What are the career options in Operational Research for graduates?

Around 900,000 UK students will gain their undergraduate degrees and 390,000 will achieve their master’s degrees this year. As graduation approaches, they will be considering their next steps and whether to pursue further studies or enter the job market.

For those with a passion for problem-solving and a background in mathematics or data science, operational research (OR) presents a wide range of career opportunities. OR is applicable to a diverse range of sectors and industries, including government, healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, and even sports.

OR professionals use techniques like mathematical modelling, optimisation, and simulation to solve complex problems and make better decisions. Whenever a business has a complex logistical or operational environment, from managing patients and beds in hospitals to optimising queues and passenger flow through an airport, a team of operational researchers has probably mapped this out behind the scenes.

The good news is OR specialists are very much in demand today. As Gilbert Owusu, President of The OR Society, highlights: “With technologies such as AI and data analytics advancing rapidly, the job opportunities for OR specialists are expected to grow in the years to come.”


Impact on Society

One of the major benefits of a career in OR is the positive impact OR can have on society. By improving systems and processes, OR professionals help save costs, increase efficiency, and improve decision-making in both public and private sectors. This supports sustainable development, better resource management, and social welfare.

Diverse Career Opportunities

Operational research offers various career paths, including:

  • Business Analyst: Helping businesses make better decisions about products, pricing, and more.
  • Operations Research Analyst: Using mathematical models and optimisation to improve efficiency.
  • Data Scientist: Applying data science and machine learning to solve complex problems.

This year The OR Society, celebrating its 75th anniversary and is dedicated to promoting OR and attracting new specialists. One way of doing this is by highlighting stories of career success.

Dr. Lucy Gullon's career in Operational Research

One success story is Dr. Lucy Gullon, an operational researcher and statistician who works at BT. Lucy’s impressive career in OR started in academia before she joined BT. In her role as an AI and Modelling Research Specialist, Lucy uses OR techniques to help BT make evidence-based decisions about its network. She is helping BT to develop new ways to optimise its network, reduce energy consumption, and improve customer service.

Lucy is a mathematics graduate and wasn’t familiar with OR until she started her PhD at Lancaster University. She always had a keen interest in statistics and problem-solving and was immediately drawn to the field's focus on solving real-world problems. During her PhD, Lucy researched new methods for improving simulation as a decision-making tool by reducing error. Her thesis was presented with the best thesis award by The OR Society. After gaining her PhD, Lucy remained in academia and worked as a lecturer in simulation and stochastic modelling at Lancaster University before she joined BT in 2021.

Lucy said, “I would encourage anyone from a maths, data science or numerical background to investigate the various career opportunities in OR. With OR, you can work in any industry from energy and aerospace through to Formula One and fashion as they all have problems to solve and need to make improvements and efficiencies. Working with my team at BT, there are many opportunities to apply the various techniques and knowledge that I have learnt about optimisation, simulation, or modelling – it’s fascinating to use these techniques on real-world problems."


Supporting Newcomers

The OR Society supports professionals throughout their careers with professional development opportunities, networking, and conferences. In June, the Society hosted a special event – the "New to OR Conference" on 19th June at the British Psychological Society to help professionals at the start of their operational research careers.

Attendees heard from speakers who have made significant progress in their careers yet remain in touch with the needs of colleagues who are coming up behind them. This year's lineup included the Chief Operating Officer for Capgemini Invent UK and UCL's School of Management's Head of the Operations & Technology group. A range of OR topics and trends were discussed, enabling attendees to gain insight into many different areas and specialisms and how OR is being applied across various sectors which included:

  • Optimisation and Decision Analysis
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Data Analytics and Machine Learning in Operations
  • Sustainable Operations
  • Simulation and Modelling
  • OR for Strategic Decision Making and Policy Making
  • Logistics and Transportation
  • Healthcare Operations
  • Financial Operations

The conference focused on the exchange of ideas, fostering collaboration, and highlighting innovative work being undertaken by emerging talents in the field.

Later in the year we will host our annual Careers Open Day. This event offers a unique opportunity for those starting their careers in Operational Research to engage directly with leading employers in the field. Scheduled for 07 November 2024 at Novotel in Birmingham, this event provides free access where attendees can connect with top OR, analytics, and data science companies. Students attending will benefit from insights shared by industry professionals, learning about the diverse career paths and advantages within the OR sector. With many employers actively recruiting, this event is an invaluable chance to gain expert advice on job applications and to explore potential career opportunities in OR.

For more information on out upcoming Careers Open Day visit Careers Open Day 2024 - The OR Society - The OR Society