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Tell us how did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
Meera was drawn to U-M even while completing her master’s degree in Control Systems in India. She was studying the research of Professor Semyon Meerkov, a renowned U-M faculty member, for her masters’ thesis; she found his work and the whole domain of controls fascinating, and she wanted to continue this line of study for her doctoral research. She was highly encouraged by her professor in India who told her that if she wanted to learn control systems, U-M was a great place to go.
She flew to America and landed in Chicago for a few months, but it was a bus ride that was the biggest, most important leg of her journey. She recalls, “I took a Greyhound bus to Ann Arbor and knocked on doors. This was all before the internet was so ubiquitous and access to anyone and anything was a touch away; I didn’t have any appointments, I just got on the bus, came over, and met faculty in EECS one beautiful summer afternoon.” It was a good call. Professor Stephane Lafortune, who subsequently became her thesis advisor, not only said that he would love to have her as a student, but also found funding through the newly formed transportation research program to make it possible for her to come to U-M. She says, “I was definitely in the right place at the right time. That was one of the luckiest days of my life.”
What did you study?
Sampath received her bachelor’s degree from Anna University, India, master’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, all in electrical engineering. At Michigan, she was a recipient of the Barbour Scholarship and the University’s Distinguished Dissertation award for her Ph.D. thesis on failure diagnosis.
What was your career path after PhD?
Her grad school years were, like they are for many, exciting and life changing. As the end of her graduate studies rapidly approached, Meera started exploring options in and outside of academia. Her path was quickly determined one Friday afternoon at the EECS Control seminar, a monthly tradition that continues today: “The seminar was given by two distinguished scientists from Xerox who gave an exciting talk on controls and diagnostics. At end of the talk, I walked up to them and told them that I would like to apply for a research scientist position at Xerox. The next thing I knew I was in their lab and it is twenty years at Xerox for me now! It was another example of right place, right time. Xerox was looking for a person to help establish a diagnostics competency; they were looking for someone with exactly the background I had.”
What has your role been at Xerox?
Sampath joined Xerox in 1996. As a member of the research staff, and later as a principal scientist at the Xerox Research Center Webster (XRCW), she led several research projects developing innovative diagnostics and service technologies for printing systems, including customer self-help for image quality problems, self-diagnosing printing systems, and strategies for high-availability printing systems. She holds seven patents in this area, and has published a number of articles in leading scientific journals. Since 2005, Sampath has been a key member and later a leader of the team responsible for defining the Xerox Innovation Group’s expansion strategy in emerging markets. In this role she established Xerox’s first research collaborations with Indian institutions