INFORMS Annual Conference  

INFORMS Annual Meeting 2012, Phoenix, AZ, October 14-17

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Telling Your Family and Friends about Operations

by John Angelis on October 15th, 2012

“So what are you doing in graduate school?” my inquisitive friend asked me at a 2003 Christmas party. I narrowly avoided blurting out “I don’t know!” before replying “I’m studying Operations Research,” expecting that the foreboding sound of “Research” would be enough to forestall any questions, as usual. “And what’s that all about, is it medical? Are you doing surgeries?” my friend said with a hint of mockery. “Well, it’s about inventory, and shipping, and…” I stammered. “So you’re going to work for UPS, right?” she said triumphantly. “You’re going to grad school so you can drive a UPS truck?”


Although at times I’m sure we all envy the bliss of the open road and an all-brown work outfit, that was hardly the impression I wished to leave with my friend! Since then, I’d like to think I’ve improved my opportunity to communicate about Operations. But there still have been plenty of opportunities for mistakes to occur. One of my favorite Operations “Losses in Translation” is overhearing a chat between a grad student and a tourist at a past conference. He was reading “The Black Swan” book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and she, wishing to make conversation, asked him how he enjoyed the movie.

As we are gathered here for the conference, I’d love to hear your anecdotes about what happened when you first tried to tell your loved ones about Operations. Please leave your comments below.

1 Comment
  1. Walt DeGrange permalink

    Who is playing Taleb in the movie?

    I once spent 15 minutes trying to explain what I did to a six year old. I used cookies as example and optimized getting the cookies from the store into her stomach. After a few seconds of thinking she looked at me and said “so you use math and computers to do cool stuff”. Perhaps we should hire some six year olds for our marketing efforts…