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Operations Research Analyst Job Description, Career as an Operations Research Analyst, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College

Salary: Median—$60,190 per year

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Operations research analysts are problem solvers. They try to find more efficient and effective ways to run operations such as factories, telephone networks, traffic systems, and other concerns. For example, analysts might determine how to time traffic lights to produce fewer traffic jams. Operations research analysts use mathematics, engineering, scientific methods, and computer programming to solve such problems. Analysts have been employed in manufacturing industries, government, and the military for many years. An increasing number of analysts work in industries such as telecommunications, insurance, and banking. Some work for universities, research organizations, and consulting firms.

Operations research analysts look at each problem as a unique one. For instance, an analyst might be asked to develop a new traffic pattern for a large cafeteria to make the best use of space and personnel. There may be many similar cafeterias, but no other cafeteria has exactly the same location, layout, and equipment. The analyst asks questions and collects information about the cafeteria. How many people eat there on an average day? Where will they enter? Where are the trays picked up and returned? How long do most people stay? Then the analyst makes mathematical models to figure out the many possible ways to serve customers. Using a computer, the analyst finds the best ways to arrange the tables so that as many people as possible can eat comfortably at the same time. The analyst may then help the cafeteria manager decide how many employees are needed to handle the customers efficiently. Although this example is simple, it illustrates how operations research analysts help management to use space, personnel, and equipment more efficiently.

Many large organizations need the services of operations research analysts because inefficient operating methods can result in significant financial losses. Big businesses have many managers, each making operational decisions. Operations research analysts can help to coordinate the decision-making process. Operations research analysts also work in advertising and inventory control. Some analysts develop routes and schedules for buses, trains, and planes. Regardless of the field in which they work, operations research analysts must be able to think logically. They must be able to analyze many parts of a complex problem at the same time.

Education and Training Requirements

A person needs a master's degree in operations research or in a closely related field to become an operations research analyst. In high school a student should study mathematics and prepare to enter a college program in mathematics, engineering, or economics. Whatever a student's major is, a good background in applied mathematics is essential. A thorough knowledge of computers and experience with a variety of data processing systems is also necessary.

Many employers require a Ph.D. in operations research or management science. Many universities offer complete graduate programs in operations research. If candidates plan to work in a particular field, they might want to combine a mathematics degree with a graduate degree in that field.

Employers usually give on-the-job training to all newly employed analysts (even those with advanced degrees or previous work experience). Newcomers learn about the organization before they attempt to solve some of its problems. Some employers help their operations research analysts obtain advanced degrees.

Getting the Job

Most operations research analysts get jobs with large organizations. Interested individuals should check for ads on the Internet and in the classified section of local newspapers. College placement services can also help graduating students contact employers. Teaching jobs with the universities that offer operations research programs are sometimes available. The federal government employs operations research analysts. If a person is interested in a government job, he or she should apply to take the necessary civil service test. Candidates can also contact research organizations and consulting firms that work in operations research.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Operations research analysts can advance steadily to assignments that are more complex and broader in scope. There are many opportunities for people who are willing to keep up with the field and adapt their knowledge to specific industries. Analysts may start as a junior member of an operations research team and work up to a leadership position. Some analysts start their own consulting firms. Operations research analysts can also become corporate executives, because their work provides them with excellent planning and management skills.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fifty-eight thousand operations research analysts were employed in the United States in 2004. Employment of operations research analysts was expected to grow more slowly than average for all occupations through the year 2014. Jobs for operations research analysts should exist in all industries. Other jobs can be found in public agencies responsible for the management of water resources, garbage disposal, and recycling facilities, for example.

Working Conditions

Operations research analysts usually work at their desks or in computer rooms. They often work in teams. However, much of their work consists of independent calculations or computer work. They spend some time consulting with their clients or managers. Analysts generally work forty hours per week, except when they must put in extra hours to meet deadlines. They also spend time keeping up with the constant changes in the field.

Where to Go for More Information

American Society for Information Science and Technology
1320 Fenwick Ln., Ste. 510
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(301) 495-0900

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences
7240 Parkway Dr., Ste. 310
Hanover, MD 21076
(800) 4INFORMS

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings of operations research analysts vary depending on experience, education, and geographic location. Operations research analysts earned a median salary of $60,190 per year in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health and life insurance, and pension plans.

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