Operations research programs teach students to find solutions to everyday
problems, from developing better overdue notification systems for libraries
to making the best use of a company's staff.
OR is usually offered at the master's level, though a few courses
may be offered in some bachelor's programs. Programs can fall under many different
names, including operations or operational research, operations management,
management science and information systems, to name just a few.
OR programs are often offered by business schools. Even schools without
programs will usually offer a few elective courses in it. You may also find
OR programs under a school's engineering department.
Expect to study hard. But don't let the workload scare you. "It's
no more than with any other engineering classes," says Sam Chiu, an operations
research professor at Stanford University. "Students should expect to spend
an average of four to five hours per week in addition to classes."
OR is not for everyone. Students with little mathematical background will
be at a real disadvantage.
"A good mathematical background is crucial," says Chiu.
According to Chiu, a good OR program will cover probability, optimization,
decision analysis, economics, dynamics and organizational behavior.
"Some kind of modeling background is important," says Chiu. "Economics
would be good, or physics, for example."
"Students need good interpersonal skills, including communication, presentation,
teamwork, good writing skills and the ability to work with technology," says
Peter Bell, a professor of management science. "An analytical 'questioning'
ability is also a plus."
As for extracurricular activities, Chiu suggests students just stop and
look around. "In almost any work, you can find OR applications," he says.
"Volunteer or work for an Internet company, hospitals, anywhere you can
get experience scheduling a workforce. Even working at Burger King you
can look at how to improve or smooth out the workforce."
Bell also suggests students get involved in competitive sports. "OR is
about creating a competitive advantage," he says.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see Operations
International Federation of Operational Research Societies
Promotes OR as an academic discipline
An operations research publication