teaching middle schoolers about wave properties. You really just had to be ready for anything. I invented a lot of the curriculum on the fly based on what was or wasn’t working. I was used to the scientific world where I planned everything out very carefully and teaching wasn’t like that at all. I had to learn to improvise, teach different ages and simplify high-level concepts. I really enjoy bringing that cutting edge research world to kids.

While I was there, one of the things that I loved to do was to make games for my classes. I found it to be the most effective way of teaching kids and getting them to learn without realizing it. I would make up games that weren’t trivia games, but would use scientific concepts for the basis of the game. So, as you are playing it, you learn vocabulary and how things work. I had a colleague who did the same thing and he is a brilliant game designer, who has been really passionate about games his whole life. We started making games together that outside people noticed, like the Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences. After this, we realized there weren’t that many STEM applied games. There are math and trivia games, but not many games focusing on life sciences.

We decided to create our own company and together we co-founded Catlilli Games. The name is a combination of our names because my name is Catherine and his last name is Nardolilli, so that is how we got Catlilli. We formed it in January 2015, so we just celebrated our one year anniversary.

How has it been starting your own company?

I’m not a business person at all, but in many ways my training as a postdoc was like small business training because you learned how to manage people and how to budget as well as how to supervise and organize your time. Running a lab is like running a small business.

I have learned that it is not just science skills that you learn at the NIH, you learn a lot of things like management that are applicable in many jobs. I have learned a lot along the way, but my postdoc at the NIH really gave me a strong foundation.

So, I do the business part and my co-founder, Jon does the game design. It has gone really well because Jon has so many ideas and can just churn out games. In July of last year, we were accepted to George Mason University’s game institute. It is called Virginia Serious Game Institute, which isa business incubator for game companies. The other companies make computer games and we are the only tabletop game company. The mission is to make games that teach people and to make learning fun. The other companies focus on a variety of topics, but at Catlilli we focus on K-12 STEM.

We have residency at George Mason, so we occupy office space and we have business mentorship. It has been life changing for our company. We have quarterly deadlines within our year to help us create business plans and get IP patents and things like that. After a year, we graduate from this program but will most likely stay in residency at George Mason.

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I heard about it through the George Mason Enterprise Center, which help small businesses start. They told me about the game institute because I had never heard of such a thing. Apparently, this is the only one in the country but there are some in England that they modeled themselves after. There are world class computer game designers here, so it is really just remarkable. We applied and I didn’t think they would take us because we didn’t make computer games, but they did and they are really excited about our mission and they think it fills a space that isn’t being hit yet.

Since we’ve been here, we have actually been collaborating with the other companies and have been working to turn our tabletop games into apps that can go along with them. They have really liked working on this because the game mechanics are all worked out before moving on to the digital version.

How do you market your games?

We do a lot of events at museums and at schools and then we’ll sell the games. We also sell a lot to teachers and to home school families. In our first year, we haven’t produced a lot because we have been testing to make sure they are right. After we graduate from the institute in July, we are hoping to get investors to mass produce these games and go for a national market.

What has been the most rewarding part of this new venture?

My dream was to have my own lab. I love academia, research and the lab. I never wanted to go to industry. But, being in this position is like having my own lab — only my lab makes board games.

It is almost exactly the same thing, so it is really fun. We are making board games so we have to design them and plan them and test them and there is a lot of scientific method and analysis as well as communicating results to people. I still feel like I’m using that analytical part of my brain, but I also feel like it is toward something that is immediately applied and useful to people, providing more instant gratification. When I show the games to teachers and kids, it seems like everybody really enjoys them and I see that they learn a lot. They will come in not knowing anything about genetics and then they’ll play one of our games and they will leave talking about dominant and recessive genes and the combinations and what that means. That makes me really happy, especially since I feel like I haven’t wasted my training and I am still doing something that makes a significant impact on people’s lives.

What has been the biggest challenge in starting your own company?

I have no business training. I have had to learn how to write a business plan and do finances and all the really fine details. It has been a steep learning curve but I have really great business mentors at Mason, so that has been comforting. It is still a challenge because it is out of my realm.

What are the most important skills which have enabled you to be successful?

I think communication skills because when I was a postdoc, I loved presenting and writing. I enjoyed synthesizing information and presenting it to people. Knowing and connecting with your audience has gotten me far. When we applied for George Mason, I had to come for an interview; on paper I didn’t look like a good candidate. I am a scientist with no business background and I didn’t make computer games. But, I feel like I convinced them that I was passionate about this and dedicated to STEM education. I think that is what got me into the program. My ability to impress upon people that this is a really important issue and we need to connect the cutting edge science world with the education system and I am uniquely suited to do it.

What advice can you give to a postdoc who would like to pursue a similar path?

A lot of postdocs have the ability to have their own small business. If they are interested at all and are creative and have that initiative, the best thing I did was to volunteer in FELCOM. When I was at the NIH, I was in FELCOM and I co-chaired the Career Development and Social Committee. That taught me so much about how organizations work and how people interact with each other, as well as how formal meetings go. I learned so much from getting outside the lab and getting involved in committee work. That type of experience gave me a lot of practical skills.

What are you the most proud of?

We have gotten two awards recently. We were selected in December by the Washington Post as a semi-finalist in their pitch contest. It was kind of like Shark Tank in a way. They picked ten young start-up companies out of 200 nationwide and we were one of them. We had to go downtown to the Washington Post office and give a one minute pitch to try and win $250,000 in advertising.

Out of all the talks that I have ever given, that was the most stressful ever. I was in front of a crowd of 300 people and there were cameras on me. It was stressful, but giving talks at the NIH – so many posters and so many powerpoints – was really good preparation. I kept telling myself it is just like a science talk and it is just one minute.

Even though we didn’t win, it was really exciting and we got a huge amount of exposure.

Last month, we were chosen as a finalist for the Duke University Startup Challenge. I went to Duke as an undergrad and they have this competition every year since 1999. There is one for undergrads and one for alumni, so we are in the alumni competition. So, we were chosen to be in the finals and we launched a campaign on Indiegogo, a crowdsourcing campaign. We are competing to raise money against other Duke alumni and faculty.

Any last bits of advice?
I wish more postdocs would make the connection between lab and business. I feel that if more postdocs realized this, then they could certainly launch their own biotech startup or whatever it might be. Now that I think about it, George Mason has biotech incubator for businesses that do bench lab work and are trying to get off the ground.

But, I love to work and I am used to that research life where you just work, work, work. I take all of the skills from the lab and I use it here. I have learned how to be self-disciplined through doing my PhD and then doing my postdoc project and I don’t need somebody standing over me telling me to work. I credit a lot of these lab skills with teaching me how to be independent.

My biggest advice is just to not be in the lab all day, especially at NIH where there are so many amazing opportunities that you can’t get anywhere else. Whether it is through volunteering or seminars, get out of the lab.


4 More Questions To Overcome Blocks to Action

February 10, 2016

Image of a stick figure laying on a red question markIn an earlier blog post, we discussed John Krumboltz’s Happenstance Learning Theory and we offered four powerful questions for you to ponder. Questions aimed at individuals who feel stuck and need some help moving forward with their career goals.  If you haven’t read that post yet, then take a look here.

Krumboltz recognized that career paths are often formulated through a mix of small decisions, big decisions, and happenstance or luck. He didn’t believe that people should make one plan and stick to it. Especially, if that meant staying in an unsatisfactory occupation just because it was declared to be your goal at one point in time.

According to Krumboltz in the Journal of Career Assessment:
“In a nutshell, the HLT posits that human behavior is the product of countless numbers of learning experiences made available by both planned and unplanned situations in which individuals find themselves. The learning outcomes include skills, interests, knowledge, beliefs, preferences, sensitivities, emotions, and future actions.

The situations in which individuals find themselves are partly a function of factors over which they have no control and partly a function of actions that the individuals have initiated themselves.”

He encouraged individuals to initiate and engage in exploratory actions as a way of creating happenstance – these unplanned yet often beneficial events which can dictate our lives.  People often get stuck in doing this, so he created questions aimed at overcoming blocks to action.

Here are four more powerful questions for you to consider:

  • What do you believe is stopping you from doing what you really want to do?
  • What do you believe is a first step you could take now to move closer to what you want?
  • What do you believe is stopping you from taking that first step?
  • How would your life become more satisfying if you were to take appropriate action?

 

If you are a fellow in training at the NIH and would like to have more help to support your progress, we invite you to make an appointment  with an OITE career counselor.


Super Activity – Life Roles Worksheet

February 2, 2016

Last week, we provided an overview on a relevant career  development theory. Now that you have an understanding of Super’s Life-Span/Life-Space Theory, let’s take a moment to further explore its applicability to real life. We often see individuals dealing with a variety of issues that relate to this theory, including the following:

  • Many fellows have been intensely focused on their role as a “student” or a “trainee” and have a difficult time seeing how their skills and professional identity can transfer to a new role.
  • After a PhD and postdoc, more roles often get added and intensified, sometimes so rapidly that an individual doesn’t recognize that their values around these roles are changing.
  • Even if they do recognize that their values and priorities are changing, they don’t always own them or feel free to acknowledge them. This often happens in part because they have been in environments with less ambiguity and/or complexity.
  • Complexity often comes with additional roles. It can be harder to say what’s important when you are not only considering yourself, but your lab work, your mentor, your partner/spouse/significant other, your child(ren), your ill or aging parents, your leisure pursuits, and the list can go on and on.

Maybe some of these points resonated with you. Combining all of these factors with the need to find another job in a complex and often changing world of work can make things quite challenging to say the least.

As noted, Super’s theory challenges individuals to construct their own identification and understanding of all of their life-space identities. Your life roles will likely change overtime depending on your particular stage of life; however, also remember that not all roles hold the same value to you. Additionally, you might have a co-worker or a boss who highly values a life-space that seems unimportant to you. Given all of this, it can be hard to be introspective and identify what is most meaningful for you, right now in this very moment.

This can also be a useful framework to think about when trying to achieve life balance. A blogger created a Balancing Life Roles Worksheet, where you estimate how much time you currently spend in each role and how much time you would prefer to spend in each role. This can be a good way to keep tally; however, it also often helps to visualize it, so career counselors often recommend a life roles activity.

Draw a large circle on a sheet of paper. Then using this as a pie chart, divide the circle into various “life role wedges” that represent the different “hats” that you wear in your life. The size of the wedges should coincide with the prominence of each role. For example if you feel that a work or family role is how you primarily define yourself, then that role make take up a significant chunk of the circle. See the example below and try it out for yourself.

Image of a pie chart with different colored wedges representing a different life role.