Student spotlight: Sujai Sen (Executive MPA 2020)

Sujai Sen's professional headshot in a black suit and red tie on a dark grey gradiant background. Two light blue decorative bars are on the left side.

With almost 20 years of work experience, Sujai joined the Executive MPA to enhance his professional profile by learning more about technology policy and regulation.

Sujai Sen is an Executive Master of Public Administration student from India who began the programme last fall. He started the programme abroad and became class representative for the 2020 cohort. Specialising in digitalisation and big data, Sujai is set to graduate this fall in Berlin. Learn more about Sujai’s journey in our interview.

Please tell us about yourself, your background and why you chose the Executive MPA.

I am an engineer and an MBA by education, and I was working already close to 20 years before joining Hertie. My profile had two dimensions: technology and business. In my last job with PricewaterhouseCoopers, I was working at policy implementation at the state level in India, and that was my first exposure to policy and the government sector. And there I found a gap in my knowledge about policy or regulation. It triggered me to add this third dimension of regulation/policy in the technology domain and prompted me to join one of the best programmes in Europe. Additionally, I wanted to move geographies. I had worked in the US and India, but never really in the European continent, apart from short periods in Germany and Sweden earlier, so I also wanted to explore something new.

What have been your favourite courses?

Joanna Bryson’s Ethics and Governance of Digital Technology is right up there. Joanna’s brilliance and the way she engaged us throughout the programme brought so many different perspectives that were missing, at least in my knowledge base. Artificial Intelligence for Decision Makers with Slava Jankin, Mark Kayser’s Informed Data Consumption, and Dennis Snower’s Global Regulatory Power were also very interesting. Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship was another that I loved a lot. COVID exacerbated social inequalities, and Johanna Mair is so experienced working in that sector. She and her co-professor Christian Seelos brought amazing insights and experiences from across the world.

What have you learned from your fellow students?

Before, I was always looking at the numbers and how they affect your team or business. But the discussions I have had with my fellow students and the perspectives they bring from the wider society on what’s fair and what’s not have been an eye-opener. My perspective has broadened beyond business to how decisions affect society. Now I am converted, so I’ll always be looking at how one piece of technology can bring fairness or equity. How does it interact with society? Are there biases in the data? I’ll always have eyes open for that, and I am richer for it.

Tell us more about the career and networking event series you established with your peers.

We saw a need for more engagement on the career side in our cohort. Mark Dempsey, Matteo Vannucchi and I initiated and drove this event series on mid-career transitions. We had great speakers from multiple sectors and companies come and talk to us about their journeys. We ended the series on a high note with a start-up panel with four different CEOs and heads of accelerators. It was a student-led event, but I would especially like to thank Axel Baisch, Sasha Stolzenburg, Anna von Behr and Laura Jaspers from the university for their support in getting this off the ground and helping us continue with it.

What are you writing your thesis on?

I am investigating regulatory strategies across the EU and the US when it comes to AI-enriched medical devices (in imaging and scans, for example). There is a huge start-up ecosystem that has been built around these devices. The regulations are lagging behind, but a lot of momentum has been building up. There is a lot happening on how to use real-world data to enable safe and long-term effectiveness of these devices. I am also partnering with a company (which I contacted through Hertie’s alumni network) that is looking at the regulatory landscape with bated breath. They wanted a comparison study to be done, and I was proposing the same thing, so it fit together nicely. I am providing real takeaways they can use in their business strategy.

My thesis is a culmination of my current focus on digitisation in general and AI in particular and my past experience in technology. I am really thankful to my thesis advisor Gerhard Hammerschmid and health governance professor Mujaheed Shaikh.

What advice would you give to prospective Executive MPA students?

One: you’ve got to network, network and network, even more so during the pandemic. Especially when trying to settle in a different geography, your network is what will give you that strength and those connections to help you through this. Additionally, this will give you the much needed energy and strength to keep your mental health in balance. 

Two: get involved. Don’t just be a passive consumer of whatever Hertie is giving you. There are roles available to engage meaningfully with students, professors, management. Be a rep for the class, or maybe continue the career conversations if you are especially interested in that. There is a lot to be done and there are potential new committees you could form. It’s totally limited by your own imagination, conviction and the amount of effort you want to put into it.

And finally, if you can, try to be here. This of course depends on how the consulates open up in your own country. Try to be a part of the local ecosystem and meet up with your colleagues, especially if you are on the one-year track. This year will pass by in a jiffy. So, make the most of this opportunity, meet people and create those strong bonds that will help you throughout your career going forward.

Do you have any favourite spots or things to do in Berlin?

Berlin summers are awesome. My favourite thing is to take walks along the Spree going straight up behind the Chancellery and by the Bellevue Palace where the German president resides. I take those walks with friends, and it’s been perfect.

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