Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Fabulous Operations Research Conference in Canada with Photos

It took us three days of driving to get to Halifax, Nova Scotia from Amherst, Massachusetts on a journey through Calais, Maine; St. John and Sackville, New Brunswick, and then to our destination.

Although I was born in Canada, I never was in the Atlantic provinces before so when the announcement went out for the Canadian Operational Research Society (CORS) conference, I was intrigued and was delighted when two of our papers were accepted for presentation.

In addition, my doctoral student, Pritha Dutta, had another paper accepted for the CHOW Workshop.

Amazingly, on the first day of the conference, we heard that the above paper was accepted for publication in the journal Omega and yesterday we even got the galleys, which we corrected today, and took the selfie below to celebrate.

The weather was quite cool and rainy, for the most part of the conference, the warmth of the conferees and locals was very welcome. The attention to detail by the conference organizers should be lauded - from their responsiveness to queries to the excellent snacks and a banquet complete with lobster and blueberry cobbler with ice cream for dessert. So we wore bibs.
I was very pleased that my Isenberg School of Management colleague, Professor Nikunj Kapadia, also spoke at this conference (his very first OR conference) and commented on how nice and friendly our OR community is, which I fully agree.

It was extra special to see Professor Mark Daskin, an INFORMS Fellow and member of the NAE, and also Professor Martin Puterman of UBC, also an INFORMS Fellow. Professor Puterman had taught at my School of Management for two years (before my time) and he told me that the first seminar he ever gave after getting his PhD from Stanford was at my alma mater - Division of Applied Math, Brown University.
I thoroughly enjoyed all the talks that I attended, and wish that I could have been at several parallel sessions at the same time!

A highlight was the Harold Larnder Prize lecture given by Professor John Birge, who is also a member of the NAE and an INFORMS Fellow. The title of his lecture was: Can Big OR be Bigger than Big Data? He emphasized that what we do in OR is to improve people's lives. He also noted that the promise of advanced "analytics" in its various forms is being realized. However, according to him, unfortunately, OR is not as widely identified with the gains from recent trends. He also emphasized that realizing OR's potential depends on all of our efforts. He displayed a Google trends chart plotting terms such as machine learning, AI, neural nets,and OR.

He discussed Alpha Go and stated that machine learning is essentially stochastic optimization. He also noted that what OR can add is that we focus on the objective and take a comprehensive view and also how the objective relates to sets of parameters and any other conditions (constraints). He also stated that we ensure that the analysis is consistent with "laws" such as the law of one price and even mentioned equilibrium, which was thrilling because my group has for years focused on a variety of network equilibrium problems with fascinating applications, including supply chain ones in healthcare and disaster relief. He made several very interesting suggestions as to how we can "improve" from considering BIG projects and working with collaborators (something that I concur with as is also the focus of the Supernetwork Center that I founded at the Isenberg School at UMass Amherst).

 My colleague, Professor Fatma Gzara of the University of Waterloo, then asked the first question as to why analytics had not also been included. At our table, Mark Daskin mention decision science as also a relevant term for the work that we do.

It was great to see colleagues that I had seen at other OR conferences, including the September one in Berlin, Germany, and to meet even doctoral students from various universities. A special treat was a selfie taken by Professor Dionne Aleman of a group of tweeps. She served as the amazing CORS President for the past two years.
Special thanks also to the event manager for helping the CORS 2018 conference in Halifax be so enjoyable!
And today, once the rain stopped, we enjoyed a glorious walk in the Halifax public garden and along the historic Citadel and then downtown saw a colleague of mine from sports management, who had just arrived for another conference in Halifax and was wearing a UMass Amherst hat!