Over the past twenty years, a government driven approach to increasing access to higher education has led to an increase in the number of students at university from 972,000 undergraduate students in 1995/6 to over 1.8 million in 2007/8. However, the job roles in academia have not grown at the same rate, leading to much higher levels of competition at each academic career stage. With competition for post-doc and other academic positions so fierce, many students end up choosing non-academic careers at the end of their studies. An article from 2014 stated that half of students do not end up working in the field they studied. Even for post-docs, uncertainty over their next career move is a regular occurrence as their roles are often tied to short, fixed-term contracts. For those not willing to travel globally or not comfortable with the level of uncertainty provided, other career options are needed.
What are the options?
Most life sciences students are unaware of the existence of tech transfer offices (TTO). The exceptions are students who work with industry partners or undertook translational work as part of their research. Almost every university/ institute has a TTO. Although the names may differ from industry TTOs (i.e. involve the words innovation, enterprise or tech transfer), the functions are the same.
The role of a TTO is to manage the process of converting the scientific research undertaken at the institute into goods or services that can be marketed or commercialised. This is vital in ensuring the institute is recognised for the technology and research it has undertaken. The TTO is also responsible for protecting these technologies through patents and copyrights. In addition, the role of a TTO involves creating relationships with industry to facilitate the commercialisation and promotion of its research and technologies.
How do life science students benefit?
There are many benefits to working in a TTO for life science students. The first of these is that they can continue to work within the life sciences field and utilise their scientific knowledge. Life science is one of the major development areas for technology transfer, so the knowledge developed during a degree can still be applied. Working in a TTO can be a very rewarding career choice, as many of the research tools identified and commercialised by TTOs are used to develop lifesaving drugs and technology. Additionally, unlike their PhD or Post-doc role, a TTO role is not focused on one specific research area, providing life sciences students with exposure across multiple research areas e.g. oncology, medical devices, biologics, diagnostics. Working within a TTO role also allows life science students to develop knowledge and skills in the areas of compliance, patent law, finance, accounting, negotiation and operations, providing useful, transferable skills that they can use within their future career.
Experiencing Tech Transfer
There are multiple different avenues for students to gain an insight into the Tech Transfer industry, whilst completing their PhD of Post-Doc role:
The Ximbassador programme
The Ximbassador Programme is a 6-month, paid internship that runs alongside a PhD or Post-Docs day-to-day role. The role of a Ximbassador is to uncover, identify and commercialise new reagents and research tools (e.g. antibodies, small molecules, mouse models and cell lines etc.) at their institute by engaging with laboratories on campus. For more information on the Ximbassador Programme or to nominate a student for the internship, contact us.
LifeArc offers two fellowships for PhD and Post-Doc students. These programmes aim to support these scientists in the transition from academia to careers in tech transfer. For more information, visit their website.
Biotechnology Yes competition
This is one of the many residential workshops the YES competition runs. The purpose of the competition is to raise awareness within PHD and Post-docs around how ideas from science and engineering can be commercialised. For more information on this competition, visit their website.