Operations research (OR) is the quantitative investigation of how humans make decisions, with a particular focus on how analytical methodology can be applied to making better choices. Tangentially, operations management (OM) is a field of research that utilizes the same study of OR and applies it to the managerial strategies of running an institution. Finally, decision science (DS) is the study of how humans make choices, utilizing similar quantitative techniques to advise upon good choices. You’re probably wondering why I’m listing these definitions off to you- I promise there’s a good reason why! These three fields, while similar, are inherently different. They’re all academically studied in different ways around the world. However, for clarity’s sake, I will be referring to them communally under the moniker of “operations” on this blog. Sure, we’ll do some deep dives on each topic. But for now, operations refers to this collection of disciplines!
These fields of study are relatively new in the grand scheme of history. Many American scholars attribute the rise of operations to have come from the use of game theory during the Cold War. However, detailed analysis of decisions have existed for centuries, particularly in the world of defense. In only a few examples, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and the Napoleon’s1 usage of triage both isolate human choice in such a near-quantitative manner that it seems too impractical to simply assume the field began without deeply historical roots (plus, we wouldn’t want to erase the foundations of what brought these disciplines into existence!). The study of operations has allowed scientists and mathematicians alike to cultivate better decisions in a vast variety of fields for many years.
At Duke, I had the opportunity to create my own major through the University’s Program II department. Through my major, Mathematically Applied Strategy, I studied the world of operations and game theory from a mathematical standpoint. Now, I get to pursue a PhD and MA in these topics as a graduate student at North Carolina State University! I’ve also had some incredible opportunities to apply what I’ve learned to the worlds of political science, psychology, and evolutionary anthropology. I’ve had the opportunity to conduct strategic quantitative research at Duke University, The National Weather Service, Northrop Grumman, and The Center for Strategic and International Studies. I have presented personal research at NOAA NWS, NGC, The Pentagon, and NASA over the years.
I’m very grateful for these unique opportunities to study operations, but find myself constantly shocked at how few people know that these disciplines exist. As such, I’m hoping to use this blog to spread the world about the subject I love and the benefits it can bring to society!
(1) Triage was more distinctly coined as a strategy (and a term) by Napoleon’s surgeon Dominique Jean Larrey. It comes from the verb trier, which translates to separating, categorizing, or selecting!
Let’s Learn About Operations!
RECENT WRITINGS ON OPERATIONS RESEARCH:
- [NEW] A Game Theory Model for Behavioral Revolutions in Varecia rubra (Gagne 2021)
- AGS 2020 Summer Fellows Blog: NOAA/NWS
- AGS 2019 Summer Fellows Blog: Lemur Center & CSIS
- AGS 2018 Summer Fellows Blog: CSIS
- Check out these amazing ladies in Science and the Arts! STEM & ‘Script Success Stories
- Stay tuned for more!