Werther Vecchiato

Assistant Licensing & Ventures Manager at Oxford University Innovation 
PhD Cardiovascular Sciences, 2021

""Please tell us a bit about your current role. 

I am an ‘Assistant Licensing & Ventures Manager’ at Oxford University Innovation, the Technology Transfer company for the University of Oxford. I (mostly) work with the Life Sciences team, to help commercialise ideas that are born at the University, so that they are translated into real-life products and generate some revenue for the University and their inventors. Typically, we achieve this either by protecting new inventions and licensing that intellectual property to industrial third parties, or by helping the academics to set up their own start-up company, to further refine and commercialise their products/ideas.

My role of Assistant is quite varied: on a given day I could be carrying out literature/patent surveys, market scoping, liaising with industry, meeting academics and patent attorneys, finding and presenting to investors, helping academics to put together translationally-focussed research grants – practically, this means a LOT more meetings (and form-filling) than I ever had as a researcher. 

During my PhD I carried out a brief period of work experience with the University’s Technology Transfer company, which is how I learnt about Technology Transfer in general; I had never thought about what goes on behind the scenes to allow academics to patent their inventions. I applied to a specific vacancy, and had two interviews (which included delivering a presentation) and a psychometric test. This all happened remotely over 1 month, during the spring of 2021. 

What motivated you to do your postgraduate research course?

I have always loved scientific research (especially in the life sciences) and, more generally, learning. Therefore, I wanted to do something that would allow me to learn new things every day in the field of biochemistry/cell biology – even better, to be the first person in the world to discover something! I reckon I subconsciously decided to do a PhD even before I started my undergraduate course.

What do you enjoy most and what do you find challenging about your role?

I love the breadth of what I do, and of the subject matter I am exposed to – I have learnt so much in these first few months, and no day is like the previous. It is also a very good way to remain close to academic research and its excitement, without personally carrying out the experiments. And all the while, you feel like you are contributing to taking research out of the laboratory and into hospitals/industry (technology transfer, indeed).

Have you faced any barriers during your career journey, if so,
how did you overcome them?

The biggest career-related challenge for me, in all honesty, has been finding out what to do post-viva. I started out my PhD not knowing what I would do afterwards, and got close to finishing it in more or less the same position. I knew that I did not want to be a researcher any more, even if I still loved research – and yet I had little idea on how to be involved with science outside the laboratory.

The Careers Network at Birmingham was incredibly helpful in giving me a flavour for career possibilities beyond academia. I loved hearing first hand what people do in their roles, when UoB alumni were invited back to the University to talk to undecided PGRs.

How did your time at Birmingham help you prepare for this role?

The Careers Network was very helpful in giving me a flavour for alternative, non-tenure-track jobs. I loved hearing first hand what people do in their roles, when UoB alumni were invited back to the University to talk to undecided PGRs.

The Careers Network workshops also allowed me to identify what motivates me, what aspects of my time in research I wanted to retain, and what aspects I wanted to avoid. They also offered advice on CV writing, putting together job applications, preparing for interviews… In short, I think I attended every workshop they ran for a few months, and they helped me to great lengths. If you are struggling to decide what to do ‘after’, I highly recommend you do the same.

What advice would you give to students interested in further study?

My advice: Make sure you choose PhD supervisors that fit well with your personality and ethics. Your research focus can change overnight if needed, but your supervisor(s) will most likely stay with you for the whole 3-4 years.

What advice would you give to students interested in getting into your industry or role?

Technology Transfer is a very small (but growing) field, so there are no fixed pathways, or graduate schemes. Indeed, jobs in this line of work do not come by that often. Many people fall into it after years in industry, and approach it from a variety of different angles (research, sales/marketing, project management, etc). If you think it is something that interests you, talk to a Technology Transfer office; often they will not be able to offer any paid internships, but can really help you decide whether it is something for you. Alternatively, the industrial counterpart of a Tech Transfer Manager is known as a Business Development Manager: people on the lookout for technologies to license from Universities… same idea, other side of the coin. Remember that all these jobs come in a variety of titles, but likely offer similar experiences.


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