Leader: Providing OR with a stronger voice in the wider research community

The research committee was set up in 2016 to provide OR with a stronger voice in the wider research community and to be a source of advice and support to OR academics, with the aim of promoting the health of the academic discipline. Kevin Glazebrook, who was the initial chair for what was then called the Research Panel, has done an amazing job of ensuring that the OR voice has been heard more strongly in recent years. For example, members of the OR community are now better represented on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s Peer Review Board giving us a fairer crack of the whip at getting funding for OR research; we have contributed to the Big Maths Initiative leading, as we discuss below, to OR being integral to the Academy of Mathematical Sciences. Having a seat at the table means that our voice can be heard.

I took over as chair from Kevin in summer 2022 and one of the first tasks in my three year stint was to recruit new members to the committee, as the initial set of committee members were all approaching the end of their terms. Our aim is to have a committee that is diverse, both in terms of personal characteristics, but also in geographical location, subject area (within OR!), and career stage. The process was a real validation for me of how keen and enthusiastic the academic OR community can be as we were overwhelmed with applications from really exceptional candidates. At our first meeting with the new members there was a huge amount of energy in the group for supporting OR research. In what follows, I’ll begin by talking about the priorities the committee will be working on before discussing three of the major projects that have been occupying us so far this year.

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Christine Currie

The role of the Research Committee is to support OR knowledge development and increase the scale and impact of OR research in the UK. More specifically, in 2023 we are focusing on the following priorities.

  • Ensure that the Society is fully informed about the research landscape, using this knowledge to respond to issues, threats and opportunities.
  • Ensure that the Society’s voice is heard in relevant national bodies and consultations, with respect to OR research and its impact.
  • Enable the OR research community to access funding and to achieve impact, and to enable the OR practice community to benefit from research and academic expertise.
  • Ensure that the Society makes research-related information accessible via the website or other routes.
  • Nurture the OR Pipeline by developing the Early Career Researcher (ECR) Network.
  • Promote Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and ensure it is a key focus in OR research discussions

One of the big developments in the landscape is the Academy of Mathematical Sciences (www.acadmathsci.org.uk). The vision for the Academy is that it speaks for the whole of the mathematical sciences – all the branches of mathematics and all the people who work in them, including practitioners and innovators, academic researchers and educators, whatever their educational background. This is definitely not an exclusive club for mathematics graduates. The aim is not to replace the learned Societies but instead to enhance them by being a unified voice that improves advocacy, showing off the importance of the mathematical sciences; particularly important for giving greater weight in policy decisions.

One of the big developments in the landscape is the Academy of Mathematical Sciences, www.acadmathsci.org.uk. The vision for the Academy is that it speaks for the whole of the mathematical science

The ECR network, set up a few years after the Research Committee, has been a great success and has just become a Special Interest Group. Keeping talented researchers within the profession can be difficult given the multitude of pressures that academics face, so the talks and networking sessions that the ECR committee run are vital. Look out for adverts for the ECR one-day event on the day before OR65.

Knowledge exchange (KE) describes the two-way transfer of knowledge between academia and the wider economy and is something that OR has a history of doing well. After all, the origins of OR lie in the application of mathematical and scientific research to real world problems. Since my own MSc project working with the World Health Organisation, researching real problems has been one of my passions and so KE is something I’m keen to boost during my time as chair. Today (as I write this on 8th June!) was our first KE Day, which brought together university academics, KE professionals (also known as industry liaison officers) and practitioners. There was a real buzz in the room and some inspiring talks ranging from the top-down view of the KE landscape in the UK, to experiences in different knowledge transfer projects and opportunities for funding, finishing with a practitioner’s perspective.

The benefits of KE to academics are multitude but key for me is finding new, interesting problems and feeling that my research is achieving something useful. I’ve also learned a huge amount from the collaborations, which has helped both my research and my teaching. In addition to the obvious benefits to business and government of using the expertise within academia, Nick Harris of DSTL also described the influence it gives them as an organisation to “develop capabilities within universities” that are of benefit to them now and will help them in the future to answer new questions. We are hoping to keep up the momentum of this group with more events and networking opportunities.

Academic research in OR is strong and it has a high impact, as evidenced by the results of the Research Evaluation Framework (REF) in 2021, but it needs supporting and it needs shouting about. This will ensure that there is a level playing field for funding opportunities and also that the work done in universities is implemented and goes on to help the wider community. The days of ivory towers are long gone!