Today, I invited Robyn Goldsmith to guest blog! Robyn is a first year PhD student at Lancaster University studying Forecasting and Inventory Optimisation. You can follow her PhD journey on instagram at phd_robyn. Learn more about Robyn's career path in Operational Research below!
Robyn's advice to potential and current science students:
Getting stuck is part of the process. If you are getting stuck then, chances are, you are doing your degree right! You will figure it out and, in the meantime, enjoy the process. This is how it feels to be a real scientist/mathematician/researcher!
My research is in an area of the Mathematical Sciences called Operational Research (OR). Never heard of it? You’re definitely not the only one. I think most people have no clue what it is, even though OR is employed in so many aspects of our daily lives. It doesn’t help that OR has a couple of synonyms. It is known in other parts of the world as Operations Research and is also sometimes referred to as Management Science. Regardless of the name it has been given, OR is a growing field that is super relevant in our modern world. So, I’m here to shed some light! Essentially, OR is all about using mathematical methods to make better decisions.
OR is considered to be a relatively new area of the mathematical sciences. The field was birthed during World War 1 and 2 and initially centered on analysing and improving military efforts. A famous example is the optimisation of Britain’s defence to Germany’s u-boats, which at the time were sinking 1 in 10 ships on Britain’s Atlantic supply line. Mathematicians created models that optimised based on size, speed and timing resulting in a massive reduction of lost ships. Just six months after the analysis was conducted the proportion of British ships sunk by Germany’s u-boats reduced to only 1 in 200.
Since then, OR has expanded its reach across many sectors including Sport, Transport, Health services, Manufacturing, Banking, Business and Defence. In all these fields, Operational Researchers help with making tricky decisions. For instance, imagine you are in any of the following scenarios:
· You are in charge of deciding the number of beds reserved in an intensive care unit. Too many reserved beds mean you will have empty spaces that could have been used to lighten loads in other departments but too few and you have a shortage and potentially dire consequences. How do you find the optimal number of intensive care beds to reserve?
· You need to decide the pathways for hundreds of flights sharing the same airspace. You want to find the best route for each flight so as to ensure the maximum number of flights can fly. But how do you do thiswhen you have multiple safety and practical constraints on the airspace which limit your choices?
· Each day, you need to choose the number of new daily newspapers to print to avoid a shortage, given that the next day they will (literally) be old news! What is the optimal amount of daily newspapers you should print?
These are the types of problems Operational Researchers try to solve all the time. They use techniques in mathematical modelling, data science, simulation and optimisation to find the best answer. OR truly is everywhere and very relevant to so many real-world problems. So, for your next big decision, if a pro-con list isn’t quite cutting it - you know where to turn!
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