International Women’s Day 2022 reading list

Happy International Women’s Day! I encourage you to join me in celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness against bias, and taking action for equality.

I am going to focus on women in academia today, since the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for female tenure track professors who have young children. Over the years, I’ve discovered that I need to continually take time to educate myself on the issues to be effective in my efforts for equality. Here are ten articles I have read recently that highlight the challenges that women academics face during the pandemic and outline policies and mitigating efforts that could help.

  1. The Impact of COVID-19 on the Careers of Women in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: a report from the National Academies in 2021. An article in Inside Higher Ed summarized the work of the panel that produced this report: COVID-19: A Moment for Women in STEM?
  2. Pandemic-related barriers to the success of women in research: a framework for action, published in Nature in 2022.
  3. Leveling the Field: Gender Inequity in Academia During COVID-19, published in PS: Political Science & Politics in 2021.
  4. Faculty Evaluation After the Pandemic, published in The Chronicle in June 2021.
  5. Could the Pandemic Prompt an ʻEpidemic of Lossʼ of Women in the Sciences? Published in the New York Times in April 2021.
  6. A generation of junior faculty is at risk from the impacts of COVID-19, a perspective published in PLOS Biology in May 2021.
  7. Only your boss can cure your burnout, published in the Atlantic in March 2021. This is not specifically about academia, and yet it has a lot of insight into academic careers.
  8. Faculty Members Are Suffering Burnout. These Strategies Could Help, published in The Chronicle in February 2021.
  9. The unequal impact of parenthood in academia, published in Science Advances in 2021
  10. Ten simple rules for women principal investigators during a pandemic, published in PLOS Computational Biology in October 2020 (shout out to my UW-Madison colleagues Pam Kreeger and Kristyn Masters for publishing this paper)

I encourage you to read an article today and share it with others. Feel free to leave additional articles in the comments so I can continue to learn.

Science communication for operations research

Last week I was on a panel about science communication hosted by the Women in OR & Analytics Network (WORAN), a network for female academics and practitioners created by the Operational Research Society of the UK. Marco Luebbecke (@mluebbecke) from RWTH Aachen was the other panelist. Our talk was recorded and posted on YouTube. You can watch it below.

For further reading:

Omega Rho Keynote lecture at the 2021 INFORMS Annual Meeting

I was honored to give the Omega Rho keynote lecture at the 2021 INFORMS Annual Meeting. My talked was entitled “A journey through public sector operations research.” My presentation was recorded and can be viewed on YouTube.

Laura Albert gives the 2021 Omega Rho Keynote

Further reading: Op-Eds

Travel bans can’t stop this pandemic. The Hill, March 18, 2020.

Opening the economy is not the problem — opening without a plan to control the risk is the problem, Fox News, July 3, 2020.

Ready for takeoff: Three simple guidelines for flying after vaccination, The Hill, February 7, 2021.

Also check out some of my other media appearances.

Further reading: Review articles and position papers

Albert, L.A. Engaging the Media: Telling Our Operations Research Stories to the Public. SN Oper. Res. Forum1, 14 (2020).

Albert, L.A., Nikolaev, A., Lee, A.J., Fletcher, K., and Jacobson, S.H., 2021. A Review of Risk-Based Security and Its Impact on TSA PreCheck, To appear in IISE Transactions.

Enayaty-Ahangar, F., Albert, L.A., DuBois, E. 2021. A survey of optimization models and methods for cyberinfrastructure security. IISE Transactions 53(2), 182 – 198.

Further reading: Research papers

McLay, L.A., 2009.  A Maximum Expected Covering Location Model with Two Types of Servers, IIE Transactions 41(8), 730 – 741.

McLay, L. A., S. H. Jacobson, and J. E. Kobza, 2006. A Multilevel Passenger Prescreening Problem for Aviation Security, Naval Research Logistics 53 (3), 183 – 197.

McLay, L. A., S. H. Jacobson, and A. G. Nikolaev, 2009.  A Sequential Stochastic Passenger Screening Problem for Aviation Security, IIE Transactions 41(6), 575 – 591.

McLay, L.A., Mayorga, M.E., 2011.  Evaluating the Impact of Performance Goals on Dispatching Decisions in Emergency Medical Service. IIE Transactions on Healthcare Service Engineering 1, 185 – 196.

McLay, L.A., Moore, H. 2012. Hanover County Improves Its Response to Emergency Medical 911 Calls. Interfaces 42(4), 380-394.

McLay, L.A., Mayorga, M.E., 2013.  A model for optimally dispatching ambulances to emergency calls with classification errors in patient priorities. IIE Transactions 45(1), 1—24.

Toro-Diaz, H., Mayorga, M.E., Chanta, S., McLay, L.A., 2013. Joint location and dispatching decisions for Emergency Medical Services. Computers & Industrial Engineering 64(4), 917 – 928.

McLay, L.A., Mayorga, M.E., 2013.  A dispatching model for server-to-customer systems that balances efficiency and equity. Manufacturing & Service Operations Management 15(2), 205 – 200.

Ansari, S., McLay, L.A., Mayorga, M.E., 2015. A Maximum Expected Covering Problem for District Design, Transportation Science 51(1), 376 – 390.

Yoon, S., Albert, L.A., and V.M. White 2021. A Scenario-Based Ambulance Location Model for Emergency Response with Two Types of Vehicles. To appear in ­Transportation Science.

Yoon, S., and Albert, L.A. 2020. A dynamic ambulance routing model with multiple response. Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review. 133, 101807.

Yoon, S. and Albert, L.A., 2021. Dynamic Dispatch Policies for Emergency Response with Multiple Types of Vehicles. Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review 152, 102405.

Zheng, K., Albert, L., Luedtke, J.R., Towle, E. 2019. A budgeted maximum multiple coverage model for cybersecurity planning and management, IISE Transactions 51(12), 1303-1317.

Laura Albert gives the 2021 Omega Rho Keynote

On writing well part 2

“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”

William Zinsser, On Writing Well

In my previous post, I introduced an excerpt from On writing well by William Zinsser about how writing is work and we can learn to get better. What stuck with me from On writing well were his concrete tips for editing my drafts. This post contains a few extra tips for editing all of the “clutter” in my early drafts.

Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds—the writer is always slightly behind…

Is there any way to recognize clutter at a glance? Here’s a device my students at Yale found helpful. I would put brackets around every component in a piece of writing that wasn’t doing useful work. Often just one word got bracketed: the unnecessary preposition appended to a verb (“order up”), or the adverb that carries the same meaning as the verb (“smile happily”), or the adjective that states a known fact (“tall skyscraper”). Often my brackets surrounded the little qualifiers that weaken any sentence they inhabit (“a bit,” “sort of”), or phrases like “in a sense,” which don’t mean anything. Sometimes my brackets surrounded an entire sentence—the one that essentially repeats what the previous sentence said, or that says something readers don’t need to know or can figure out for themselves. Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice.

My reason for bracketing the students’ superfluous words, instead of crossing them out, was to avoid violating their sacred prose. I wanted to leave the sentence intact for them to analyze. I was saying, “I may be wrong, but I think this can be deleted and the meaning won’t be affected. But you decide. Read the sentence without the bracketed material and see if it works.” In the early weeks of the term I handed back entire papers that were festooned with brackets. Entire paragraphs were bracketed. But soon the students learned to put mental brackets around their own clutter, and by the end of the term their papers were almost clean. Today many of those students are professional writes, and they tell me, “I still see your brackets—they’re following me through life.”

You can develop the same eye. Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine each sentence you put on paper. Is every word doing new work? Can any thought be expressed with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it’s beautiful?

Simplify, simplify.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well

This process is work, and even experienced writers have to write many drafts that they ruthlessly edit.

Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time. Or the third. Keep thinking and rewriting until you say what you want to say.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well

On writing well

When I was preparing for my preliminary exam, a friend gave me a copy of the 25th anniversary edition of On writing well by William Zinsser. I read it at once, devouring it in a couple of days. It instantly became one of my favorite books and is still my favorite book about writing.

Zinsser was a journalist and published many nonfiction in his career. On writing well is aimed at all types of nonfiction writing, and while it wasn’t written solely for academics, academic writers can benefit from following his guidance. Zinsser has a growth mindset for writers, and I continue to appreciate his encouragement. If I work at writing, I can get better.

I love On writing well because it’s the writing book that inspired me and encouraged me to be aspiration about what I want to achieve from writing. In contrast, I’ve found the books I’ve read about academic writing—some of which are excellent—to be more transactional in focus.

I have included an excerpt below about the importance of writing frequently and about the growth that will happen if we write on a regular basis.

You learn to write by writing. It’s a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it’s true. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.

If you went to work for a newspaper that required you to write two or three articles every day, you would be a better writer after six months. You wouldn’t necessarily be writing well—your style might still be full of clutter and clichés. But you would be exercising your powers of putting the English language on paper, gaining confidence and identifying the most common problems.

All writing is ultimately a question of solving a problem. It may be a problem of where to obtain the facts or how to organize the material. It may be a problem of approach or attitude, tone or style. Whatever it is, it has to be confronted and solved. Sometimes you will despair of finding the right solution—or any solution. You’ll think, “If I live to be ninety I’ll never get out of this mess.” I’ve often thought it myself. But when I finally do solve the problem it’s because I’m like a surgeon remove his 500th appendix; I’ve been there before.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well

how to write about operations research

In my lab meeting this month, we discussed writing operations research publications. We read How to Write About Operations Research by Gerald G. Brown at the Naval Postgraduate School, a fabulous guide for writing technical publications in the field of operations research written in 2004. The entire paper is worth reading and discussing. The paper starts by introducing a “grand, unified design for any OR publication.”

There are five simple, essential questions you must answer in your publication, preferably in this order:
1) What is the problem?
2) Why is this problem important?
3) How will this problem be solved without your help?
4) What are you doing to solve this problem?
5) How will we know when you have succeeded?

The paper introduces a series of writing recommendations, which we discussed by listing our favorite and least favorite recommendations. My two favorites are ones that I often tell students:

  • Start each paragraph with a topic sentence.
  • Make sure that just reading your paragraph-by-paragraph topic sentences conveys all of your publication.

I also like these three recommendations:

  • Use active voice
  • Use present tense
  • Work at it

Afterward, as a group we brainstormed recommendations that we felt were missing from the list. Here is what we came up with:

  • Read your writing out loud as you edit.
  • Use inclusive and gender neutral language.
  • Describe all tables and figures in the text, i.e., do not just refer to the tables and figures.
  • Be consistent with terminology.

What are your favorite writing tips?

the next chapter as department chair

I’m honored to step into the department chair role. As of July 1, 2021, I have been the David H. Gustafson Chair of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Below is an article about this transition and the next chapter in my professional journey. I am grateful to follow in the footsteps of Jeff Linderoth and Vicki Bier before that.

on the art of modeling

Operations research is a model-centric discipline. We use many mathematical models such as scheduling, assignment, facility location, inventory, and queueing that are presented in operations research textbooks. Formulating new models is often a major contribution in many of our research papers.

The models in our textbooks came into existence and were once formulated for the first time. As an applied researcher, it is important to train the students in my group in how to formulate models that are elegant and parsimonious and reflect appropriate assumptions in the real application. In a recent lab meeting, we read “On the Art of Modeling” by William T. Morris that was published in Management Science in 1967 that teaches the art of modeling.

Models can play the role of giving structure to experience. Yet we seldom encounter a model which is already available in fully satisfactory form for a given management situation, and the need for creative development or modification is almost universally experienced in management science.

Morris (1967)

Morris describes a looping procedure for creating and modifying models, which acknowledges that models are created iteratively. In each iteration, the model is tested against data or the set of assumptions that characterize it. A new version of the model is produced, which leads to a new test or comparison, which repeats until the modeling process is complete. Modeling takes time, trial and error, and experimentation.

The paper offers three “hypotheses” for creating models that are interesting. The entire paper is worth reading, and I won’t repeat them all here. Here are two parts of the discussion that I found to be useful:

  1. Factor the system problem into simpler problems. Identify the right structure for each problem (scheduling, assignment, queueing). This requires setting aside the overarching design objective, which can be difficult for some.
  2. Seek analogies. New problems usually have a lot in common with existing models for other applications. Here, we compare our problem at hand with previously developed models and their logical structures. Is the problem a queueing problem or an inventory problem? Is it linear?

I use both of these methods as well as some of the other modeling practices in the paper.

What is your process you use to create models?

Related reading:

Congratulations to 2021 graduates!

I created a video to congratulate 2021 graduates that I posted on YouTube and am including on my blog. I am looking forward to congratulating graduates in person in the future.

On codes of conduct for conferences and workshops

Years ago I helped edit a draft of the first INFORMS code of conduct for meetings. I was also on the INFORMS Board, where I argued in favor of a motion to approve the first INFORMS code of conduct. I am thrilled to say that the motion passed [see the latest version of the code of conduct here]. I am proud of this work.

I am knowledgeable on this topic, and I am a mandatory reporter at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am aware that much of the sexual harassment occurs off campus at conferences and while doing field work, where codes of conduct often have not been established. Sexual harassment in field work is highlighted in the documentary Picture a Scientist. When there are no mechanisms for reporting incidents, incidents aren’t reported. Sexual harassment does significant damage to our disciplines and leads to many scientists leaving the field entirely [Read the National Academies’ report [here]. It’s critical that we make our discipline a welcoming place where everyone can flourish.

As of now, 22 people have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against the University of Michigan Computer Science Professor Walter Lasecki, and many of these allegations occurred at conferences. This has caused me to reflect on the importance of keeping conferences free from harassment, bias, and discrimination. There are so many structural changes we need to make to stamp out harassment, and creating a code of conduct is one of these important structural changes.

I am passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion in operations research, engineering, and academia, and as a result, allies often ask me for suggestions on what they can to do help. For years, I have kept a running list of what allies can do to advocate for underrepresented groups in academia [See the list here]. One of the items on my list is:

Ask conference organizers if there is a code of conduct for meetings to convey the expectation that the conference is to be a welcoming and inclusive space where all attendees feel safe. If not, ask them to create one.

I am happy to say that at least two people (that I know of) have taken me up on this suggestion and created a code of conduct for a workshop or conference. I want to reiterate this request today. This is important for equity, since those from marginalized groups are most affected by harassment, bias, and discrimination.

A code of conduct sets expectations regarding what behavior will not be tolerated and what the consequences will be for violating the policy. Second, it enables an organization to take swift action if it is violated. It’s worth noting that the ACM barred Lasecki from its events and meetings for at least five years for violating its Policy Against Harassment. Third, a code of conduct creates a mechanism to report incidents. Not having a mechanism has been noted in the literature as a major barrier to those who want to report an incident. I realize that a code of conduct will not prevent all incidents or sexual harassment from ever occurring, and therefore, it is equally important to take each allegation seriously and have a process for addressing allegations.

If you want to create a code of conduct, there are many guidelines to help you get started.

* Clancy, K. B., Nelson, R. G., Rutherford, J. N., & Hinde, K. (2014). Survey of academic field experiences (SAFE): Trainees report harassment and assaultPloS one9(7), e102172.