Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Doing good with good OR" - it's not just academic

ThinkOR reader, Tina asks:
I recently graduated from college and am considering going to graduate school to study Operations Research because it is a subject I really like. There's something strangely satisfying about improving the real world with mathematical models. However, I am conflicted about what kind of career path a masters in OR would put me on. In an admittedly naive way, I want to use my education to improve our society. I think that OR can be better applied to many social services to improve efficiency. However, are there currently opportunities like this available? It seems like most of the job market (at least in the US) is for market analysis...something I don't know I'd want to devote my life to, not that there's anything wrong with that.

There is an issue of Interfaces coming out about the sort of thing I'd be interested in doing--"Doing good with good OR", but the contributors so far are all academic. Is this the main option for this kind of research? I would hate to spend two more years getting a masters degree, only to find out that the kind of job I'm looking for doesn't really exist.

ThinkOR's reply to Tina's concerns on non-academic careers in Operations Research that would do good in our society (outside of finance):

True that OR can be applied to many social (or non-social) services to improve efficiency, because as long as there is a process in place, OR can be applied to it. The question is to what degree it would help - is the ROI worthwhile? You are right that some of the "Doing Good with Good OR" seems research oriented. However, I would disagree that market analysis is the only 'career' for OR graduates out there. In fact, health care is the biggest employer for my graduating class in Vancouver, Canada. It is my understanding that health care is employing OR folks more and more in North America, so there you go, a very valid social/public service that is using OR to improve our society.

Also, in this website, they have listed quite a few other real world examples of using OR to do good, some of them are certainly for the good of our society:
  • evacuation planning
  • cancer therapy
  • acquisition prioritization
  • dispatching service vehicles
  • delay management in public transportation
  • design of a house for disabled persons
  • hub location in cargo applications
  • production resetting optimization
  • optimization of the collection and disposal of recyclable waste
See this website "24 Hours Operations Research - operations research clock" for more details on the above projects.