Working at a technology transfer office is different in that being a coherent team is crucial due to the many moving parts throughout the technology commercialization process. At my job, I am always working with one colleague or another, with the researchers, or other university administrators on multiple projects.
In a typical organizational structure of a university technology transfer office, the Vice President of Research or equivalent is at the top of the organization, followed by a Director, Associate Directors, Senior Licensing Associates, Licensing Associates, Contracts Officers and Administrators. Everyone has a different role that depends on the other and therefore relies on the ability of the entire team to function as one.
Demonstrating Qualities of a Good Team Member
If you are a job candidate, what can you do to demonstrate that you are a fantastic team member? What can you do to stand out from the crowd?
Instead of using trite terms like “team player”, you should follow the STAR strategy, which stands for situation, task, action and result (Hansen & Wikipedia), for your resumes, cover letters and interviews. Identify a situation, describe the actions you took, and followed by the results accomplished.
Leadership skills can be applied to all levels in an organization. Higher-level leaders need to be able to articulate the goals for the entire team. However, as graduate students or postdocs, it is more relevant that you demonstrate your commitment to support fellow colleagues and your abilities to manage up. Perhaps you volunteered to maintain your lab mate’s tissue cultures while he or she was on medical leave; perhaps the undergraduates at the lab won awards for their projects under your mentorship; or that you organized a well-received seminar series for the department. The idea is to describe a situation where you can explain how you showed your support for your team members and how you built your leadership skills.
Having teammates who do not take their responsibilities seriously is one of the common ways for teams to flounder. Therefore, hiring managers will look for candidates who can follow through on their commitments. You should utilize the aforementioned STAR technique to convince your potential employer that you are reliable, committed to your responsibilities and dedicated to accomplishing your goals, which are of course – aligned to the team’s goals.
Effective communication is likely the most important quality among all. In addition to the ability to write well technically, interpersonal communication skills are of utmost importance. Do you get along with your coworkers? Are you trustworthy? How did you resolve a conflict? Do you have good listening skills and emotional intelligence? Do you work on improving your communication skills continuously?
Choosing the Right Team
When you are offered a position, it would be wise to carefully consider your decision and select a group that shows solid team qualities. Being in the right team and the right environment will propel you in your career. On the contrary, being in a dysfunctional team may set you back and impact your career in the future.
Technology transfer offices range in size. Regardless of the sizes, teamwork is crucial as they are often tasked to handle oversized portfolios. In addition, the fact that there are many moving parts in technology commercialization adds additional layers of complexity in the process. These teams have to function as one to achieve the desired outcomes.
The Team’s Collective Goal
When you are considering accepting a job offer, take all the opportunities to interact with everyone at the office before you make a decision. Just like interviews for postdoc positions, you should ask many questions in many different ways. Does the team have a clear message and an overarching goal? Does everyone work towards the common goals of the team? The key is to ask questions strategically and politely.
As mentioned, effective communication is one of the most important qualities and crucial to a team’s performance. If most of the staff members are not aware of what the others are doing, it might be a sign of communication problems within the team. In a supportive environment, team members would not hesitate to reach out to their colleagues for help and conversely, help others solve problems regularly.
The Intangible Clues
If you could participate in a staff meeting or a group lunch during your interview, pay attention to the group dynamics and watch how they interact with each other. In addition, it would also be useful to meet and talk with the researchers, licensees or the patent attorneys who are not office employees but work regularly with the office. Feedback from these individuals will provide important clues.
It takes some adjustment for scientists to transition from a laboratory setting to work in a technology transfer office. However, technology transfer can be very rewarding if you are interested in working with innovations, like solving problems and enjoy working in a team. In order to secure a job, you need to demonstrate that you can be a good team member who will add value to the team. When you receive a job offer, make sure to take sufficient time to consider your options, evaluate the team and make a decision wisely.