Posted August 3, 2017 by Tiffany Lee
When Anuja Bhalkikar started her doctorate work in chemistry five years ago, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student envisioned returning home to India and using her Ph.D. to pursue a career in industry instead of following a traditional academic career path.
Now, about six months away from graduation, Bhalkikar still intends to take the road less traveled. But thanks to an internship position at NUtech Ventures, UNL’s technology commercialization unit, she sees the future with much more clarity.
“I would like to start work involving intellectual property right after graduation,” she said. “The internship gave me a platform to learn and understand intellectual property. Generally, graduate students are not exposed to commercialization and how research moves from the lab to the marketplace.”
Helping students explore a potential alternative career path is one objective of NUtech’s internship program, which was launched in 2014. This is valuable for students like Bhalkikar, who may have career goals outside teaching and research.
“A NUtech internship exposes students to a career option that helps them see innovation and research from a different perspective,” said Brad Roth, NUtech president and executive director and Nebraska’s associate vice chancellor for technology development. “When pursuing their degrees, students predominately experience the laboratory side. They don’t often venture out and get a broader view of what is happening with the university at large or don’t consider how innovation can be put to use by industry.”
Most students are hired as commercialization analyst interns, who are responsible for helping with the technology screening evaluation process. To analyze the marketability, novelty and commercial value of new technologies disclosed by university inventors, interns participate in inventor interviews, search for existing intellectual property and perform market and industry analyses. Then, the students work alongside NUtech’s technology managers to develop strategies for intellectual property protection, marketing and communication.
Commercialization analyst interns are not limited to their area of scientific expertise, though all have backgrounds in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Sneha Akula, a master’s student in mechanical engineering, said NUtech trains interns to handle the evaluation of technologies in disciplines outside their own expertise.
“On my own, I never would have considered reading about technology from the field of chemistry,” Akula said. “But in this position, I’ve learned about cutting-edge research from a range of departments.”
To tailor the program to a range of skill sets, NUtech offers additional internship experiences. Currently, three students – including a second-year law student who works as a contracts analyst and two upper-level undergraduate students who serve as a marketing and communications intern and a business administration intern – work alongside the eight commercialization analysts.
The current cohort of interns has expertise in a broad range of specialties, from catalysis to fungal genetics to law, mirroring the increasingly interdisciplinary world of science and research at Nebraska. They learn from one another and build relationships across disciplinary lines, said Lauren Segal, a doctoral candidate in plant pathology.
“The camaraderie is the highlight of the job,” she said. “It’s a very friendly office culture.”
In some cases, the internship program serves as a bridge to full-time employment. One such intern-turned-permanent employee is Courtney Grate, a NUtech intellectual property specialist. Grate, a 2016 Nebraska law alumna, knew she wanted a career blending her undergraduate expertise in biochemistry with her legal skills. An internship at NUtech was the ideal opportunity to capitalize on both skill sets.
Grate worked for two years as an intern before NUtech hired her full time in August 2016.
“Now, I have the chance to learn about my former professors’ research portfolios,” Grate said. “I didn’t even realize they had so much going on outside the classroom. Seeing the innovation here is just incredible.”
For more information about NUtech’s internship program, including the recruitment and application process, contact Nancy Petitto, operations manager at NUtech Ventures, 402-472-1782.