Three years ago, graduate students studying Operations Research (OR) at University of Toronto did not know much about each other’s work. I could not help but feeling myself narrow-minded without knowing how others applied OR differently. An OR seminar/group kind of thing would help – I thought, and that’s how UTORG got started. Starting a student group is not a new thing in academic. But I hope my sharing of how UTORG was built from scratch can be somehow helpful to students who are driven by the same passion.

Unlike serving in an already-built organization, where the task is more to do with keeping the ball rolling, or making a bigger ball to roll, starting a new group is to come up with a ball and keep pushing it until it rolls. Apparently, if the ball that you start off pushing is too big, the ball could end up not moving a single bit regardless how much time or efforts you put on it. Such possible waste of time/effort can be quite unbearable especially to graduate students who already feel short of time for their own research activities. Overall, UTORG was built following closely the idea of “lean startup”—we kept everything as simple as possible.

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If you’re reading this blog, you know what operations research is, and therefore, you must also know what industrial engineering is. Everyone in IE knows what IE is. Or so we like to tell ourselves. Industrial engineering is a relative newcomer to the world of engineering, and in its short existence—much like Darwin’s finches—the field has undergone rapid evolution and speciation into various specialties. Operations research is one of those specialties, as are human factors and information engineering.

The ascension of industrial engineering

Elevator

What does an IE have in common with an elevator? They both … I don’t know.

In the early 20th century, elevators were a key component to the proliferation of high-rise buildings across industrialized cities. As the buildings got taller though, elevator speeds remained the same, and eventually passengers began complaining that the wait for elevators during peak hours was unacceptably long. At one hotel in New York, the manager commissioned a study to improve elevator performance, but the study was unsuccessful in finding an economically reasonable method to make the elevators faster. However, one recent psychology graduate on staff at the hotel noticed that people were complaining about waiting only a few minutes. So, he put up mirrors in the elevator boarding areas so that the passengers would be happily entertained by their reflections while waiting. Magically (because psychology is black magic), the complaints stopped!

I heard that story during a keynote presentation at a conference several years ago, and learned from the speaker that the elevator experiment ended up being the first ever publication in the field of industrial engineering. The story is one of my favorite anecdotes to tell about IE, and I’ve retold it more than a few times over the years. However, in “researching” this blog entry, I haven’t been able to find any corroborating information that the elevator thing was ever published; I can’t even find an actual year in which the study took place. I wish I could remember the speaker’s name so I could tell him how upset and disillusioned I am. Or maybe I should just go stand in front of mirror for a few minutes until I feel better.

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It’s a cold, hearty Canadian morning and you need a coffee. So you saunter over to the coolest hipster coffee-shop in town, OR Café, and plop yourself down on one of the massively comfy couches. You barely get yourself comfortable when you feel a soft tap on your shoulder. Turning, you see Curtiss and Shefali, the friendly store managers.  You smile at them, but you quickly realize that all is not well. Continue reading

This week’s blog entry is written by Tiffany Bayley, an PhD student in the Management Sciences department at the University of Waterloo. She is currently president of the CORS Waterloo Student Chapter and contributes to an awesome photo-blog.

As one of Professor Bookbinder’s students, I have learned quite a bit about his research, and how it has evolved since the beginning of his academic career. His earlier publications include topics such as school-bus routingscheduling in urban transitcomparison of railroad performance, and decision systems to aid exports. Now, Dr. Bookbinder’s main interests focus on international logistics and inventory-transportation trade-offs, as illustrated by his edited volume, Handbook of Global Logistics: Transportation in International Supply Chains. Continue reading