Using OR for good

Margaret Brandeau gave the first WORMS keynote address entitled “From Venn Diagrams to Public Health Policy: An OR Journey” This is my third blog post about the INFORMS Annual meeting.

Dr. Brandeau’s excellent talk chronicled her journey from an undergraduate math student at MIT to a OR superstar.  She could recall the exact day when she decided to become an operations researcher.  This day was one of the first days of an applied math class, when her professor outlined several real applications of math.  This opened Dr. Brandeau’s eyes to the many things that math could do.  Prior to this, Dr. Brandeau enjoyed math but wasn’t sure it could make a difference.

Over the years, Dr. Brandeau worked on many projects, such as subway system design, ambulance deployment, optimal hospital patient mixture (using linear programming), facility location, and component sharing and manufacturing (using integer programming and heuristics).  She stressed the importance of designing practical planning tools for implementing OR tools in the real world, since policy makers do not like our theoretical OR papers as much as we do.

Dr. Brandeau’s story about her work on HIV treatment and prevention was interesting.  It all started in 1985, when one of her MS students was interested in using her engineering degree to address needs in the HIV epidemic.  She and Dr. Brandeau worked on a proposal, and were funded to address numerous resource allocation issues associated with HIV.  They tried to analytically determine which HIV prevention and treatment programs to invest in, as well as how to balance resources between both treatment and prevention.  Dr. Brandeau’s engineering colleagues were skeptical at the time, but were soon won over.

Dr. Brandeau’s research journey started with traditional OR tools, but she chose to work on cutting edge application areas.  Dr. Brandeau advised those in attendance to work on interesting problems, even if they seem like they do not fit within the traditional bounds of OR.  The left turns she took in research (like starting work on HIV) all started from unique opportunities that arise.  She took advantage of these opportunities (rather than shying away from the potential riskiness) to put together an interesting research portfolio over the years.  Although Dr. Brandeau was extremely modest, I found her courage to be different inspiring.

My favorite part of the keynote was when Dr. Brandeau recalled seeing so few women at her first ORSA/TIMS meeting (ORSA/TIMS became INFORMS).  She felt a little conspicuous.  The other women in attendance felt the same way, so they decided to have an impromptu brown bag lunch together.  The chance meeting of these women turned into WORMS.  I am grateful that they started the first WORMS lunch.

Incidentally, the highlight of my first INFORMS conference was also the WORMS lunch.  The lunch is when the Award for the Advancement of Women in OR/MS is awarded.  It is not to be missed!  Approximately 200 people attended this year’s lunch, the largest turnout to date.

I truly enjoyed the first WORMS keynote.  I hope this is a sign of good things to come.

Link:  The Forum on Women in OR/MS. Become a member today!


5 responses to “Using OR for good

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