Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Celebrating my 22nd PhD Student - Dr. Deniz Besik

The Covid-19 pandemic has called for new types of celebrations of the successes of our students, including virtual graduation ceremonies at colleges and universities.

Last Friday, UMass Amherst had  an exceptional celebration via a video tribute that included many luminaries from Massachusetts from politicians, to an astronaut and UMass Amherst alumna, as well as celebrities.

Last Friday, the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst also hosted a virtual celebration via Zoom for our PhD graduates, and, among the 9 receiving their PhDs, was Deniz Besik.
Dr. Deniz Besik was my 22nd PhD student and her concentration at the Isenberg School was Management Science. I have chaired the doctoral committees of 12 females and 10 males.

Dr. George Milne, our PhD Director at the Isenberg School, organized the event, with assistance from Mike Korza.  Deniz's family was able to Zoom in from Turkey.

It was such a pleasure to write about Dr. Besik, who came to our program from Turkey, having worked also in Germany. My tribute to her is below. She will be joining the faculty of the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond in Virginia, in the Fall.

The full brochure with information on all of our PhD graduates can be accessed from the Isenberg website here.

The Sunday before, Deniz and I put on our robes and, with help from friends, had the photos below taken, while practicing physical/social distancing.


Deniz had 6 papers published while a PhD student, which is a remarkable accomplishment, in such journals as the European Journal of Operational Research, the Journal of Global Optimization, and Socio-Economic Planning Sciences. Her multidisciplinary research on perishable food supply chains, with a focus on quality, as well as economic policy instruments such as tariffs and quotas, yielded fundamental tools as well as insights and helped to identify who wins and who loses in the ongoing trade wars, made even more relevant now with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hard to believe that Dr. Besik defended her dissertation on March 6, 2020, just a few days before the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 pandemic and the world changed.


Deniz excelled in the three dimensions of research, teaching, and service, all very relevant to her future success in academia. Deniz served as the President of the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter and was a very engaged and loyal member. The chapter's webmaster, Haris Sipetas, posted a tribute to her, and to her two fellow PhD graduates in Engineering: Rodrigo Mercado and Ekin Koker.

Congratulations to Dr. Deniz Besik! We look forward to celebrating your PhD graduation face to face before too long. Wishing all the 2020 degree recipients all the very best! Your grit and resilience will get you through these challenging times.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Marking the 30th Anniversary of the Passing of Dr. Stella Dafermos, the Second Female PhD in Operations Research in the World

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are hearing from relatives and friends, from far and wide, offering support during these extremely challenging times.

Last week, I heard from my Brown University room-mate, with whom I shared a dorm room for 2 years. She was also a fellow Applied Math major, with a love of Operations Research, and an exceptional ballerina from South America, who then became a member of Brown's women's crew team. I co-founded the Brown Women's track team.

My room-mate wrote to me: "Stella Dafermos has appeared on my horizon these days. I can see Stella, wearing her grey knitted vest, writing on the blackboard, remember? It may well be that we’re living one of those math models she was trying to explain back then."

And then in a follow-up message last week, she continued: "I have a memory, crystal clear in my mind’s eye: we were sophomores, we were in our room (4th floor Diman), I am looking at my notes from her latest class, literally turning the notebook upside down and sideways to see if any of it would make any sense, thinking I really don’t think this is for me..  you were changing into your running clothes, munching on an apple, you come over, eye the notes and say.. oh, yeah, there it is, that’s good! You’ll get it!   And off you go running. I didn’t get it, but later, much, much later, from Vedic texts where they teach how our reality is actualized out of infinite probabilities, well, now the value of those lessons is evident."

Interestingly, unlike my room-mate, I never had Stella while I was an undergraduate student at Brown but I would hear about her from other female Applied Math majors. 

Dr. Stella Dafermos, the second female to receive a PhD in Operations Research (OR), passed away on April 5, 1990, so we now mark the 30th anniversary of her passing.  She was the only female Professor in the Divisions of Applied Math and Engineering at Brown at that time, and I became her first PhD student. Although she passed away at the age of 49, her incredible legacy on contributions to transportation and networks, notably, continues. Her contributions were recognized in an obituary that I wrote for the journal Operations Research, the only female thus honored. Her PhD was from Johns Hopkins University in 1968, and she was surrounded by luminaries in OR there.
Below is the academic genealogy tree, with academic ancestors including Maxwell, Newton, and Galileo. It, in an expanded form, with my PhD students, hangs in my office for inspiration. You can see the list of my PhD students, with the latest, Deniz Besik, to be added soon, here.


And, in a very interesting blogpost by the esteemed Dr. Mike Trick, who happens to be not only a fellow Canadian by birth, but also my academic cousin, you can read more.

Stella passed away on a Thursday. I was that year a Visiting Scholar at the Sloan School of MIT, and, shortly after I received the phone call about her death, I gave a talk at the OR Center. Such resilience is needed now, more than ever. I recall Professor Jim Orlin coming to my office to support me. Interestingly, Dr. Les Servi, now of MITRE (and with whom I also corresponded this week), was on sabbatical at the Sloan School then, and also offered much appreciated support. 

My husband drove us to the funeral, which was on the following Saturday. I remember the daffodils at the cemetery on beautiful Blackstone Boulevard and also some snow falling. I always consider daffodils to be Stella's flower because of her surname "Dafermos."  I wrote a tribute to my "Academic Mother" here.  I also wrote a bit on my personal journey in another post, in which I recognised the 20th anniversary of her passing.

One of Stella's paper (on variational inequalities, of course) is among the most impactful ones published in the INFORMS journal Transportation Science in 50 years!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Blood Supply Chain in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Much has happened since my most recent blogpost on March 7, which celebrated the successful PhD defense of my student, Deniz Besik.

On March 11, 2020, WHO declared a pandemic due to the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness now known as COVID-19.

As an operations researcher, who does research on various network systems, including perishable product supply chains, with applications in healthcare - blood supply chains and pharma supply chains, I had already been following a multiplicity of disruptions as the coronavirus was spreading globally.

In addition to the supply chain disruptions, I have also experienced professional ones as have virtually all academics worldwide as well as students.

I am on sabbatical now and was honored and delighted to have been invited to give seminars and plenary talks in multiple countries (Canada, France, Italy, and the USA, with others still on the horizon). These have all been postponed/cancelled causing not only disappointment but many foregone experiences, networking opportunities, and adventures.

But safety and health first, and we must do anything and everything in our power to mitigate the pandemic, and to flatten the curve.

I strongly believe that researchers, if at all possible, and if they have an inclination to do so, should write articles for the popular press. I saw the looming crisis in blood supply chains, having been following events in China and Iran, as closely as possible, because of COVID-19. I collected our relevant articles on blood supply chains (a topic we have been researching for the last decade), and impacts of disruptions, and wrote an Op Ed for The Conversation: How coronavirus is upsetting the blood supply chain https://theconversation.com/how-coronavirus-is-upsetting-the-blood-supply-chain-133424

The article has now been reprinted in numerous publications including: SALON, MarketWatch, NavyTimes, EconTimes, and many others. I have been contacted by individuals who wish to help out. I have reached out to medical professionals that I know at top medical facilities to see if plasma of those who have recovered from COVID-19 may be used as treatment, as has been tried in China, supposedly with some success, and is now being investigated at Johns Hopkins.

The research that we have done on the blood supply chain includes the modeling of the perishability of red blood cells; the investigation of a disruption due to a major disease outbreak, which would result in a decrease in eligible donors, as well as disruptions to capacities of testing and processing, that clearly can happen with personnel being quarantined and/or struck by the coronavirus now. Our papers have also explored competition for blood donors using game theory as well as the design of blood supply chains plus the modeling of multiple tiers and even the competition among blood service organizations. We have also worked on quantifying the potential synergy associated with the merging or teaming of blood service organizations as in the case of a disaster.

Also,  we wrote a book to unify some of the knowledge on perishable product supply chains.
It is important to note that respiratory viruses are not transmitted via blood and all those who have the facility and the capability should donate. Since my article in The Conversation was published, the situation has become even more dire with severe blood shortages being reported by the American Red Cross. Blood, unlike many other products, cannot be manufactured, but must be donated by willing donors. Blood service organizations need to make this process now as comfortable and as easy for donors, as possible, by expanding mobile unit coverage, for example.

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An update since the above post was published. Thanks to INFORMS Analytics for publishing my updated article to The Conversation piece in the Coronavirus Chronicles.

And now, as we move further into the pandemic, the possibility of utilizing convalescent plasma in different ways in providing potential therapies, is generating optimism, while, at the same time, there is growing competition among different organizations, and even profit-making ones, for Covid-19 survivors' blood plasma.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Bravo to Deniz Besik on Her Successful PhD Defense

Yesterday, was a very special day. Deniz Besik, who is my 22nd PhD student, successfully defended her doctoral dissertation at the Isenberg School of Management. The title of her dissertation is: "Essays on Competitive Perishable Food Supply Chain Networks: From the Impacts of Tariffs and Quotas to Integration of Quality." I had the pleasure of chairing her dissertation committee, which consisted of Professors Ana Muriel and Hari Balasubramanian of the College of Engineering at UMass Amherst and Professor Priyank Arora of my department at the Isenberg School.

Although the defense took place at 3:30PM on a Friday afternoon, the room was packed with Deniz's friends and colleagues and guests who had come to support her. Some had traveled from Boston and NYC to come to support her. Dr. Pritha Dutta, who was my 21st PhD student, and is now a Professor at Pace University, came from NYC.
Deniz in 4 and a half years as a doctoral student published 6 co-authored papers, which is an incredible accomplishment. Below are images of first pages of some of the articles.


Deniz was recognized for her research with the 2019 Outstanding Doctoral Student Researcher Award from the Isenberg School and took part in the INFORMS, POMS, and DSI doctoral colloquia. And, we recently heard that she was elected into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. The ceremony will take place in early April and the UMass Amherst graduation in early May (assuming such events will be able to proceed, given the coronavirus).

The audience had great questions, given the timeliness of the dissertation as well as the clarity with which Deniz presented the results in her dissertation. Below is a photo of now Dr. Deniz Besik with her committee members after her defense.
And we managed to take a photo of some of the folks in the audience who stayed until after 5PM to congratulate her.
She was presented with flowers and I also gave her a gift.
Then it was time for a celebratory dinner, which took place at Judie's in downtown Amherst.
Followed by a very special dessert with candle.
I might add that Deniz during her doctoral studies also taught classes and she even served as the President of the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter. She has accepted a tenure track Assistant Professorship at the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond in beautiful Virginia. The rewards of being a faculty member are many, but one of the best is seeing a very deserving and hard-working student achieve her dreams. We all wish Dr. Deniz Besik much continuing professional and personal success as she begins a new chapter as an Assistant Professor!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Brilliant Lecture on Resilience by a Great Dane - Dr. Rasmus Dahlberg

Yesterday, we had the honor and pleasure of hosting Professor Rasmus Dahlberg of Denmark in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series. His talk on "Resilience - the Danish Version" was brilliant. It is not often that one has the opportunity to hear from someone who is not only a disaster research scholar and a practitioner, with many fascinating experiences in a spectrum of emergency management exercises and events, including ones in the Arctic, but is also a novelist and media personality!
I had had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Dahlberg previously and met him when he presented a paper in the first Dynamics of Disasters conference that I co-organized in Kalamata, Greece. The paper that he delivered at this conference appears in the refereed conference proceedings.

Coincidentally, Dr. Dahberg delivered his talk yesterday in Isenberg's new Business Innovation Hub, which was designed by the award-winning Danish architect Bjarke Ingels. Last April, Ingels came and spoke at the unveiling of the hub and accompanying celebrations.

I gave some opening remarks and then Mojtaba Salarpour, the President of the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter, welcomed the speaker and the audience. It was great to have faculty and students from the Isenberg School, the UMass Amherst College of Engineering, and the College of Computer and Information Sciences in attendance, as well as faculty from other universities, and even several journalism students who were excited about covering the event!



Dr. Dahlberg is a faculty member at the Royal Danish Defence College and considers himself a "disaster historian." He has worked for the Danish Emergency Management Agency in the Department of Crisis Management.
He emphasized that there are no natural hazards in Denmark and that "all disasters are man-made." What is especially challenging now is that there are more risks from climate change and advanced technology. And many disasters have been the result of human error, due to complexities of advanced technology.  He also emphasized that Denmark is one of the most peaceful countries but is being faced with sea level rise, along with expansions of maritime routes, which can lead to more maritime accidents and disasters.
He noted that emergency management in Denmark has evolved from "civil protection" and that Denmark in the Anthropocene is seeing more and more extreme weather events with extreme rainfall.

He brought up numerous interesting points, including the need for  "zero responders," who are volunteers rising up to assist. He mentioned an incident of extreme rainfall and flooding in Denmark in 2013, for which multiple shelters were identified but very few citizens actually used them. The Danes, through social media, had informed the community that they had opened up their own residences to those needing shelter and, in effect, solved the disaster response effectively. People, for the first time, in Denmark, used one another and social media in this way. The peer to peer coordination and communication was very successful!

Dr. Dahlberg, on February 7, 2014, contributed to a Danish Emergency Management Association Workshop which he called "Resilience 101," in which he spoke about resilience as being the ability "to bounce forward" after a disturbance that disrupts normal operations. He noted the work of Dr. Tierney, who was also on his PhD dissertation committee, who defines "resilience as the obverse of risk" and the work of Dr. Alexander Augustine, who notes that "We need to build resilience to the uncertainties that lie ahead."

A more resilient Denmark is needed to tackle climate change. He also emphasized that "we cannot build our way out of everything" and mentioned the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities program.

Dahlberg believes that one must stress the system for resiliency.
He also emphasized that it is expensive to invest in emergency management and singled out the "Arctic Response Force." He singled out the possibility of a cruise ship disaster in Arctic waters. He has even written up disaster scenarios, which were then used in Denmark for disaster preparedness and response exercises!

After his presentation, there was a terrific Q&A; we took a group photo of those who were still in attendance, followed by a delicious lunch at the University Club at UMass Amherst, at which the stimulating conversations continued.

And, at lunch, he told us how to escape from a car sinking in the water and provided us with advice to always wear hiking boots while flying (helps in climbing out should you need to evacuate while taking off or landing).

We thank Dr. Rasmus Dahlberg for his brilliant lecture on resilience and wish him much continuing professional and personal success! His work and energy inspired all of us.
We ended the perfect intellectual and social day with dinner at Judie's in Amherst, complete with their iconic item - popovers!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Outstanding Inaugural INFORMS Security Conference in Beautiful Monterey, California

I arrived back in Amherst at 1AM this morning, having flown from Monterey, California to Denver, Colorado and then to my "local" airport - Bradley.

I had been in beautiful Monterey to take part in INFORMS' inaugural Conference on Security and it was outstanding.  The official dates of the conference were February 9-11, 2020.  Luckily, I am on sabbatical this semester, so this was manageable for me and I was very much looking forward to presenting at this conference. It was also quite nostalgic, since the first talk I ever gave at a conference was at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey (which was also heavily involved in this conference) at an MIT/ONR conference organized by Professor Michael Athans of MIT. I was then working in the defense sector, focusing on the navy, in Newport, Rhode Island, while pursuing my Master's at Brown University. I was the only female presenter at that conference.

First, I would like to congratulate the organizers of the INFORMS Security Conference: Mr. Harrison Schramm, Captain Brian Morgan, and Dr. Paul Nicholson, on its success! The format was excellent - 50 minute presentations (8 or so parallel sessions), with lunch and coffee provided, and ample time for discussion. Everyone was very gracious and friendly.  One "marker of the success" of this conference was the number of INFORMS Fellows in attendance, including: Gerry Brown, Stephen Robinson, Vicki Bier, Michael Fu, Sheldon Jacobson, and me :) If I missed someone, do let me know! Attendance was about 100 (I was told) and consisted of faculty, military, practitioners from various companies, government, and even some students that I met.

The plenary talks were great as well as a risk analysis panel conducted by Gerry Brown and Sam Savage. 
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It was thrilling to even see Stefan Pickl, who traveled all the way from Germany for the conference. He had been a participant in the latest Dynamics of Disasters conference that I co-organized with Panos M. Pardalos and Ilias S. Kotsireas, and which took place last summer in Kalamata, Greece. We are now co-editing a new volume, to be published by Springer.
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In the above photo I am standing with Stefan Pickl, Rob Dell, who gave one of the plenary talks, and Conference Chair Harrison Schramm.

I had the pleasure of presenting Monday morning on Game Theory Network Models for Disaster Relief. Special thanks to Nathaniel Bastian for being an outstanding stream chair of our stream: Interdisciplinary Applications - Frontiers. He had all of our presentations ready for projecting on his laptop.
Below are some photos from the delivered talks and of one of the great lunches! Many thanks for the wonderful presenters. Special to also hear from Jun Zhang and James Minas.
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The venue was extraordinary - the hotel is located in downtown Monterey with hiking/biking trails in proximity and views of the Pacific.

And, at its best, a conference generates new research ideas, new collaborations, reconnecting with colleagues, and growing your network. The INFORMS Conference on Security delivered on all counts and at a location that would be hard to improve upon.  I was even presented with a book by Booz Allen Hamilton consultants. Interestingly, I had had an offer from this company when I was finishing up my PhD.
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Below I have posted a few photos of the beauty of the natural environment of Monterey.
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I am looking forward to the next INFORMS Conference on Security but, in the mean time, there is a lot of important research to be done by our community!