Dr. Pillai is a scholar and educational administrator with 30+ years of experience in the field of higher education. Her professional expertise spans quality assessment, evaluation and promotion of women in governance and academic leadership. She has worked in areas such as, Policy and Planning - University Grants Commission (UGC), Open and Distance Learning - Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and Youth Development - Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development (RGNIYD). She has also been an Advisor to the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), Bengaluru. She was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Award in 2012, which was instituted by the Indian Science Congress Association.
Dr. Pillai is also the recipient of prestigious fellowships, including the Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Research Fellowship by the Australian Government, Monash University (Melbourne, Australia), USIA International Visitors Programme, USA, International Resident Fellow, University of Calgary (Canada). She has been nominated to various Committees of UGC, MHRD, FICCI and CII, among others, and has also participated in many national and international conferences/seminar as an invited speaker. Her contributions in the spheres of capacity building of women administrators in higher education and mainstreaming vocational education have received academic acclaim.