Tag Archives: blogs

my course blog on public sector operations research

I am teaching a PhD seminar on public sector operations research this semester [Find it here!]. I am having students blog in lieu of problem sets and exams. You can read my welcome post here and you can read more about the course here. The course is a mix of application and theory, and I expect that the posts will be more about the application than the theory unless the students write about their research. But maybe they will surprise me.

The students submitted their first blog post today. A new post is due every two weeks until the end of the semester. I have to admit that their first blog posts really impressed me. Blog posts were about the students themselves, how they discovered operations research, and what they hope to learn in the class. Students discussed specific issues such as an internship at the State of Wisconsin, how to route a bus around a dangerous mountain path, how to measure performance in a human centered system, ethics, disasters, and sports scheduling.

Please leave comments if you wish. The students are required to read and comment on other blog posts as part of the course. Knowing that the course blog has readers will be a good motivator for the students.

The first two lectures overviewed the history of public sector operations research. Next, we will dive into models (both deterministic and stochastic). I’ll eventually post a list of some of our readings on Punk Rock OR. Stay tuned!

I am looking forward to a good semester with this group of students. On Wisconsin!



academic blogs: a labor of love

I recently discovered an articles about academics who blog from Tim Hitchcock (a humanities professor). The title really caught my eye: “Twitter and blogs are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.” Yes! We don’t have to create and maintain blogs, we do so because we love our disciplines and we love to share our passion:

The best (and most successful) academics are the ones who are so caught up in the importance of their work, so caught up with their simple passion for a subject, that they publicise it with every breadth. Twitter and blogs, and embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations at parties, are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.

I like this summary of how blogging goes hand in hand with other academic activities, contributing to them rather than detracting from them:

The most impressive thing about these blogs (and the academic careers that generate them), is that there is no waste – what starts as a blog, ends as an academic output, and an output with a ready-made audience, eager to cite it. For myself the point is that these scholars don’t waste text, and neither do I. If I give a talk, I turn it into a blog. Not everything is blogged, but the vast majority of the public presentations I make as part of my job, will be.  And while many of these texts will never contribute to an academic article, about half of them do. As a result blogging has become part of my own contribution to what I think of as an academic public sphere. It becomes a way of thinking in public and revising ones work, to make it better, in public. And knowing that there is an audience (whatever its size), changes how one does it – forcing you to think a little harder about the reader, and to think a little harder about the standards of record keeping and attribution that underpin your research.

In fact, this article was cannibalized from one of Hitchcock’s blog posts (on his blog called “Historyonics”) that summarized a message from a talk he gave with the provocative title “Doing it in public: Impact, blogging, social media and the academy” [Link].

The message in these articles resonates with me. Blogging is a labor of love, and this is one of the main reasons to blog. Maintaining a blog is a lot of work, and that isn’t possible without passion. I definitely agree that blogging  isn’t wasted time, but to be honest, it took me awhile to be more efficient with blogging.

I wrote about academic blogging in an article about blogging in the IFORS newsletter that summarizes my thoughts on academic blogging. Here were my final thoughts in that article, where my passion for academic OR blogging hopefully shines through.

Blogging has been a very rewarding journey. While our fame (notoriety?) has passed—ABC News named Bloggers the 2004 People of the Year—blogging is still relevant and important. Blogs continue to be relevant despite being somewhat displaced by the massive rise of microblogging. Blogging provides content that cannot be conveyed in a 140-character tweet or short FaceBook post. Certainly YouTube videos, podcasts, and slidecasts also provide content that rival those in a blog post. However, it is simple to embed youtube videos in a blog post while the reverse is not. Blogs continue to be the best medium for a non-journalist to convey information in different formats accessible in the same place. I have been on several scientific blogging and social networking panels, and they have all confirmed the importance of blogs over other social networking tools.


People stumble across OR blogs for many reasons, and often they stick around. Reaching out to these readers is a tremendous opportunity to improve scientific literacy in the general public. I am often disheartened by the state of scientific literacy in the US, where a recent op-ed in the New York Times argued for universities to abolish the algebra requirement for incoming students and where politicians often cite federal grants for conducting basic scientific research as a symptom of government waste. We need to continue to make operations research known to those who can benefit from the use of advanced analytics for making better decisions. OR blogging is important for making the case to increase competence in mathematics, as it is important for letting people know about OR.

HT Arthur Charpentier (@freakonometrics).


happy 500th post to Punk Rock Operations Research!

I recently reached my 500th post on Punk Rock Operations Research! I have meant to celebrate, but I haven’t figured the optimal way to do so. At this point, this post will be my 514th blog post. I still haven’t figure out how to celebrate, but a celebration is not going to happen if I procrastinate any more.

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think my blog is very important, but I hope it provides some joy to my readers. After 500 blog posts and nearly 7000 tweets, I’ve reflected on blogging and social media. Almost all of my reflections have focused on trying to convince myself that it isn’t all a colossal waste of time. It probably would have been if I didn’t enjoy blogging and social media so much. To be honest, blogging has never been a chore for me. I enjoy coming up with ideas for the blog and wish I had more time to devote to grand ideas for being an operations research ambassador. I can always do more, but I think I have found the right balance for me.

Blogging isn’t just about writing and reading:

  • I take great pride in doing my tiny part in increasing attention to our field of operations research.
  • I would not be as good of a teacher if I didn’t blog. Writing helps me break down a complicated idea into a series of steps that flow together to make a cohesive point (I achieve this most of the time). I often  think about my students while blogging, and I rewrite until I can envision newcomers to OR understanding my post.
  • And most importantly, I’ve met so many people through this blog who I might not have met otherwise. At the end of the day, relationships with friends and colleagues are really important. I’m grateful for how blogging has helped to enrich my social network in this way. I’m not much of a hugger, but if I have to hug someone at an operations research conference, I prefer to hug fellow OR bloggers and tweeps.

Blogging tidbit: I’ve signed exactly one autograph in all these years of blogging (way back in 2007 soon after I started blogging). I still smile when I think of it, but I’m not eager to sign any more.

Thank you for reading!

Punk Rock OR: 2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. They found that people came to my blog looking for cookies instead of operations research. But I’ll take it. My blog received 84,600 hits, which is my highest annual total so far.

Thanks to my readers for making this happen! Special thanks to my top commentors: @parubin, @JFPuget, and @drmorr0.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 84,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

article about Punk Rock OR blogging in the IFORS newsletter

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to write an article about academic OR blogging in the latest IFORS newsletter (here’s the link, see p. 4). The article is more or less a FAQ about my blog: why I began it (I blamed Mike Trick), how I maintain it with a busy academic life and three kids, and why I do not think blogging as a untenured assistant professor is career suicide. The last question, I admit, is truly the most frequently asked question about the blog.

Here’s a link to the article [pdf].

If you have any additional questions about blogging, ask them in a comment below. Or better yet, ask them at the social networking session (Monday at 11am) at the 2012 INFORMS Annual Meeting:

what do you want to know about blogging that you’ve always been afraid to ask?

At the INFORMS Annual Meeting, I am participating in a panel discussion about web 2.0 and social media tools for OR. I am the blogging panelist. Seeing as I maintain a podcast, I might sneak in a few podcast topics, too. While I have plenty of ideas about what I could discuss, I thought I would ask you about what you would like to hear.

What blogging and podcast topics would you like me to discuss in the panel?

OR bloggers Mike Trick and Paul Rubin will be on the panel to correct me and also to discuss OR Exchange and twitter, respectively. The last two panelists are Bjarni Kristjansson (social networking) and Tim Hopper (OR videos). I hope you are as excited about this panel as I am.

The panel is on Monday from 1:30 to 3:00pm. I hope to see you there!

My blog posts about blogging:

OR bloggers to begin a monthly blog-off

During the first “Tweet-up” at the INFORMS Annual Meeting, we tossed around a few blogging ideas.  We decided to try something new: all OR bloggers are invited to write one post about a monthly theme.  The theme will be provided by INFORMS (email your ideas!).  The first theme for the month of December is OR and the holidays.  Look for my post in the coming days as well as posts by all of your favorite OR bloggers.  In the mean time, check out the official INFORMS announcement and Mike Trick’s take for more details.

more men attended the work-life balance session than women attended the social networking session

I am not an expert on the status of men and women in OR/MS, but I have two observations to offer.

1.  I was surprised to see that no women attended the social networking session at INFORMS (three women were on the panel).

2.  I was surprised to see that several men attended the work-life balance session at INFORMS.  Better yet, they even asked questions.

One step backward and one step forward. Certainly, there are gender disparities in blog readership (more men read blogs, particularly technical blogs), blog commenting (I’d wager than men are more likely to leave comments), twitter participation (more women tweet).  This might translate into disparities of who feels comfortable attending a social networking panel. (Note: by disparities, I literally mean differences, with no judgment attached).  I wonder about disparities because quite a few women asked me about the session during the conference (I received more inquiries from women than men) so I know that they were interested but didn’t show up. I don’t have a way to draw conclusions from my small sample of observations.

I’ll stop there before I put my foot in my mouth.  What do you think?

Related posts:

External links:

The social networking panelists at INFORMS

The social networking panelists at INFORMS courtesy of Anna Nagurney

publishing 2.0

On Friday, I attended a talk by Jon Becker entitled Publishing 2.0: Open access, digital scholarship, and public intellectualism. He is an assistant professor in School of Education here at VCU and is an outstanding tweeter.  Dr. Becker researches academic publishing on the web and in other non-traditional mediums, and his research area made for a provocative talk.

Dr. Becker asked why should we think differently about open access publishing. Although scholarship can be defined broadly, the talk focused on knowledge dissemination and scholarly communication.  The University of California claims that “[t]he current model of scholarly communication has become economically unsustainable, restrictive, and increasing limited in its ability to make information accessible.”  Many universities are creating open access repositories, where faculty can submit their work (books, monographs, technical reports, digital works) to be disseminated openly and freely to the public.  Dr. Becker focused on peer-reviewed research publication possibilities that are open access or publicly available (unlike closed journal publications and other forms of publications that have a cost or subscription).

According to Dr. Becker, arguments for open access publishing include:

  • Economics (VCU subscribes to 284 journals that cost more than $3000 per year.  I serve on the library committee here at VCU and can attest that most of the libraries budget goes toward journal subscriptions).
  • Restricted access (Only certain people can have access, usually those on a university computer)
  • Legal obligation (Researchers make work to be shared with everyone, but then we publish our work in mediums that hide it in a restricted database).
  • Betterment of society (via improved access to scholarly work).
  • Affordances of HTML (Journal publications, for example, have formatting restrictions that can degrade the quality of figures if they are rescaled and converted to grayscale.  However, technical writing is not best visualized in HTML, as anyone who has read a “full text” article can attest to.)
  • Time (Publishing is becoming easier and easier, and blogs can be quickly turned into book.  Hacking the Academy created a published volume of work in a short period of time.  A traditional journal article can take years to appear in print.)
  • Moral obligation (Should we be interacting with everyone or only those who can access our journal articles?)

There are downsides to adopting an open access format, although the talk focused on the upsides to challenge us in what we know (or think we know) about open access publishing.  As a result, I only included the upsides here.

Open access resources include:

Dr. Becker introduced networked participatory scholarship (NPS), which includes the use of social networking and other online communication that creates scholarly work.  I find it hard to believe that promotion and tenure committees are open to NPS, but many universities are creating NPS spaces for faculty to do scholarly work (such as the CUNY Academic commons, UMW blogs, Future of Education, etc.).  Researchers such as Bruce Baker and Justin Bathon are leading the way in the education domain.  I suspect that Greg Mankiw and Tyler Cowen are doing the same for economics (although Greg Mankiw’s blog is closed to comments, so it isn’t exactly peer-reviewed) and that Aurelie Thiele is doing the same for engineering education.

There are some new issues for authors when publishing in open access journals or NPS forums:

  • Managing your intellectual property when journals no longer hold the copyright to your work.
  • Use alternative forms of publishing (start by publishing in open access journals and participate in UC/Springer Open Access Pilot)
  • Support sustainable scholarly communication (support new business models and experiment with publishing best practices)
  • Comply with NIH public access mandate

I am not sure if I am ready to fully jump onto the open access bandwagon, but since I already have a blog and wrote a book chapter that was published on lulu, maybe I already have.  If you leave a comment on this blog, you are participating in a type of peer-review process that is arguably more transparent than the peer-review process in journals. But that sounds strange to me, so I know I’m still adjusting to that idea.  There are many professors who post their technical reports and seminar slides on their web site.  I seem to recall some P=NP proofs that were made available publicly for review prior to publication.  They were widely reviewed, and the reviews seemed as valuable–if not more so–than the peer review process (but only because many are eager to review a P=NP proof).  While these professors and authors who share their work openly aren’t revolutionaries, they are sharing their work with a wide audience.

What will it take for scholarly communication to adopt an open access model?  The first wave seems to have already occurred.  There are several open access medical journals that are well-respected.  Economics might be a motivating factor, since universities have faced budget cuts in the last few years and as the stimulus money runs out in the next academic year.  What do you think could result in a second wave of more widespread acceptance?

Have you published in an open access journal?  Do you take part in networked participatory scholarship?


Panelist for a blogging discussion

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being on a panel about blogging in academia. The panel is part of a weeklong course about teaching with technology, offered here at VCU. Four bloggers were on the panel, including myself and

I am really impressed with my colleagues, who use blogs to perform scholarship and to take “peer review” to the next level (I used quotes because it’s not exactly peer review, although it’s certainly transparent). A lot of discourse and discussion can happen through non-traditional and technical channels. I can’t see this happening in scientific disciplines in the same way, but blogs (and technology in general) are changing academia. For example, I am very impressed with Cheryl Balls online tenure package blog (I saw this tweeted and retweeted by academics).

Most of the course participants were interested in using blogs in the classroom. After discussing the logistics of required students to write a blog and setting boundaries and grading criteria, several people noted the advantage: Students write much better on blogs, where their peers can read their writing (as opposed to only their instructor reading what they write). Students are more invested in the process, since the transparancy makes them more vulnerable. And when outsiders comment on their blogs, they have an “Ah ha” moment that hooks them.

Writing is so important in scientific disciplines, yet it is something that receives too little attention. And when it does, there is a lot of complaining. It seems like writing with technology (blogs or otherwise) could help students get excited about STEM fields as well as prepare them for all the writing they will do in their careers.

You can watch some of the events streamed live here. Unfortunately, they are not recording the sessions.

The panel also motivated me to twitter a lot more. I am slowly finding my twitter voice. Are there any hashtags that are useful for OR discourse? Send me a tweet with your tips!