In business, employees are often too busy doing to stop to figure out whether there's a way to do it better. That's where operations research analysts come in. They collect and organize reams of data to find inefficiencies that can be eliminated. Then they apply mathematical formulas and computer simulations to devise solutions, which they deliver to managers and executives for implementation.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an operation research analysts' responsibilities typically include:
It's all as high-level as it sounds, and unsurprisingly operations research requires a great deal of training. You could conceivably learn it on your own, but you're more likely to gain the needed expertise—and impress employers—with a master's degree in operations research.
Master's degrees aren't cheap, so you are probably—understandably—wondering how much will you earn with a master's in operations research? We discuss that in this article, which covers the following questions:
A master's degree is the intermediary degree between an undergraduate bachelor's degree and a doctoral degree, which is a terminal graduate degree. A master's degree confers a high level of proficiency, and, for most operations research professionals, it is the highest academic degree they need. The next-highest degree—the PhD—is most often held by academics and advanced researchers. For most operations research positions in the business world—which make up the majority of jobs in this field—a master's degree is sufficient.
Most operations research master's degrees are Master of Engineering (MEng) degrees offered through their university's engineering schools. Some schools offer the degree through their departments of computer science, mathematics, or statistics, in which case the degree designation is typically a Master of Science (MS). Yet another option is to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) by studying operations research at a business school. If you pursue this final option, your study will focus much more on business fundamentals—economics, marketing, operations, finance—and less on number-crunching and computer-geeking than it would in an MEng or MS program. Further confusing matters, some business schools also offer a Master of Science in operations research.
A master's in operations research is typically completed in one to two years by full-time students, two to four years by part-time students.
Operations research combines several complex disciplines:
Because the field has broad applications, master's programs in operations research prepare students to work across many business functions, including:
A master's in operations research curriculum typically includes courses like the following:
Many master's in operations research programs culminate in a final research paper or thesis. Some programs offer both thesis and non-thesis options, and a few require no final project of any type.
According to the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), US institutions offer 95 operations research master's of science degrees in engineering/mathematics/computer science programs and another 60 operations research master's in business degrees. If you decide to pursue this master's degree, you will have plenty of options.
The most convenient way to earn your master's in operations research is through online study. A number of excellent schools offer this master of science degree online, including:
For those prefer to study in a traditional, on-campus program, top programs include:
Many of the schools listed above are quite expensive. If you're looking to economize, check the engineering school at your local state or technical university; many offer the master's in operations research at a much more affordable tuition. These programs may not have the same national reputation as the heavy hitters listed above. Even so, they will definitely put you through your paces and prepare you for a career in operations research, without putting you in hock indefinitely.
With a master's in operations research, you have two career paths to choose from. You could decide to become an academician and/or researcher. Pursuing this choice likely requires you to continue your education through to a PhD, after which you will be qualified to teach at the university level and/or conduct advanced research.
Alternatively, you could choose to pursue a professional career in business, nonprofits, government, military, healthcare, or education. In these jobs, you will probably hold one of the following titles:
Operations research professionals participate in business planning, strategy, and forecasting. They provide not only the data necessary to make informed decisions but also analyses and recommendations. Their work permeates every operational aspect of a business or organization, including:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, operations research analysts earn an average annual income of $82,380.
Top-paying sectors include:
The highest-paying operations research jobs, by state, are:
Top employers of operations research analysts include:
The BLS projects rapid growth in this field over the coming decade, with the job market growing by 23 percent between 2021 and 2031. That's nearly five times the growth rate of the US job market as a whole.
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