San Francisco 2014
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Nov 9 14


by Harrison Schramm

Waiting on rail to the conference hotel.  Learning firsthand about the infrastructure is totally an INFORMS meeting thing to do!!

Nov 9 14

Just got done presenting on Integration of Analytics at Mayo Clinic # INFORMS Prize Winner

by Tarun Mohan Lal

Yes, the conference has begun! The Hilton lobby is BUZZING with motivated students, proud practitioners and inquisitive new comers.. San Francisco couldn’t be any better without this crowd of Big Data Geeks. I continue to be so impressed with the number of miles people travel to attend this conference – from Netherlands to India to China to San Diego they are all here – What a rich group to learn from!

Started my day early by heading to the 7 AM New Member Breakfast. Represented the analytics section. Those who couldnt make it to the breakfast there is still time – come join us at the section reception tommorrow 6:15-7PM

After which, I along with my colleague Dustin Kuchera gave a talk on the integration of analytics at Mayo Clinic as winners of 2014 INFORMS Prize. It was such a proud moment. I almost got goose bumps presenting! We discussed the analytics vision, mission of Mayo Clinic as well as specific infrastructure set up within Mayo to make it happen. The highlight of our talk was the patient experience/story. We walked through the journey of a typical patient at Mayo Clinic providing insights to the operations research methods that made the seamless care delivery possible! The questions/answer session after the talk were amazing. Truly a learning and networking moment – met everyone from nurses in other organizations to patients at Mayo Clinic to suppliers of Mayo Clinic to folks from variety of industries – supply chain, transportation, technology, manufacturing, research group – THAT’S CALLED “TRUE INTERDISCIPLINARY” LEARNING!!!

After the talks, had the fortunate opportunity to do 2 coffee with member meetings. All recruiters, hope you have enough slots open for interviews. There is amazing talent here – get ready to make some hard decisions.

Heading now to listen to some more talks, catch up with  buddies for lunch and participate on the Health Application Society Panel discussion on how academics can help practitioners. Its at 4:30… Come join us!

More to come.. stay tuned.




Nov 9 14

Quick Thoughts on the INFORMS Mobile App

by Scott Nestler

We’re making progress at being more sustainable, but I’m not convinced yet that I’m ready to stop carrying around the oversized quick reference guide or the 1.5 in thick program book. Some thoughts/suggestions follow.

1. A colleague suggested that the INFORMS app should contain a recommender engine. I concur. Initially, you could say what sections/societies/topics/keywords are of interest to you. This would be more efficient than searching through the 1000-ish possible sessions. Then, after you attend a session and rate it (1-5 stars or another method), the app would suggest other sessions or talks that you might particularly be of interest to you. If Facebook can do this for friends, and Amazon can do this for books, why shouldn’t INFORMS do it for talks?

2. (Minor but annoying issue) On both my iPad and iPhone, the buttons at the top overlay the status bar and are very difficult to use. This was pointed out at the Analytics Meeting in Boston and should be an easy fix. (NOTE: I did check to make sure that I have the latest version.)

3. Make sure you know about the INFORMS Badge Scanner App too, the modern approach to exchanging business cards or contact information.

Nov 9 14

Welcome to San Francisco!

by David Morrison

When I learned last year that INFORMS was going to be in San Francisco, I got really excited: firstly, because it meant that it was within driving distance of my home.  Though, it did take me almost as long to cross the Bay Bridge as it did for me to drive to San Francisco in the first place, due to this fun parking lot:

Secondly, though, I was excited because San Francisco is one of my favorite cities on the planet (it follows closely behind Paris in my book), and I was super-excited to get to spend time there with friends and colleagues.  The icing on the cake was when I was asked to blog about the experience, so, uh, here I am!

Now, instead of using this platform to talk about how awesome I am (which would be a pretty short blog post), I’ve decided to write about the awesome other people who are here at INFORMS, and promote some of the really great research and opportunities that are here. To that end, over the next four days I’m going to be running a series called “INFORMS Perspectives”: a series of interviews with people at INFORMS to learn about their experiences in OR/MS, and what it is that they’re excited about for the future of INFORMS. My first entry in this series will be up later this evening, so keep your eye out for that.

In the meantime, however, enjoy the conference! And do take some time to explore this awesome city, while you’re at it. Take the BART down to the Embarcadero, or walk over to Ghiradelli Square to get some chocolate, or have a meal in Chinatown, or take a walk through Golden Gate Park, or spend an afternoon at the Exploratorium, or go on a tour of Alcatraz—these are all amazing opportunities, and they’re all close by! And, especially if you’re from colder environs, make sure to spend some time in the nice weather. 🙂

Nov 9 14

Are you in Conference Flow?

by Walt DeGrange

Flow is the perfect balance between challenge and focus. In sports terms this is called being “in the zone”.

Here are my personal guidelines to maximizing time in the flow state:

1) Forgive yourself at the beginning of the conference for not seeing everything or everyone you want. If you miss a must attend event, take a deep breath and move on.

2) Concentrate on conversations with people. This type of interaction is one of the main reasons to attend a conference in the first place. Reconnecting with friends and meeting new interesting people is a sure way to unlock flow.

3) Try something new and out of your comfort zone. This could be attending a session in an area you know nothing about or dancing at an event or taking a tour or eating food you have never tried before.

4) If you are exhausted from travel, attending briefs or standing up talking, take a break and recharge. This is especially true if you traveled a long distance or only attend a few conferences a year. These multi-day conferences tend to be more marathon than sprint so don’t burn yourself out in the first few days.

How will you know if you are in conference flow? Perceived time distortion will occur and days will seem much longer. One flow test I use is to see if I remember what I had for breakfast. If I don’t then that is good sign I am in conference flow.

Nov 9 14

What prospective PhD applicants can make out of the meeting?

by Thiago Serra

In 2012, I went to the INFORMS meeting in Phoenix aiming a bit of everything related to applying to PhD programs: I wanted to show my research work as a master’s student, engage with the ORMS community in as many ways as I could, get a feeling of what life as a graduate student in the US would be like, get to know more about the schools I was intending to apply, and even get acquainted with other areas of research that could interest me (an exhausting list just to read, isn’t it?).

Two years later, here I was in Phoenix again, waiting for my connection towards SF while writing this. Looking back at those days and thinking about the Portuguese poet who said that there is nothing that could not be made any better (which also means that there is infinite room for ORMS in anything!), I believe I did a good job back then. In many ways, that was thanks to amazing people willing to share their experience and give invaluable advice. The best thing about INFORMS is the people you get to know.

Even though things went well and I got where I wanted, I am an optimizer and I cannot help but think of how they could be even better. Hence, if I were to go back in time and talk to the 2012 Thiago Serra with all those goals in mind, the one thing I would say to him is to be even more ambitious in learning about other areas. This not only broaden your application perspectives, but is extremely important in the long run either in the academia or in the industry.

The only problem, of course, is that you will soon realize that you can easily end up with a conference schedule in which you are supposed to be in 2 or 3 places at each technical session. But this is the sort of problem one should be glad to have!

Nov 9 14

End the virtuality of social media!

by Paul Rubin

Are you a producer or consumer of OR social media? Do you read and/or write blogs? (*) Are you a Twit? (Twitterer? Tweety bird? Then stop by the IOL and Social Networking reception tonight (Sunday, 6:30-7:30 pm, Golden Gate 5). Find out which of the authors passing on the IOL home page are (plausibly) human and which are bots.

(*) If not, then you are not reading this. So never mind.

Nov 9 14

Informs Goes Mobile!

by Burcu B. Keskin

I had mentioned earlier that there is a new Informs app that makes the conference book obsolete.


Now today, I learned about another app that will make business card exchanging obsolete: INFORMS Badge Scanner! You can scan the QR code on anybody’s badge and it will populate with their affiliation and e-mail; any information they wanted to share. Furthermore, you can click and edit the notes section; put reminders to yourself how you met that person and what you talked about!! What a great app to have for networking!! Download it for free before you go to your next business meeting or reception.

Nov 9 14

Happy Birthday George Dantzig!

by David Morton

Today, November 8th, is the 100th anniversary of George B. Dantzig’s birth. As Dick Cottle is fond of saying, “To say that George Dantzig is the father of linear programming is to underestimate his paternal accomplishments. Enlarging the list of ‘offspring’ to include all of mathematical programming comes closer to the truth.”

Among the must-see talks at this year’s INFORMS conference will be Dick’s keynote (10am Monday) honoring the Dantzig Century. After the keynote, Mukund Thapa (11am Monday) and Robert Freund (1:30pm Monday) will chair two sessions celebrating Dantzig’s 100th birthday with a wonderful group of speakers including Bob Entriken, Bob Fourer, Gerd Infanger, and Richard Van Slyke and then, in the second session, Ilan Adler, Roger Wets, and Yinyu Ye. This will be a fantastic pair of sessions.

Nov 9 14

Low-Hanging Fruit to Improve Your Teaching

by Susan Martonosi

I enjoyed the Teaching Effectiveness Colloquium today, chaired by Eric Huggins. Participants ranged from current Ph.D. students who are teaching their first course to seasoned educators with decades of experience.  Presenters were Patrick Noonan, speaking about active learning and project-based courses; Mike Racer, speaking about teaching sustainability; Alexandra Newman, speaking about teaching to a wide audience (across majors and degree programs) and time-saving tips; and myself, speaking about course and syllabus design.

I think everybody in the room came away with nuggets that they can apply to improve their courses, and if I could summarize the overarching takeaway, it would be that effective teaching is not inherently a time-consuming endeavor!  We can easily take the things we are already doing in our classes, tweak them slightly, and achieve great improvements.  Here are some examples:

1. Think-Pair-Share:  Rather than asking a question of the group, Patrick asked us to individually reflect on the question (writing down our thoughts, which requires a higher level of cognition than simply thinking them) and then engage in an active listening activity with a partner.  Partner A spoke for one minute about their response to the question while Partner B listened attentively.  Then roles were reversed.  Patrick called on two partner pairs to report to the class.  The entire exercise took approximately 3 minutes longer than just asking the question of the class would have, and it engaged everybody in the room.  Moreover, it took no additional preparation on Patrick’s part.

2. “Active” active learning: One anecdote that I shared with the group came from a class I am currently teaching.  I occasionally have students work on problems in groups at their desks.  A colleague mentioned that she does the same activity but asks the groups to stand up and work through the problems on the board.  I gave this a try last week and was amazed at how much more engaged the students were in the activity just by being asked to stand up!

3. Backwards design: My session focused on backwards course design, which means clarifying the aims (long-term, broad learning outcomes for the course) and objectives (short-term, measurable outcomes) of the course and using those aims and objectives to inform the topics, classroom activities and assignments.  This doesn’t require extra time, but simply requires an instructor to go through the same course-preparation steps in a different order.

4. Sustainability: Mike gave a compelling case that we are currently facing an environmental crisis, and operations researchers have the problem-solving skills that could lend valuable insights.  Given that we teach problem-solving anyway, why not use these environmental issues as examples in our classes?  A specific source of debate amongst workshop participants was the tension between corporate focus on short-term profitability and the high up-front costs of sustainability; this is where the ability to conduct sensitivity analysis, frame a problem from multiple vantage points and communicate alternate solutions comes into play.

5. Time-saving effective teaching: Alexandra gave several examples of time-saving strategies that actually yield improvements in student learning.  One was her policy requiring students come to office hours rather than expect help over email.  Consolidating her assistance into office hours is a clear time-saving win, but it yields interesting benefits: students are more likely to figure out the problem on their own eventually, rather than relying on quick emails to answer their questions; students get the one-on-one communication that can be more effective for clarifying deeper questions; and students can explain concepts to each other during office hours, which requires a higher level of cognition.  I’m not sure I’d adopt this policy myself, but it was an interesting perspective to contemplate.

It was wonderful to interact with other people committed to effective OR/MS teaching.