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RI Seminar


Nidhi Kalra Senior Information Scientist RAND Corporation
Friday, October 14
3:30 pm to 4:30 pm
1305 Newell Simon Hall
What (else) can you do with a robotics degree?

Abstract: In 2004, half-way through my robotics Ph.D., I had a panic-inducing thought: What if I don’t want to build robots for the rest of my life? What can I do with this degree?! Nearly twenty years later, I have some answers: tackle climate change in Latin America, educate Congress about autonomous vehicles, improve how statistics are used in the criminal justice system, help pass legislation on electric school buses, enable the World Bank to think more clearly about uncertainty in their lending, and face angry citizens in California’s Bay Delta with nothing but a powerpoint presentation to save you. In this half-career, half-technical seminar, I hope to help you think broadly and boldly about what (else) you can do with a robotics degree. I’ll deep dive into two projects – in climate change and criminal justice reform – to illustrate the skills that a roboticist can bring to these problems. I’ll suggest some specific ways you can create opportunities for yourself, and I’ll reflect on both the benefits and costs of a career that trajects away from robotics.


Brief Bio: Nidhi Kalra is a senior information scientist at the RAND Corporation. Her research focuses on how organizations make robust decisions in the face of deep uncertainty, primarily with applications to climate change, autonomous vehicle policy, water resource management, and energy policy. Her clients include national and international leaders in these fields, including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the US Bureau of Reclamation , the California Energy Commission, and the California Department of Water Resources. She has testified on autonomous vehicle policy at three congressional hearings. Kalra also helps organizations improve how they make robust decisions, particularly in the face of climate change. In addition to her work at RAND, Nidhi is currently the vice president of the Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty and an appointed commissioner for California 100, a statewide initiative focused on inspiring a vision and strategy for California’s next century. Previously, in 2018, Kalra served as senior technology policy adviser to then-U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris. In 2013, she served as a senior decision scientist in the Office of the Chief Economist of Sustainable Development at the World Bank, where she helped launch the World Bank’s portfolio in robust decision making. Kalra developed educational technology tools to promote literacy among blind children in India, a project that went on to receive the Louis Braille Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation. She holds a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute.

Host: Henny Admoni

For an virtual appointment: Stephanie Matvey (smatvey@andrew.cmu.edu)