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'Have a 5-year vision for where you want to be'

Dr. Raghu Santanam, chair of the Information Systems department at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, shares great advice for aspiring students, and his views on the tech fields and skills of the future.
BY Uma Asher |   17-11-2017

Santanam Raghu

Dr. Raghu Santanam is Professor and Chair of the Department of Information Systems in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. His research has focused on the impacts of technology and technology strategies on businesses, society, and consumers. His research areas of interest include, health information technology, digital platforms and markets, services and business process design, and information assurance. His research on digital platforms has explored emerging business strategies, consumer preferences, and trends in software markets and platforms. Dr. Santanam is an active researcher in the health information technology area and has published scholarly articles on electronic medical records impacts on hospitals, personal health records adoption by consumers, and technology-based decision support for public health. Before joining the W. P. Carey School, he was an instructor of management at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He received his bachelor’s degree in electronics and communications from the National Institute of Engineering, his master’s degree in industrial management from the Indian Institute of Technology, and a second master’s degree and PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo. During a recent hectic visit to India, he took some time out for an email interview with BrainGain Magazine.

  1. 1. Could you tell us a bit about your academic journey from Mysore, India, to Buffalo, New York?

    I finished my Bachelor’s in Electronics in 1990 from the University of Mysore. Right after my graduation, I began work as a software engineer at Wipro Systems Limited (at that time they had about 100 employees!). Within about 2 years, I decided to leave my job to pursue a Master’s degree at IIT Madras. During my stint at IIT Madras, I finally made the decision to pursue an academic career in Business. The preparation for PhD was not unlike today – I took GMAT and TOEFL, applied to several universities and eagerly awaited admission decisions. However, I did not have all the information on universities at my fingertips – all I had access to was emails. I asked my professors and seniors for advice, read the brochures carefully, and thought carefully about whether I really liked what I was about to pursue. It wasn’t an easy decision. But, I am glad I made the decision to leave the comfort of my home and well-paying job to pursue higher studies. Moving to a new environment and working with the best minds really helped me push myself harder. I continue to do that even today. Of course, as I grow older, I have to compete with all the bright new minds in my profession!

    The Hayden Library at Arizona State University
    The Hayden Library at Arizona State University (photo courtesy of ASU Enrollment Services Communications, used with permission)
  2. What was it like to be an international student in Buffalo in the 1990s?

    Going to another country as a student can be intimidating – especially during the 1990s when we had very limited exposure to the culture and realities of USA. However, I was fortunate to have contacts with the Graduate Indian Students Association at Buffalo. Those students picked me up from airport, let me stay with them for two weeks till I found my own accommodation. I was also driven to Niagara Falls as soon as I landed in Buffalo! The university ran several international student orientations. Professors and staff were very courteous and helpful (you will find this to be the case in all high-quality US universities). I settled down very quickly and had made several friends from many different programs. My experience in the classroom was unlike anything I experienced in my classes in India. Professors welcomed questions and classroom discussions were very open and explored issues beyond what was in the books. The assignments and exams forced us to think of applications of concepts rather than memorizing concepts. The research projects I worked with my faculty mentors were at the cutting edge of my field and made me realize the opportunities that existed for technology innovations.

    Holi celebration at Arizona State University
    Holi celebration at Arizona State University (photo courtesy of ASU Enrollment Services Communications, used with permission)
  3.  When you started out, did you think you would one day be Chair at a business school? What is your advice to students who are deciding what to study in college and planning their careers?

    My aspiration was to be a very successful researcher and make an impact in my research domain. It is important to have a vision for where you want to be at all times. My advice to all my students is that they have a 5-year vision for where they want to be – this approach helps you to be motivated and goal driven at every juncture of your career. I had role models that I could observe and talk to for advice. But I also knew that I could not just replicate what they did in their careers. We are all products of our own abilities and the times we live in. We have to adapt. But role models help you in establishing a drive for success. There is no substitute for hard work. Once you enter a graduate program, you encounter very smart people – you can compete effectively only through hard work.

  4. You have worked for several years as a visiting scientist at the Mayo Clinic. Please tell us a bit about your role there.

    Working with physicians and clinical researchers at Mayo Clinic has been one of my most satisfying research experiences. I continue to pursue projects with Mayo Clinic researchers. We are addressing some very interesting problems in the use of Information Technology for patient education, training and clinical decision-making. Information Technology is already delivering on creating new capabilities in healthcare, but more exciting things are going to come in the near future with the use of AI, iOT and sensor devices. ASU’s strategic partnership with Mayo Clinic is developing cutting-edge research programs in several spheres.

  5. What are some of the most important fields of expertise that students today should be considering for their future?

    Students, especially in technology domain, should train in data analytics, AI, and digital transformation. Organizations are always prepared to pay top dollar for those who are innovative and hard-working. I find students from India are knowledgeable and highly skilled. They can do well to improve upon their communication skills (both writing and presentation). The advent of TV and Internet seems to have lowered the appetite for reading books. It is important to develop a broad-based set of interests in several fields. We can’t be experts in everything, but being educated and knowledgeable in important issues facing our society today is important. Our mind works in mysterious ways – we connect the dots between domains through subconscious analogic reasoning. As such, those who are well read and have a broad set of interests do very well in their careers. 

  6. What distinguishes a good student from an outstanding one?

    An outstanding student is hard working – plain and simple. She goes out of her way to learn things that are hard to master, will not give up, and will not take short cuts. The will power to test the limits of cognitive capacity is what helps us to push forward. Excellence and genius is in everyone – but in different dimensions. The important thing is to learn our strengths and then put those strengths to full use.

    Coaches of Arizona State University’s first-year success program.
    Coaches of Arizona State University’s first-year success program. They work with students on everything from adjusting to college life to realizing their potential and dreams (file photo, courtesy of ASU Enrollment Services Communications, used with permission)
Interested in technology and business? Check out the links below!
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