On Content of Undergraduate Operations Research Courses


Today, one of professors in my department talked about content of two new courses of him. He is planning one graduate-level course and one undergraduate level. While describing the courses, he stated that the graduate one will focus on academic issues while the undergraduate one will focus on OR applications in field. Here is the challenge for professors, academic versus practice, which one should be aimed at undergraduate courses.

Some may argue that since most of UG students join the sector, practice is more important and should be emphasized and mentioned even more. Although this approach seems reasonable, in order to present such content, one should also give the theory with harmony. It is because, although real life applications could help the students in their first years in the sector, they could be inadequate to fill their positions after a few years. The main reason is most people stop their personal development due to intensive workload in companies. If one could not equip himself/herself with such theoretical skills and ways of thinking then they may fail later.

On the other hand, too much focus on theory may not be effective in terms of education psychology. I don’t have any knowledge on this issue but I am aware that some students need to visualize things to “fully” understand concepts -not for midterm or final exam!-. Although the answers depend on the types of the courses, one may find useful to balance real life – academic ratio in course content, especially in Operations Research courses. By its nature, an OR course can be easily lost its focus.

Although it may sound as an ambiguous answer, in my opinion, theory and practice should be present in each course. But my point is, where applicable, two courses on the same topic may be given to address both type of students. Unavailability of academic focused courses in undergraduate lead graduate students with weak academic background, which is vital for MS and PhD. If not applicable, on top of providing application based courses, professors should guide talented students to introduce them to academic research. In my university, I had find a chance to try research in my senior, which I find extremely useful for an UG student to try academia and discover whether he/she has a passion on it. Moreover, I think such research studies could be performed even in junior if some elective courses could be taken before, or at least in summer. Rather than enforcing all students to intern, some research opportunities may be proposed to some students.

Long story short, I support availability of academic focused courses or research opportunities for undergraduates.

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Sertalp Bilal Çay

PhD Candidate and Teaching Assistant in Industrial and Systems Engineering Department at Lehigh University. Researcher on Conic Optimization, Inventory Theory, Supply Chain Management and Simulation. Blog: sertalpbilal.com