As any New Yorker knows, sometimes the busier you are the better. It means you’re looped into the hustle, getting ahead, and otherwise #MakingItWork. But this requires balance, too, to stay healthy. And that balance is something CUNY SPS graduate, Saheli Kar, knows a lot about.

We caught up with the professional data scientist, whose rich background in computer science and engineering, and work as a software engineer primed her for the MS in Data Science virtual classroom experience at CUNY SPS. It’s the online program designed to fit the hectic, multifaceted life of folks like us in New York City.

Saheli has managed to advance her education with two children, one two-year-old, the other, her husband. (We’re kidding!) But on top of living life and enjoying it with her family, she’s a foodie too. The kitchen is her passion place, that is, when she’s not traveling and ambitiously planning the future of her career--even in this extraordinarily male-dominated industry. She is undeterred. She told us, “Life is beautiful,” and clearly it is for this woman who is truly #MakingItWork.

New York City is all about hustle. What was it like to go from the bustle of everyday professional life to school again?
Though I am not a native New Yorker, I worked most of my American work life in New York. Going back to school after working in a city like this one is quite a change in lifestyle. To be honest, I didn’t feel the change until the coursework actually started. At the time I enrolled and registered for the master’s program, I was excited and thrilled that I finally got the break to pursue it. But when I was given the syllabus and had a look at the books, I found a completely different frame of mind that I had not encountered in a good number of years. During my undergraduate program, my main focus was study, which was a continuation of my student life from high school. But while in the graduate program, I had a family with a two-year-old child, so completing projects and assignments, with all my other priorities, required more discipline and prioritizing around life.

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And how was the move from software engineering to the work you do now, post- master’s?
In my case, the move from Software Engineering to Data Science was rather smooth. Data Science needs lots of scripting/programming, along with statistical algorithms. Data Science and Data Engineering groups are strongly coupled. Being from a Software Engineering background was an advantage for me when talking to the Data Engineering team where the team structure was not well defined.

Tell us about Element-22 and some of the successes you’ve had with your clients. What skills were you able to take from your studies that you applied to the field?
Element-22 is a Consulting Firm specializing in providing solutions with data. The clients are mostly in finance and the insurance industries. And yes, there is one project I can clearly identify from the others.

We had to build a Product Catalog from a huge amount of datasets from scratch. My client had built several teams for two years to implement the plan, but no previous team had been successful. So when our team was formed, higher management was doubtful about us and the projected success of the project. Within the first month, management pulled the plug on it for budgeting and other issues. To give it one last try, our manager set up a meeting with the head of the group so that he could get to know us better. I had my prototype and plan ready for the meeting. The project head was impressed and said he wanted to hear about a solution. I explained how machine learning would help automation of the curation of metadata. A recommendation engine would help the project managers and the teams to find the best dataset for them. He praised the plan and gave us a green light. We released the project in eight months.

That’s awesome--congrats.

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So what’s in store for you? How do you envision your career growth in the coming years as a result of your education?
Well, I definitely want to advance in my career. At some point I dream of leading a successful Analytics team. The foundation of education and maturity from my industry experience will help me achieve that target.

How did your previous work experience shape your studies at CUNY SPS?
Having a programming background actually helped me with some of the courses in the program, which involved scripting languages like R and Python. The program was very engaging in the later semesters, too.

Is there a lesson in particular that you learned during your studies at CUNY SPS that you take with you to work and in your life every day? What is it?
Time management was very important while at CUNY SPS. Not only me, but most of my cohorts have families and jobs. So, there were other priorities that could not be neglected. I planned my time at the beginning of each week, which helped me meet the assignment deadlines, while I took care of my family and other priorities. I follow this exercise now, even after the program.

I believe in: “We work for a living, but do not live for work.”

Did you have any reservations about the online study format before you began the
program?

Oh yes! I indeed had reservations about online studies. Like:
• Is the program real?
• Will I get the recognition like an on campus program?
• Will the professors be engaged with the course or is all of it self-study?
• How does it work?
• How does it feel?

But after enrolling my doubts were cleared. The Blackboard system gave the feel of a virtual classroom. I could connect to the professors and my cohorts through it. The professors were very dedicated to the program. I remember, one of the professors adjusted the time for me when I was in India and used a web conference call to connect.

I also had a closed study group with six cohorts and we communicated regularly through email. We only knew each other by name, never our faces, until graduation, where most of us finally met.

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As a mother, did the flexibility of online study help you manage your time?
Of course! I saved travel time to campus, and saved myself from the exhaustion of the
commute itself. I could spend more time with my toddler and watch him grow up.

Was there anything that surprised you about the CUNY SPS experience?
I was amazed that anyone sitting in any part of the world could get a degree from an accredited U.S. university.


OK--quick interruption. You said you are a foodie. In one sentence, tell us the coolest
dish you’ve tried this year.

Fried ice-cream: how can someone serve something fried but not melted?

Agreed. Alright, and we’re back.
Is there anyone that made your time at CUNY SPS particularly great?

You put me into a tough situation--it’s hard to pick any one name: Andrew Catlin is the best professor. I have great regards for him. Program Director Dr. Arthur O’Connor and Assistant Director Rokshana Ali were always just an email away. The team rocks!

Last question. In three words, describe something truly unique about your CUNY SPS
experience.

Rewarding.
Supportive.
Learning.

For more information about the CUNY School of Professional Studies and how to continue your own education, visit sps.cuny.edu and see what works for you.

This post is written by Gothamist sponsorship staff on behalf of CUNY School of Professional Studies.