USNA | Operations Research

The Discipline and the Major

Operations research is a modern, interdisciplinary subject that uses mathematical techniques to solve large-scale optimization problems in the real world. The field grew out of urgent problems faced by the Allies during World War II and helped guide military planners in their decision-making. For example, operations research showed that to minimize the losses of trans-Atlantic shipping to German U-Boats, it was better to use a small number of large convoys rather than a large number of small convoys. After the war, operations research extended its influence to all logistical and scheduling problems in the military. Civilian applications also proliferated. Here are but two examples. The synchronization of stop-lights for smooth traffic flow throughout a city is an important type of problem in operations research. Major League Baseball and other professional sports leagues hire consultants specializing in operations research to construct the schedule for each season.

In addition to traditional operations research courses, such as linear programming and simulation, midshipmen majoring in operations research will take traditional mathematics courses in probability, statistics, and matrix theory as well as operations research courses applied to military problems such as search and detection theory.

Opportunities

In addition to the usual opportunities such as summer internships and Trident Scholars, operations research majors will have the opportunity to conduct a capstone study that may directly benefit the naval service. After graduation, the major will provide a strong foundation for graduate study in operations research at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, or at a civilian graduate school. Individuals trained in operations research are in high demand both in the naval service, for example in the Assessment Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (N81) or at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) and in civilian consulting firms, such as Booz Allen Hamilton.

Considerations for those who might be interested in this major

The operations research major requires some technical writing skills and uses the computer as a major tool. A midshipman who enjoys solving mathematics problems and puzzles, who is comfortable using the computer as a tool and who is interested in using mathematics skills to solve real-world problems should be successful and happy pursuing a major in operations research.

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