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INFORMS: Perspectives – Peter Mayoros and Elizabeth Olin on Healthcare Scheduling

by David Morrison on November 10th, 2014

The first time I attended INFORMS was in Washington D.C. in 2008; perhaps the unusual part here is that I came as an undergrad, presenting some work that I did with my advisor, Susan Martonosi (spelled with an ‘o’). It was definitely an intimidating experience to be at this enormous conference, and everyone was talking about things I didn’t understand — but it was also exhilirating! And, though I didn’t realize it then, it would prove very beneficial for my long-term research career: right now I’m pursuing some collaborations that have grown out of my undergraduate research, all because I was able to come to INFORMS and present my work. So today’s INFORMS: Perspectives comes from two students who are just like I was 6 years ago.


Elizabeth Olin and Peter Mayoros are two senior undergradute students at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, working with Amy Cohn in the Center for Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety (CHEPS). Actually, it turns out that Elizabeth and Peter are part of a contingent of 12 students from CHEPS (and a host of others from UMich), and the research output from this group is prolific. There’s an astonishing number of talks being given on various and sundry healthcare topics at INFORMS this year, and many of them from CHEPS!

Elizabeth and Peter are both working on topics in healthcare scheduling, which is a very important, but difficult area. Elizabeth is developing schedules for surgeons at the University of Colorado Orthopedics department, whereas Peter is dealing with scheduling medical residents in pediatric residency programs. They’re using techinques that will be familiar to many people here — modeling the problem as an integer program, and then using standard techniques to produce a feasible schedule. In fact, both Elizabeth and Peter commented on how encouraging it is to come to INFORMS and see other people applying similar techniques to other problems. Elizabeth says, “There are so many new ideas to soak in here!” She’s trying to figure out “what she can gain from every one of these talks” that can be applied to her current research. Peter had similar things to say: it’s extremely helpful to see what other people are doing, “particularly if you’re at a dead end.”

And really, that’s the point of INFORMS. To meet other people and learn from them. To get such an opportunity as an undergraduate is, as many can attest, eye-opening. Both Elizabeth and Peter extolled the CHEPS program at UMich for providing them with such good research experience. “Not every undergraduate gets to do research,” says Elizabeth, and at CHEPS she’s had the opportunity to work not only with other undergraduates, but also master’s students, PhD students, postdocs, facutly, premed students, doctors, nurses, hospital staff—the list goes on and on. She’s had more real observation time in hospitals than many students would ever dream of.

The work doesn’t come without it’s challenges. Doing research as an undergraduate, when you only have 8-12 hours a week to work on a problem, is pretty tough. Peter commented that it’s difficult to even know where to start on some of these problems, and the sheer size of the problem is intimidating. Fortunately, there’s lots of other people around to support Elizabeth and Peter in their research (are you sensing a common theme here yet?). Having other people around is also helpful for navigating the conference; they spoke of looking to “experienced INFORMers” to provide guidance on where to go next and what to do at the conference.

I asked what their plans were post-graduation, and they both have some pretty exciting prospects. For Elizabeth, she’s keeping her options open, but she loves what she’s doing and graduate school is definitely in the cards. Next year, Peter is planning to work with Youthworks-Detroit, a non-profit organization that provides mentorship opportunities for inner-city youth in Detroit (awesome!). After that, who knows? But it will definitely involve healthcare engineering, he says.

In any case, they’ve been having a blast in San Francisco and at INFORMS this year, and there’s still a lot to do! Elizabeth is giving a talk entitled Predicting Disposition for Pediatric Asthma Patients in the Wednesday morning session (WA40), and Peter is speaking about his work in Block Scheduling for a Pediatric Residency Program today at 1:30 (MC38) — so if you want to know more, make sure to attend their talks, or flag them down in the hallways! Best of luck, and we’ll expect to see you both back as “experienced INFORMers” next year!

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