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Operations Research

Program Description

Just the Facts

Operations Research. A program that focuses on the development and application of complex mathematical or simulation models to solve problems involving operational systems, where the system concerned is subject to human intervention. Includes instruction in advanced multivariate analysis, application of judgment and statistical tests, optimization theory and techniques, resource allocation theory, mathematical modeling, control theory, statistical analysis, and applications to specific research problems.

This program is available in these options:

  • Certificate / Diploma
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Master's degree
  • Doctoral degree

High School Courses

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Related Programs

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Additional Information

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 Research Analysts

International Federation of Operational Research Societies
Promotes OR as an academic discipline

OR/MS Today
An operations research publication


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