Published: October 14, 2022
With just days to go before the INFORMS community gathers in Indianapolis for the 2022 INFORMS Annual Meeting, the first fully IN PERSON Annual Meeting since 2019, I am delighted to be joined once again by the 2022 INFORMS President Radhika Kulkarni. We’ll take a look at this year’s meeting, what’s new and different this year and what we’ve missed about meeting face-to-face, as well as a quick update on INFORMS as we enter the latter half of her year as president.
In one sentence I would say that I’ve really enjoyed my time as president so far. Everybody on the board, our members who have reached out to me, the staff, everyone has been fantastic, and I’ve made lots of new friends in the process, so I’m really glad about that.
Interviewed this episode:
2022 INFORMS President
Radhika Kulkarni retired as VP, Advanced Analytics R&D at SAS Institute Inc., where she was responsible for the world’s leading analytics software products portfolio. She spearheaded the creation of the OR/AIML Center of Excellence to solve the toughest analytical problems for a diverse set of Fortune 100 companies. Under her leadership, O.R. gained recognition as a key contributor to scalability and performance of algorithms in statistics, machine learning, forecasting, data mining, econometrics, etc. She inspired a collaborative spirit across the different domains resulting in several cutting-edge innovations and received the CEO Award of Excellence.
Married to an O.R. professor, Kulkarni is deeply familiar with the academic world and its challenges and opportunities. She sponsored several partnerships with universities including research collaborations and robust internship programs for Ph.D. students and serves on many academic advisory boards.
An INFORMS member throughout her career and an INFORMS Fellow, Kulkarni has been a member of the INFORMS Roundtable and several INFORMS committees and is passionate about ensuring that OR/MS is recognized as a key discipline in the world of analytics. In addition to INFORMS, she has been an executive sponsor for ASA, KDD and other professional societies. She has contributed in numerous ways to advance the careers of analytics professionals, and her WORMS award aptly recognizes her as a role model for women in analytics.
With just days to go before the INFORMS community gathers in Indianapolis for the 2022 INFORMS annual meeting, the first fully in-person annual meeting since 2019, I’m delighted to be joined once again by the 2022 INFORMS President, Radhika Kulkami. We take a look at this year’s meeting, what’s new and different this year and what we’ve missed about meeting face to face, as well as a quick update on INFORMS as we enter the latter half of her year as president. Radhika, welcome back. It’s such a pleasure to speak with you again.
Thanks, Ashley. It’s a pleasure for me as well to speak with you.
So Radhika, when we last spoke, we had recently returned from our 2022 business analytics conference, which was our first in-person business analytics conference since the pandemic. And now we’re preparing to attend our first fully in-person annual meeting in years. Does it feel like this year has been just one big celebration of seeing old friends and catching up on all the amazing work our members have been doing?
Yes, indeed. When we spoke last, all of us were just slowly emerging from the isolation imposed on us by the pandemic. Since then, I’m glad to see that in person meetings are coming back and people are more ready to attend workshops, meetings, conferences. This year, I traveled to the Netherlands in June with my husband, but while I was there, I got a chance to meet the team who had won the UPS George Smith Prize. Then later I attended an NSF workshop in Washington, DC on Affinity Groups and an AI/OR workshop in Atlanta. And now of course, I’m eagerly awaiting the annual meeting. So you’re right, it has been wonderful to meet old friends and colleagues, make new ones and hear about all the great things happening in the world of OR and analytics.
What are some of the activities and events at this year’s annual meeting that you are most looking forward to?
As I look at my schedule for the annual meeting, I can already see it’ll be a whirlwind of activities and I’m super excited about it. For me, as with all the other board members, we will begin with an all day board meeting on Saturday before the start of the conference activities on Sunday. To name a few of the conference events that I will be attending, the ACORD meeting, which is the group of operations research department heads. I will be participating in a career development for women panel as part of the INFORMS round table meeting. And of course, I’ll be attending several breakfast meetings and the kickoff meeting for the new Veterans Forum.
I’m always very excited to meet many new faces and greet old friends at the many receptions that are part of the conference, the welcome reception, the INFORMS award ceremony, the student award ceremony, the in first INFORMS member meeting, and so on and so on. And of course, the general reception and many other events, including the MIFF and DEAIC reception and the WORMS luncheon. As I have said before, our conferences provide an excellent venue for networking and exploring new ideas during the chance conversations as you meet new people. And of course, needless to say, all the plenary and keynote events are at the top of my agenda and I will also try to squeeze in some technical sessions if time permits.
So now, this year’s meeting will feature a number of special new events for attendees, in particular a completely reconfigured program on Wednesday, the final day of the meeting. Can you walk us through some of these events?
I’ll be glad to, Ashley. This year’s program on Wednesday is different like you said, but exciting too, with a lot of new things that we are trying. So first, there is the freestyle OR Supreme Expo, which should be very attractive to the younger professionals in our audience, where outside my age bracket, I guess. This expo is a fast moving live game show in which students and early career professionals are assigned to teams and they’ll be given the opportunity to frame a real life problem and present an overview of their solution in real time. An industry client will present a 10 to 15 minute overview of a real world problem that they have to solve and then each team will have a 30 minute breakout session to figure out how to solve it and then provide a three to five minute OR presentation with recommendations for the methodology for an implementable solution. The client will listen to each team and give feedback on their presentations and will select a winner from the presentations.
It sounds really exciting and I wish I could dial back or move back in life and participate in some of these presentations and discussions. Then the second one that I want to point out is about the Advocacy Program, has crafted several events as part of this Wednesday group of sessions. One is the panel discussion, which will include a variety of INFORMS members who have been engaged in advocacy and communication work and who will discuss the importance and benefits of engaging with policy makers, other government officials and media, to promote the many ways in which our members help the world and our community, saving lives, saving money and solving problems. The set of panelists are really exciting. They’ve all been involved over many years working on some of these advocacy types of initiatives, so it should be an interesting panel.
They’ve also organized a session where they convey a message of influence and impact in 11 minutes or less. That sounds really exciting, doesn’t it? I think it would be great if all of us can learn to spread the right message in such a short span of time.
Then finally, there’s also a one on one media training for members who are interested in gaining this knowledge. In addition to all the advocacy events that I just mentioned, there’s also an all day workshop on transit oriented innovations in emerging mobility with service designs, algorithms and societal implications. This is hosted by Cornell University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. It sounds like it would be a really exciting workshop.
And finally, I’d like to make a shout out to the special event that’s be hosted by the Pro-bono analytics team, to share with non-profits in the Indianapolis area how analytics can help improve their processes and procedures and better serve their communities. So, I believe that should be a very, very informative session and I hope that we’ll get a lot of people who will attend it and benefit from that.
So at the time of this conversation, we have more than 5,600 registered attendees for this year’s annual meeting, a third of whom will be attending their first annual meeting this year. What advice do you have for them to get the most out of their meeting experience?
Ashley, I’m so excited that we already have more than 5,600 registered attendees, and I know the number is still increasing, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the final number. So, for all the folks who will be attending it for the first time, that is the newcomers to this annual meeting. First and foremost, download the INFORMS Meeting app. This has a wealth of information which will tell you how to navigate the meeting, it’ll be at your fingertips. It’ll include directions on how you can search and plan your schedule to connect with fellow attendees. And there are also great instructions for downloading and navigating this on the Meeting web page as well as a, What To Expect page, that shares additional tips and information to prepare you for your time in Indianapolis. So this should easily make your life much, much simpler if you download that Meeting app.
One of the most valuable experiences at the annual meeting is your chance to meet new colleagues and make new friends who will have a lasting influence throughout your professional career. I can still remember some of the folks that I met at my first INFORMS meeting and I still stay in touch with them. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in talks or walk up to someone who works in an area of interest and strike up a conversation, because that’s how you will build connections. And throughout the conference, remember, you can stop by the INFORMS Center, meet INFORMS staff and ask any question you want about your membership.
And I would also urge you to definitely attend the member meeting and the general reception. This year you will get a chance to participate in a very important business meeting of INFORMS, where you will hear about the proposed amendments to the INFORMS Constitution. This is, I would say it’s like a one in once in a lifetime event for many members of INFORMS, because we’ve never amended or changed the constitution since it was first written up in 1995. The goal of the changes is to modernize it, modernize the constitution, I mean, both from a technology perspective and from an operational angle. As an INFORMS member, you should have received an email about the proposed changes a few weeks ago. In this business meeting, you can hear briefly about the background for these changes and get a chance to participate in the discussion. I hope to see many of you on Tuesday evening at the member meeting and in the general reception afterwards. So, there are lots and lots of exciting events happening at the annual meeting throughout the conference and I hope you will take every advantage of all these events.
And I’ll just chime in here really quickly. Thank you Radhika for mentioning the, What to Expect page and the app instructional page, those really do have all the information you need to navigate the meeting before you even leave for the airport. So I’ll include links to those in the show notes for listeners to have direct access to them. So throughout the year, we’ve talked a lot about key objectives for INFORMS, in particular, the INFORMS Advocacy Program, the INFORMS Strategic Plan, and the DEI, Diversity Equity and Inclusion Initiative. Could you share an update on the progress being made in these areas?
Sure, I’d be glad to. First and foremost, the INFORMS DEI strategic goal is absolutely something that impacts and makes a difference for every one of us, not only the people who are in the minority groups. And as a reminder, the strategic goal says, Advanced Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in all we do. And it’s always important to remember that this goal is not something that the is the responsibility of only the minority members in our community, it is an institutional responsibility that involves all of us, all the INFORMS members should be involved in this effort, and remember that in everything we do.
And definitely in keeping with this goal, the work related to DEI is decentralized, we have many affinity groups within forms that are specific to minority groups, like the Minority Issues Forum, the Junior Faculty interest Group, the Women in OR and MS Group and so on.
The DEI committee is an overarching committee of INFORMS and it’s a standing committee that INFORMS created in 2017. It has spearheaded many initiatives across all of INFORMS. Some of these activities include, of course, the Unconscious Bias training video, which I mentioned in my last podcast. The DEI Ambassador Project, is a wonderful project and initiatives that started under this are still going very strong with the number of applications increasing year over year.
There are also some special events that have been organized at the annual meeting. There are sessions at the combined [inaudible 00:14:20] and the new faculty [inaudible 00:14:21]. There are some co-hosted DEI sessions with subdivisions. There are a couple of panel discussions, and of course, there is a DEI sponsored plenary speaker, which should be very interesting.
And I would also like to point you to the DEI Fund page on our INFORMS website, which is a great initiative that has been put in place. And remember, the gift that you provide towards this fund will help us organize innovative programs including supporting the DEI Ambassador Programs, promoting the Unconscious Bias video and many other activities, including a webinar series that is focused on diversity in OR/MS and analytics. And of course, the many sessions and plenary speakers at the annual meeting. So, please take a look at this page and contribute as you can.
So, with regard to advocacy, I’d like to say that the goal is to raise awareness and interest in the application of operations research and analytics and how that serves the public interest in policy making, government operations, or returns on research investments in these fields. This effort has gone far and has spread in many different ways. I’ll just mention a few key outcomes. Through this program, we have developed many relationships with members of Congress and their staff, White House officials and federal agencies. We have also created many meaningful opportunities for INFORMS members to participate in policy development on a range of issues. It has also enabled hundreds of INFORMS members from diverse backgrounds and specialties to really increase the real world reach and impact of their work and expertise. And definitely, it has provided several avenues for media stories with INFORMS members.
I would also like to add a little bit of a footnote, more or less, to the AI/OR initiative that I have been talking about in my last two podcasts. In the last one, I had mentioned that we were going to have a second AI/OR workshop in person, and I’m glad to say, we had a very, very successful workshop in person in Atlanta, and we had four sessions that we’re focused on the foundational elements of trustworthy AI, fairness, explainable AI causality, robustness, privacy and human alignment, and human computer interaction. The speakers and participants were selected from computer science and or communities. The goal was to foster a healthy exchange of ideas between the two groups.
I hope that this workshop and the previous one and the future one that we plan to organize will lead to many collaborations along some of the following lines, like some grand challenges for research areas that would spur collaborative research, some are schools for cross-disciplinary learning and hackathons involving teams from AI and OR. So overall, I think we’ve had a lot of exciting events happening this year and I continue to work towards some of them and hope that we’ll see lots of benefits from them.
So, as we enter the last few months of 2022, what are some final goals or milestones you’re hoping to meet?
So well, when you start out on the presidency, you have lots of goals, right? And I hope that I’ve moved the needle on some of them. And some of the activities that I’m involved in right now, which I hope will bear fruition over the next few months are the following. I’m really excited about the effort we have started, which is related to modernizing our constitution that I mentioned earlier today, and I’m really keen to see it come to a successful conclusion. Many members of our staff, as well as the board, have spent a lot of energy in making sure that we have looked at all aspects of this and put a lot of effort into this. So, we are coming to the end of section of this effort and I hope that we get it to a successful conclusion. So I’m looking forward to seeing many of you at the business meeting and hope you will support me and the board in this effort.
I would definitely like to move the needle on increasing industry membership within INFORMS, and I’m open to any suggestions that you may have in this area. I’ve been working closely with Robin Luigi, the VP of Practice on this effort and others on the INFORMS staff, and I look forward to making inroads into this. And one of the goals of the AI/OR initiative that I mentioned earlier, has been to promote funding opportunities from agencies such as the NSF and National Institution of Health. And I’m glad to say that the workshop did spur some good conversation on this and we had some breakout discussions about this with the NSF Liaison Committee, and I’m hoping that we will have some successful outcomes as a result of these discussions. We are actually planning to have a meeting about this even at the annual meeting, so I’m hoping that we’ll make some progress on the funding opportunities for our members through NSF and other agencies.
Radhika, as always, it’s been such a pleasure catching up with you and I can’t wait to see you in person in literally just a few days in Indianapolis. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share about either the meeting or INFORMS or your time as president so far?
Ashley, I’m also really looking forward to seeing you in person. And in one sentence I would say that, I’ve really enjoyed my time as president so far. Everybody on the board, there are members who have reached out to me, the staff, everyone has been fantastic, and I’ve made lots of new friends in the process, so I’m really glad about that. I would like to end with a note of best wishes to all of you at the upcoming annual meeting. I hope to meet many of you during the week event. If you see me walking the corridors or maybe running through the corridors, please give a shout out to me. If I’m not rushing to some scheduled event, I will be glad to stop and chat with you. I hope to see many of you there. Safe travels to all of you. See you soon.
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