As the field of data science continues to expand into the specialized disciplines of data analytics, operations management, and management science, the need for businesses to assess data generated by their daily activities is on the rise.
Operations research analysis is a quantitative applied science. Its premiere focus is that of resource optimization, as in the proper control and allocation of time, capital, and personnel. Operations research analysts are often employed by financial services, professional organizations, start-ups, research institutions, universities, and companies that interface with a large number of individual clients each day.
Operations research analysts use advanced techniques to solve high-level operations and supply chain problems. They use optimization, statistical analysis, data mining, and mathematical modeling. In the business world, operations research analysts ensure that organizations and businesses operate as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible. They help track the flow and supply chain of packages, parcels, or goods; plan and manage distribution; and use computation and software modeling to design POAs or SOPs to address these issues.
Capable operations research professionals can analyze commercial or research data and apply what they’ve discovered to devise advanced solutions to complex problems. Positions in the field can offer a bevy of benefits, flexible hours, and work-from-home opportunities for those looking to bust out of the cubicle. As our collective awareness of the applications of big data dawns in new and interesting ways, OR skills will become critical for businesses who need to make important decisions about resource allocation.
This guide explores operations research, how to gain the skills to launch into a thriving career as an OR analyst, and how to turn large sets of raw data into actionable assets for a client or business.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that U.S. jobs in operations research analysis will grow 26 percent between 2018 and 2028, adding a total of 28,100 jobs to the American economy.
One of the major focal points of operations research is optimization. This refers to improving the speed, efficiency, and precision of the applications of large networks of data. As a mathematical subfield, operations research relies on a solid foundation of statistics, computer science, and high-level mathematics. It boasts a staggering number of applications in the fields of telecommunications, manufacturing, healthcare, and transportation (with particular relevance to the airline industry).
The component skills required of an operations research professional include:
As the world’s reliance on advanced cloud computing and data science practices ramps up, operations research professionals can find many opportunities in the field that would not have been there even ten years ago.
Dr. Xin Chen is an operations research professor in the University of Illinois Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering, where he studies and lectures on optimization, revenue management, data analytics, dynamic pricing, supply chain management, and product and inventory management.
Dr. Chen holds a PhD in operations research from MIT, an MS in computational mathematics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and a BS in computational mathematics from Xiangtan University, China. Notably, he is the co-author of the book The Logic of Logistics: Theory, Algorithms, and Applications for Logistics and Supply Chain Management (Second Edition, 2005 & Third Edition, 2014). Additionally, he is the department editor of logistics and supply chain management for the journal Naval Research Logistics, as well as an associate editor for Operations Research, Production and Operations Management, and Management Science.
Dr. Vivek Farias is the Patrick J. McGovern professor at the MIT Sloan School, where he teaches and researches operations management at the Operations Research Center. His main areas of interest are stochastic systems, which includes subjects like protein networks and supply chains, and optimization and data inference.
Dr. Farias holds a PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford and serves on the editorial teams of numerous publications, such as Operations Research, Management Science, and the INFORMS Journal on Optimization. He is also a startup consultant and the current CTO at Celect.
Dr. David P. Williamson is a professor of operations research and information engineering at Cornell University in the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering. He researches more efficient algorithms for pressing operations optimization problems, NP-hard operations problems, approximation algorithms, and information networks.
Dr. Williamson holds a PhD in computer science from MIT and was formerly the senior manager of the Computer Science Principles and Methodologies Group at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose. Additionally, Dr. Williamson spends time studying the traveling salesman problem and the use of simple algorithms to solve it.
Below are five programs in operations research and management, with both graduate and undergraduate options listed from a handful of innovative institutions.
Arizona State University offers an online bachelor’s in operations management technology that is earned over the course of 120 credit-hours with a total of 20 classes. The program is designed for students who have already attained an associate of applied science (AAS) degree from another institution. This degree, with its concentration in operations management technology, focuses on mathematics, computer science, data science, data theory, systems, and more.
Depending on a student’s personal history, tuition will range anywhere from $530 to $1,153 per credit-hour. While the school’s main campus is located in Arizona, this degree can be pursued remotely from anywhere in the United States.
Columbia University in the City of New York has an on-campus bachelor’s in operations research (BSOR) located in New York, New York that is bolstered by an innovative and intellectually-charged OR program. As Columbia is a highly-ranked university, students can expect to pay approximately $29,460 to attend one year of this program.
Coursework includes standard operations research topics in addition to electives in discrete mathematics, circuit analysis, corporate law, data mining, optimization, linear regression, applied systems engineering, and more.
Georgia Tech hosts an online master’s in operations research program that offers a competitively-priced degree at $1,100 per credit-hour. All graduate courses are three hours long at this Atlanta flagship institution, where students can study OR topics such as statistical machine learning, data mining, nanophotonics, energy technology and policy, linear algebra, and computational data analysis.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s esteemed on-campus master’s in operations research program is maintained on the east coast in Cambridge, MA by a faculty of world-renowned OR specialists. As MIT is also a highly-ranked institution, students can expect a competitive entry process and a graduate program of 66 credits, with an average cost of $26,725. Coursework focuses on the real-world applications of OR and includes standard operations research topics such as computer science and data mining. Advanced graduate courses in applied probability, statistics, and optimization can be expected.
Southern New Hampshire University, located in Hooksett, NH, offers an online BS in operations management at only $320 per credit-hour; SNHU’s operations management bachelor’s degree can be earned over the course of 120 credit-hours with a total of 20 classes. This degree, with its concentration in operations management, features coursework in computer science, data science, discrete mathematics, advanced computing, systems engineering, and more. most courses average 3.5 hours in length.
Apart from the more conventional paths to education, the internet hosts a huge number of helpful resources for the burgeoning operations research analyst. We’ve gathered five of the top sites for those interested in upskilling on their own time. They are:
Coursera offers numerous classes in data analytics that teach techniques and methods for analyzing and managing large sets of data. Most of the courses tagged “data analytics” are in the areas of data mining, data product development, and the applications of big data. Coursera also hosts fully-online MS and BS degrees in computer science and applied data science from the University of London, the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, Arizona State University, and more.
Mike Trick’s Operations Research Blog & Twitter account are excellent resources. Michael Trick, the former head of the Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences, regularly posted to this blog in the years before he switched to primarily administrative work at Carnegie-Mellon. The site is still a treasure trove of operations research know-how, anecdotes, and case study reflections. His Twitter account, which he still posts to semi-regularly, offers a glimpse into the mind of one of the country’s foremost OR experts.
Optimization Online provides a master list of OR resources, including eprint servers, optimization and operations research-related journals, and links to the major optimization-related societies. It also features resources for European operations research analysts and those interested in the development of software applications for OR.
MIT’s Operations Research Center offers two cutting-edge MOOCs (massive open online courses) on operations research from three of their ORM specialists: Dimitris Bertsimas, Patrick Jaillet, and John Tsitsiklis. Focusing on analytics and probability, such courses prepare students to see the value and applications of data in their everyday lives, in addition to lending insight on how data analytics can give students an edge in their career.
The Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences (INFORMS) is the United States’ eminent professional organization for operations research, optimization, and operations research management. Based in Catonsville, MD, INFORMS serves as an international hub for OR professionals, where they can network, upskill, explore new solutions to persistent operations problems, and advance their careers.