A perk of placing talented tech transfer professionals in new positions is the unique perspective that I gain on the spectrum of tech transfer office functions and configurations. One observation is that more and more offices are incorporating timely-educated and eager interns from their business, law, and engineering schools into their staffing plans. This arrangement, in theory, benefits both the office and the educational and experiential journey of the student; however, I am finding that many offices are destroying this opportunity through an out-dated approach to tasking interns.
The following tasks traditionally land in the laps of interns. Each may be historically fitting to this sub-class of employee, but represent a waste of talent:
- Administrative grunt work: File your own paper and .pdfs! Giving a stack of paper or an electronic folder that you organized to a short-term employee with the least knowledge of office protocol is ridiculous and lazy
- Benchmarking: Sending a student on a treasure-hunt for information that already exists is a waste of resources. Find the expert that has the information and commission them. It will be more time/cost effective and the information will actually be in a usable format (read: save you time). Furthermore, I don’t think you or your peers will be hurt if they are spared from another request for information or feedback survey from an intern
Instead, consider the following tasks that will set your internship program up for the future and ensure both functional benefit for your office and an educational upside for the student intern:
- Concierge: One office that I have worked with had a full-fledged, industry-interfacing call center operation. Staffed with interns, used to finding information quickly, businesses were able to access resources at the university while the interns learned/cataloged what is essentially business development
- Faculty Liaison: Hire from areas on campus that you want to connect with. Got a difficult or star faculty, hire her undergrad. Faculty often have soft spots for students and make themselves available. Sound manipulative…Nope, just strategic.
- Industry Linkages: Similar the previous task, a recent study showed that decision-makers are 73% more likely to answer an unsolicited email from a student than from another organization. Get your student on your next feedback survey or lead generation exercise and you won’t be sorry.
You will notice that I stayed away from technology evaluation and business planning for interns. I am personally on the fence with this task for the following reason: Student interns have the passion, timely-knowledge and capability to search information quickly, but can falter on the execution and usable implementation of the material. Great use if you can run the program right in coordination with your existing fully time professionals.
In closing, student interns are increasingly becoming an integral part of the tech transfer office make-up. Used wrong they will have a neutral or negative effect on production, used right they could take your office to new levels. Don’t let tradition and laziness get in the way of delivering a highly effective internship program in your tech transfer office.