Emily Smith, a student based at the UEA, was keen to explore academic-adjacent roles for her PIPS (non-lab based but still at ‘cutting-edge’ of science research). Emily saw an opportunity with Oxford University Innovation (OUI https://innovation.ox.ac.uk/) advertised in the PIPS newsletter and successfully applied for the position. OUI has two offices in Oxford and employs around 80 people across several teams (investment, patents, marketing etc). The everyday activity of OUI is to help commercialise research from the University to bridge the gap between academic research and industry, for the benefit of society worldwide. “For my internship, I wanted to have a completely different experience, to push myself outside my comfort zone, but maintaining a strong focus on science, so when the opportunity for an OUI marketing internship arose, I jumped at it” says Emily.
Emily was based within the physical sciences area of the Marketing team. As her background is life sciences, Emily found it challenging at first to get to grips with new areas of science including geology, physics and chemistry during a short space of time. Emily worked across a variety of projects so got to interact with the other functional teams. One of her main roles within marketing was to liaise with academics to consider the potential commercial markets they could target for their research. Emily reflected that this really helped her to develop her people skills as she was negotiating with so many individuals from different backgrounds and levels of expertise. Emily also learnt lots of nuances of language within marketing including use of company and industry specific acronyms. As well as this, Emily had a more general marketing role, including writing press releases and case studies of companies spun out with OUI’s help, and producing new marketing material for their technologies. One of the main tasks was generating packages of technology-groupings of related technologies that could be taken to conferences, used at face-to-face meetings and sent to companies with a specific field of expertise.
Emily particularly enjoyed working on a project relating to geophysics and the mining of rare metals from volcanoes. Having been involved with this project from the start she had more ownership for its direction, and she attended a mining conference with one of the OUI managers and the academic to develop contacts with different international mining companies. This involved lots of prior research as to which companies might be appropriate to approach and Emily learnt how to engage with the companies face to face. This experience has given Emily more confidence for networking at future academic conferences.
Emily’s written communication skills were developed through the placement, and she learnt a lot about marketing, including how to pitch the language of written content to the audience and the importance of good graphics to bring the marketing brochures to life. Emily now appreciates the amount of research involved in marketing, including how to identify the right person to contact in a target company. “I found writing some of the marketing materials surprisingly challenging. Trying to explain an academic scientific concept in as simple a way as possible could be challenging, but I was guided through this process and feel as though I learnt a lot in written communication” reflects Emily. Emily also felt her data management skills improved through the placement as she was using different functions of Excel to record project interactions.
Emily found it challenging interacting with such a large team, but she was one of a small number of other interns who learnt from each other. Emily really liked the ‘team spirit’ at OUI.
Emily feels the PIPS has influenced her career aspirations. “Working with OUI has changed my overall perception of what I would like to do in the future. It was a great mid-way point between academia and industry and meant I could still work with science and scientists whilst being out of the lab. It has made me realise that the skills I have already developed during all my university degrees are applicable in other industries” reflects Emily. “My time at OUI was an invaluable experience for improving my existing skills and learning new ones for my future employment. I learnt about Intellectual Property (IP), commercialisation, and innovation, but I also learnt a great deal of skills that can only be harnessed through experience. In the process, I gained massive amounts of confidence in voicing my thoughts, whether in a meeting or at a conference promoting a piece of technology and I became more proficient in communication and people skills, due to working with such a wide variety of people and teams” says Emily.
In terms of advice to future PIPS students, Emily recommends doing something outside of your comfort zone or using the placement to explore what you think you may do in the future. “Talk to as many people within the company as possible, and take on all kinds of different projects or work” she adds.