Featured Alumnus: Sanjay Narasiwodeyar ’16

Sanjay Narasiwodeyar
Sanjay Narasiwodeyar ’16 is a Data Science Strategist working at Bonsai Data Solutions – a Chicago-based analytics firm.

Please describe your path from SUNY Brockport to your current position.

I came to SUNY Brockport as a post-baccalaureate student, looking to find an academic footing in Psychology following my previous degree in Physics. I had decided that an academic research career in Physics was not exactly my calling. Rather, I wanted to make research contributions to the study of human behavior. When I arrived at Brockport, I was pretty convinced that the way forward was to get a PhD in Clinical Psychology. That’s until I met some incredible teachers and advisors here. They showed me that there are more pathways that suit my diverse interests and skills than I previously thought. I joined Dr. James Witnauer’s research lab, where I learned how to apply my analytical skills to the study of human memory and learning. This experience not only gave me a competitive edge when I finally started applying to PhD programs in Psychology and Neuroscience. It also allowed me to think outside the box about how to apply my skill set in various contexts. Today, I work as a Data Science Strategist at Bonsai Data Solutions. My work involves analyzing consumer behavior data to better advise my clients about innovative business and marketing strategies.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned while at SUNY Brockport?

Have plans but be open to change. This is the motto I learned from my time at Brockport. I am a meticulous planner myself, so I genuinely appreciate the desire to come up with good plans and to stick to them. However, there is something to be said about being able to respond to new experiences and knowledge that you gather along the way. I am very grateful to have learned this lesson which has continued to help me many years down the line.

What is your favorite memory from your time at SUNY Brockport?

Some of the best memories are of the time I spent with my friends from SUNY Brockport, none of whom shared my background or goals. Yet, I felt entirely at home with them.

Favorite spots include the bars by the canal on Main St. as well as the many wonderful nature escapes in the greater Rochester area.

What advice would you give to current SUNY Brockport students? Any special advice for our psychology majors?

I think many of us come into college having already decided which path to pursue. This was definitely the case for me. I thought I knew exactly where I wanted to go with my career from day 1. Along the way, I was lucky enough to have opportunities where I was challenged to think in new ways. My advice to all Brockport students is the same – keep an open mind, and let your experiences influence you. Find ways to get the most out of your time at The College. Engage in conversations with the faculty! They all come from so many interesting backgrounds and are eager to help your development as a student and a professional.

For Psychology majors in particular, I would stress the importance of learning quantitative skills. There’s a fallacy sometimes in believing that you must be good at quantitative work in order to learn it. I suggest that they should think of it more like learning about cooking or music – a bit of literacy and knowledge can go a long way in enhancing your experience. I can guarantee that this is definitely the case in both academia as well as industry.

What learned skills and/or experiences from your time at SUNY Brockport were the most transferable or useful in your current position?

Self-teaching is a skill that becomes increasingly valuable as you go further along in your career path. This is something that was essential for me to learn during my time at Brockport since I was transitioning from a different field of study. Also, the work I did with Dr. Witnauer helped me improve my computational programming skills, which has served me very well ever since.

Please describe any challenges/obstacles you have faced since leaving SUNY Brockport and how you overcame/dealt with them.

Life since Brockport has continued to present me with many challenges. After graduation, I began a PhD program in Computational Neuroscience at FIU in Miami, FL. I can safely say that my PhD years were the most challenging period of my life. I was quite well prepared for the intellectual demands of the program. But, I wasn’t ready for a full-time job. I found out the hard way that graduate school is a professional endeavor. The overnight transition from focusing on my grades to meeting the expectations of a competitive academic workplace was overwhelming. Yet, I was lucky enough to draw inspiration from some of the toughest and most resilient peers and mentors. I also learned to lean on my support circle – something I never needed to do before. Most importantly, I understood that developing professional relationships with my colleagues and mentors was as crucial as the quality of my research work.

By the dissertation stage of my PhD, I realized that my career goals and interests had shifted towards industrial applications of cognitive science and computational modeling. While exploring potential career paths in industry, I found a great opportunity at Bonsai Data Solutions where I could make technical contributions in data science, while also improving my business and management skills with direct client facing work. Things worked out in terms of fit and timing, and I left my PhD after successfully proposing my dissertation. I must stress that it was not an easy decision to leave the program near the finish line. I spent a lot of time hashing out my thoughts with close friends and family. However, from my previous experiences, I knew I needed to adapt my approach to reflect my newfound goals and interests – a career in industry. I decided that I would dedicate my time and effort to gaining valuable experience in the career path that I now wanted, rather than committing to finish a milestone in a path I was no longer interested in.

In the end, I found my PhD years to be the best crash-course in professional and personal development that I could have ever asked for. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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