CTL Practicum, Your First Step on an Alternative Career Path with your Graduate Degree
September 23, 2020
Traditionally, when graduating from a PhD program one looks to a career in academia, however, today the number of PhDs awarded greatly outpaces the number of available faculty positions created each year. Options for those unable to find faculty positions are not clearly defined as they enter the crowded and competitive corporate job space, vying for positions with fellow PhDs and highly skilled, experienced research professionals. This often leads PhD graduates to find employment where they might not apply their research, or even completely forgo it to take on a career that is unrelated to their degree.
In an article published by Nature Biotechnology 1, data is presented that clearly demonstrates the dilemma PhD graduates face.
Exploring Alternatives Sooner
According to Susi Varvayanis at the Careers Beyond Academia program at the Cornell Graduate School, about half of Cornell PhD graduates end up obtaining a faculty position at a college or university. This statistic underscores the importance of having the skills and knowledge to translate a PhD degree into a viable career outside of academia.
The CTL Practicum program was designed to engage our PhD candidates with a meaningful technology transfer experience that both leverages their research backgrounds while providing a view into future career opportunities.
Meet Dr. Julia Miller PhD ‘20. Julia is a recent Cornell graduate who completed her PhD in Plant Biology from the School of Integrative Plant Science. Julia learned about opportunities in technology transfer while attending talks on ‘alternative’ careers for PhD students. During her time at Cornell, Julia was a member of the CTL Practicum, CTL’s technology transfer internship program. Upon graduation, Julia landed a position as the AgBio Technology Transfer Fellow at Michigan State University Technologies, MSU’s technology transfer office.
CTL recently caught up with Julia and asked her about her experience with CTL Practicum program.
CTL: You recently finished your PhD and started a new position; can you tell us a little bit about it?
Julia: I am the AgBio Technology Transfer Fellow at Michigan State University Technologies, the MSU technology transfer office. This is a training position that focuses on the agriculture, natural resources, and natural science portfolio. I just started the position in early September, so I am learning so much each day.
CTL: During your time at Cornell, how did you find out about CTL?
Julia: One of my mentors suggested that I look if Cornell’s technology transfer office had an internship program. I searched online and found that CTL had one!
CTL: What attracted you to the internship opportunities at CTL?
Julia: I was very excited to apply for the program since I knew that hands-on experiences would be helpful to better understand the technology transfer process. I knew that I would learn a lot and it would be a great way to see if a technology transfer career was a good fit for me.
CTL: Could you describe how your internship work at CTL was complementary to your PhD work?
Julia: My internship complemented my PhD work as it helped me think about science in different ways. Instead of only thinking about if something were relevant in the field or if someone completed the correct controls, I started thinking about what technologies or products could be generated from the research.
CTL: Did you have any challenges managing your lab responsibilities while interning with CTL?
Julia: I did not have many challenges managing my lab responsibilities and my CTL work. My advisor was very supportive of the internship, so I could be flexible with my time during the day. I usually completed my CTL work in the evenings after my lab work. However, I liked to do the final review of my technology briefs or prior art searches in the morning when my brain was fresh. That was never a problem for my advisor or my other responsibilities. However, it could be a little stressful juggling lab work with my CTL internship, as it could feel like I could and maybe should be doing lab work 24/7.
CTL: What role did your advisor play?
Julia: My advisor, Miguel Piñeros, was very supportive of my work with CTL. I told him early in my PhD studies that I did not want to be a professor or an academic researcher. He was very encouraging and helpful in allowing me to craft a PhD that supported my career goals.
CTL: Was there an ‘a-ha’ moment during your time with CTL that changed how you thought about what you wanted to do after your PhD?
Julia: Soon after I started my internship, I knew that a job in technology transfer would be my goal once I finished my PhD. It was amazing to work with many different scientists on diverse technologies. I also enjoyed thinking about the potential products and services that could develop from the technologies. I also enjoyed learning about marketing and commercialization.
CTL: What would you say is the biggest lesson(s) you learned from the Practicum program?
Julia: One of the biggest lessons I learned was how to think about science in a different way. Since high school, I learned how to think about science from a scientific point of view. CTL taught me how to think about science in a law and business point of view as well. For example, what other experiments should be completed so we can draft strong patent claims? Or what company could we partner with to do the proper testing to ensure that the technology would work in this market?
CTL: Did the Practicum program help you with your current role?
Julia: The program helped me obtain my current position at MSU. When I was writing my cover letter and resume, I was able to reference the many skills and experiences I obtained during the program. During the job interview, I could confidently discuss many aspects of the technology transfer process since I was able to do them myself as part of the program.
CTL: Knowing what you know now, what would you say to yourself before interning with CTL / entering Cornell?
Julia: I think I would tell myself to learn about and gain experience in technology transfer earlier. I was able to be at CTL for over two years and it would have been great to be intern there longer to learn even more.
CTL: Do you have any advice for graduate students who wish to apply to the Practicum?
Julia: I would make sure that you could realistically do an internship while you are doing your PhD. It includes in-person meetings as well as time thinking, reading, and writing. The more time you have to work on the Practicum, the more you will get out of it. It is an invaluable experience if you would like a career in technology transfer, but a PhD can be all-consuming. And make sure to talk to your advisor about it!
CTL: Thank you Julia for your time!
A View into Technology Transfer
The CTL Practicum provides practicants a front-row seat into the technology transfer world. And as Julia experienced, the program helps graduate students frame their research in different and unexpected ways. Practicants have an active and hands-on role in helping CTL fulfill its mission to commercialize Cornell’s innovations. Graduates of the program will have garnered valuable experience in fusing science with intellectual property, patent law, business development and marketing; all the necessary skills to start a career in technology transfer, IP law, or entrepreneurship.
If you’re interested in applying to the Practicum, please contact Lynda Inseque, Program Manager, Technology Initiatives & Outreach, or attend our next information session happening on 10/2 12pm – 1pm. (https://ctl.cornell.edu/event/ctl-practicum-info-session/)
More information about the CTL Practicum can be found here: