Saturday, July 22, 2017

Operations Researchers Rock in Quebec City - What a Terrific IFORS Conference

I am back from the IFORS (International Federation of Operations Research Societies) conference in Quebec City. It was a delight for numerous reasons and attracted over 1,500 participants from 52 countries which speaks to the interest in operations research globally. This conference takes place once every three years and the next one will be in 2020 in Seoul, Korea.
First, the location of the conference was terrific - the convention center in Quebec City - with large hotels in proximity and amazing parks and old town as well.

Although I was born in Canada, and have been back for numerous conferences and speaking engagements, this was my first time in Quebec City. I travel a lot and Quebec City now ranks in my top group of cities in terms of beauty, greenness, walkability and infrastructure, amenities, cultural opportunities, and the friendliness of the people. The attention to preservation of history and buildings is also outstanding.
I also appreciated that several streets at times of day are for pedestrians only.
This conference had 4 fabulous plenary speakers, including the Nobel laureate in Economics, Alvin Roth, and 1 female - Martine Labbe,  and 10 keynote speakers (4 females among them, including Asu Ozdaglar, whom I have hosted at the Isenberg School).  Special recognition should be given to Egon Balas of Carnegie Mellon University for giving a plenary talk - he is an example for all of us as to how to live and work to the fullest. Professor Balas is in his mid90s and his memoir is a must read.

I enjoyed speaking to Detlof Winterfeldt of USC, who gave a very interesting keynote on a topic that he has worked on for a long time through the DHS Center - CREATE - that of homeland security and decision analysis. I was delighted to see him mention Randy Hall, and to cite the work of Adam Rose, who recently was elected an RSAI Fellow.  On the last slide of his keynote cybersecurity was mentioned (a topic we have been doing a lot of research on). Below is a photo taken with the Executive Director of INFORMS, the always energetic and fabulous, Melissa Moore, and Detlof after his keynote.
A special shoutout to Andres Weintraub of Chile,  who set a new high bar for plenary talks, and who took us on a journey of operations research and practice, overviewing the amazing work he has done with students and collaborators,  on topics ranging from forestry to  mining to enhancing lunches for schoolchildren to a big passion of his - the scheduling of soccer games! He shared the following sage advice in terms of projects:

1. Partner with the person in charge

2. Do not trust anybody (do the whole project)

3. Work daily side by side and

4. Show me the money (free work is not appreciated).

In his plenary talk, he noted how George Nemhauser, an operations research superstar and mentor to generations, came to visit him in Chile to entice him to work on sports scheduling and he also noted Mike Trick, the President of IFORS. Mike deserves applause for his service to IFORS and the profession as well as thanks for the success of this conference as do the organizers. Below is a column by Mike in the latest IFORS newsletter.
Given the size of the conference there were many operations researchers that I did not manage to have a chance to speak to but, nevertheless, I enjoyed not only the scientific talks, and we had two to present, with the titles below, but also seeing many friends and even meeting face to face several Twitter tweeps, including Carlos Zetina, who is a dynamo behing the success of the INFORMS Student Chapter in Montreal..
We had photos taken of the presenters and collaborators in our sessions in which there were speakers from Russia, India, the US, Japan, and the Czech Republic and one of the chairs was from the Philippines.

It was special to see my book, Competing on Supply Chain Quality,  with Michelle Li (who coincidentally got married in Cambridge while I was at IFORS), on display at the Springer booth. And, always, it is great to see the Springer Editors!
The snacks (this is important) were delicious during the breaks and I very much enjoyed the lunch provided on Thursday - joining us at our table was Destenie Nock, a doctoral student at UMass Amherst and a very active member of award-winning UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter.

It was also terrific to see some of the fabulous INFORMS staff members, including Mary Magrogan and Maris van der Eijk.
Another high point was seeing two of my former Isenberg School of Management PhD students, Tina Wakolbinger who is a Professor at the Vienna University of Economics and Business in beautiful Austria and Fuminori Toyasaki, who is a Professor at York University in Toronto.  I had seen them both in Vienna in late June at a conference on Humanitarian Operations that Tina had organized that was very successful and that I had blogged about.

Many thanks to the organizers of this IFORS conference and to all concerned who made it the big success that it was! Thanks also for selecting Quebec City as the conference site - this city is magical. I leave you with photos of some wonderful food, some of which we indulged in, and a photo of a sculpture by Salvador Dali that graced the boardwalk in old town.
And, since I was born in Canada, I also have to wish Canada a Happy 150th Birthday! Indeed, as the rumor has it, Canadians are very polite and nice! When the wind blew my hat off in a rainstorm, two Canadians went running after it in a busy street to retrieve it for me!