From Financial Services to a Tenure-Track Faculty Role: Raj Korpan, Class of 2021, on Pivoting Into a Ph.D. and Academia

By Lida Tunesi

This fall, Raj Korpan (Ph.D. ’21, Computer Science) starts a new role as a tenure-track assistant professor at Iona College. He had a few false starts, though, before he hit his career stride. With a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance, he worked in financial services for a few years, “but decided that the corporate environment was not right for me,” he said. He then got a master’s in statistics at Baruch, intending to be a data scientist. While working with a professor, he said, he realized that academia was the right career path for him. 

He spoke to The Graduate Center about his pivot into the Ph.D. and his latest career move. 

The Graduate Center: What are your hopes for the coming year?

Korpan: I am hoping to settle into my new job. I will be teaching three courses in the fall and would like to really connect with the students as we transition back to in-person classes. I am also looking forward to exploring new directions in my research. My dissertation research was focused on an artificial intelligence system for robots to navigate indoors. I hope to secure a grant to explore human-robot interaction and explainable AI systems.

GC: What do you think made you stand out as an applicant in a competitive field?

Korpan: I believe it was my teaching experience and research record. I have been an adjunct instructor at Hunter College for four years and have had the opportunity to teach a variety of courses in the computer science department. I have also had a strong publishing record as a doctoral student. My dissertation research has produced seven papers published at prestigious artificial intelligence conferences. I believe my service experience also made me stand out. I have served on several committees at the GC as a student representative and have volunteered as a judge at the NYC High School Science & Engineering Fair.

GC: What is your advice for other students or recent grads looking for tenure-track positions?

Korpan: Really take advantage of the resources you have at the GC. My adviser Susan Epstein (GC/Hunter College, Computer Science) was a tremendous help with reviewing my application materials and giving career advice. I also reached out to Jenny Furlong in the Office of Career Planning & Professional Development for advice on interview strategies and she gave some very helpful tips. My overall advice would be to apply to as many positions as possible. You should also spend a lot of time tailoring your application to each position. It should speak about why you want to be at that school, that department, and with those faculty. You need to clearly articulate how your teaching experience matches the teaching needs of that department’s courses and majors. You also need to tell the story of your dissertation research, your research goals, and how your research will complement, not compete, with the faculty already in the department.

GC: How did the GC has helped prepare you for your career?

Korpan: When I got here, I felt quite unprepared for a Ph.D. and for the discipline I was joining. But my coursework in the computer science program gave me a strong foundation, and the mentorship I received from my adviser has been invaluable. The opportunity to teach along the way and participate in the GC community makes me feel confident that I am prepared for this next step in my journey.

GC: You've served on the Doctoral and Graduate Students’ Council, been an adjunct lecturer, and done your own consulting work all while getting your Ph.D. How do you manage your time and energy?

Korpan: Time management has always been very tough for me. I am so grateful to my husband and my family for supporting me these last few years. Without them, I probably would not have been able to do it all. I have learned to be strategic about what things I agree to do, and to conserve my energy where possible. It also really helps to have hobbies and passions outside of school and work. I listen to a lot of music of all genres and used to go to concerts regularly before the pandemic. I enjoy cooking and baking. I also get together with friends weekly to play tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. I think it is important to have a good work-life balance to be successful and happy.

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing

Submitted on: MAY 28, 2021

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