Sometimes life has a funny way of taking us places we'd never envisioned going. For Radhika Kulkarni, life's little switch-up meant an end to her planned career in academia and the start of what turned into an illustrious career in the software industry. She has nary a regret.
Radhika Kulkarni, SAS
Kulkarni has had a rich and fruitful 30-year career at SAS, a leading business analytics software company (and this site's sponsor). At SAS, she has risen to the position of vice president of advanced analytics R&D, responsible for software development in data mining, econometrics, forecasting, operations research, statistics, and other analytical areas. In addition, her division develops key components of industry-specific business analytics solutions. But if you would have asked her years ago, as she worked on her PhD in Operations Research at Cornell University, about her career goals, she would have specified a professorship.
"I like teaching, and working with students, and seeing how they can grow. It was always my intention to go into academics," she said.
In fact, Kulkarni did spend her first professional years as an academic. She served as a visiting professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where her husband had earned a tenure-track position (the only one open at the time).
If I had not been geographically constrained, I would have looked all around for an academic position. But since I was, I decided instead to look around for possible other careers in the field of operations research that would enable me to use my educational background and skillset and take that knowledge and apply it to real-life problems.
That's when the opportunity at SAS opened up. "Going into industry was not my first choice, but looking back at where my career has led me, I have no regrets. It's opened up a door that I didn't think would lead me to where I am today, and I couldn't be more pleased."
Kulkarni said she feels fortunate to have "landed in one of the really unique jobs in the field of operations research," working in a position through which she's able to help create software used in multiple industries and work with universities. "SAS is very passionate about supporting universities, and two or three times every year I am able to spend time at different universities talking about what I do."
In addition, she serves in advisory roles at North Carolina State University's Institute for Advanced Analytics, for Cornell's Center for Hospitality Research, and on Oklahoma State University's Marketing Analytics and Data Mining Board. She's also an active member of INFORMS, where she mentors young professionals and sponsors a student analytical scholarship, among other activities. "I try to meet students wherever I am," Kulkarni said.
"So in a way, you see, I've ended up with the best of both worlds."
Kulkarni shared her story as a woman in analytics during a recent phone interview. Click to the next page for an edited version of the conversation, in her own words.
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