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Home News Duke graduate students and post-docs play an important role at the intersection of science and business – and you could too!

Duke graduate students and post-docs play an important role at the intersection of science and business – and you could too!

Have you ever sat in lab and wondered: This is a cool project, but how exactly will this help people? Will this technology ever move beyond the bench? And, for that matter, will I?

If you’ve asked yourself these types of questions, you might be interested in applying to the OTC Fellows Program (previously known by a few different names, including Tech Transfer Fellows). The Program is perfect for folks that are interested in exploring a career move away from the bench, toward science-related fields like management consulting, patent law, venture capital, and business development.

So, what is technology commercialization?

At its core, technology commercialization is the process of bringing an invention from bench to bedside, from beaker to bodega.

Say you invent a new gene therapy for a rare disease while working at a Duke lab. OTC would then work with you to protect this intellectual property and help push the technology out into the market. Common routes include licensing out the technology to an existing company or building a startup around the invention.

OTC has experienced patent lawyers, licensing managers, tech marketers, startup venture advisors, and more to help Duke inventors realize their dreams – and we’ve been quite successful at it. In FY 2022, for example, OTC processed 316 invention disclosures, received over 116 issued patents, helped spin out 14 startups, and generated over $95M in revenue – part of which goes back to the inventors and their labs as further investment in their research, benefiting the whole Duke ecosystem.

How can I get into technology commercialization at Duke?

If all that still sounds exciting, the OTC Fellows Program might be for you!

Fellows are selected from a competitive group of graduate student (usually, Ph.D. candidate) and post-doc applicants to join the OTC team for a year and gain some hands-on technology development and commercialization experience. After some training, the Fellows chiefly help assess the nearly 400 new inventions that are disclosed to our office each year.

Continuing the gene therapy example, an OTC Fellow would examine invention disclosure materials like unpublished manuscripts provided by the inventor, review the gene therapy market and if any similar patents have already been filed. The OTC Fellow compiles this info in a Tech Assessment report that helps the licensing manager and inventor determine what is the best path forward. Perhaps it’s patenting and then attempting to license it to an existing gene therapy company or starting a company based on the idea – perhaps it’s deciding to close the file entirely and move on to a new project because two very similar gene therapy approaches were recently patented and are entering the market.

Either eventuality is a win, since OTC Fellow input helps everyone use their time and resources more efficiently. Whatever the eventuality for a given technology, we keep the OTC Fellows up to date on its progress.

OTC Fellows also will have the opportunity to create Marketing Summaries, which discuss the technology and the problem it solves, for our website and use in outreach to prospective licensees. This is a way for Fellows to directly participate in technology commercialization since these are the materials that we send directly to companies. Being able to effectively describe a technology and its advantages is a skill that will be useful for the rest of your career, regardless of what you choose to do.

Work on both types of reports is compensated – expect to complete around 30 reports, each taking 5-7 hours. This work is primarily remote, but there will be some in-person opportunities too.

For example, during their year with OTC, Fellows will have several training sessions, optional study halls at the OTC office, and several events and seminars where various speakers discuss bench science-adjacent career paths that are possible for Duke graduates.

If upon the successful completion of the year-long Fellows program you are still itching for more, don’t worry, we have something for you as well! Select Fellows are invited to stay on and become Senior Fellows.

Senior Fellows engage more directly with licensing managers and have more hands-on experience with projects, which can include being invited to sit in on meetings between inventors and potential licensees. Senior Fellows also serve as mentors to incoming Fellows and provide feedback and edits on early assignments. In addition, Senior Fellows help with reports when we are suddenly inundated with new inventions or when technologies are too tricky for new Fellows to evaluate.

Am I a good candidate and how do I apply?

Are you a Duke graduate student or postdoc? If so, you’re in luck – that’s exactly who we’re looking for!

The application is quite straightforward: a resume (2 pages or fewer) and a cover letter (1 page) emailed to the Program Director, Lou Ward, at For the October 2023 – October 2024 cohort, applications will be accepted from 12:00aET Monday, August 21st , 2023 to 11:59pET Tuesday, September 12th, 2023. Interviews will be granted to select candidates, with Fellow offers extended soon after and training beginning in October.

We aim to accept up to 9 first-year Fellows every year. Any Duke graduate student or post-doc is welcome to apply, but we do prioritize applicants with life science, engineering, and computer science backgrounds as this expertise matches well with our usual types of invention.

So, what makes a good Fellow candidate? We’re looking for someone who:
• has excellent writing, research, and analysis skills
• is punctual and will have availability the whole year
• is willing to learn about new technologies and fields beyond their own
• is interested in nontraditional science career paths
• has the approval of their advisor to participate (talk to them earlier rather than later!)

We’re excited to review your application and, possibly, work with you in this ever-evolving, fascinating world of technology commercialization. Good luck!

For more detailed information about the program offerings, the application process, and to hear from past Fellows, please visit the OTC Fellows Program Website.

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