Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Becoming an Operations Research Newsmaker Through the Media

A few years ago, at the INFORMS Charlotte conference, there was a terrific (I am a bit biased, I admit) panel entitled: Becoming an O.R./Analytics Newsmaker, that I even wrote a blogpost on because I thought the tips on dealing with the media were definitely worth preserving and sharing,

Joining me, as panelists, were: Jack Levis of UPS, Dr. Margaret Brandeau of Stanford, and Dr. Sheldon Jacobson of the University of Illinois. The panelists have had experience with major news outlets, including the Associate Press, radio shows, TV programs, and documentaries. Barry List, the Communications Director of INFORMS at that time, had organized the panel and Peter Horner, the Editor of OR/MS Today, was also present. The panelists are all (now) INFORMS Fellows.

What I have learned, in addition, since that panel, based on experiences that I have had is:

1.  You never know when you might be contacted by the media, so always be prepared. It might be for a story that a journalist needs to finish with a tight deadline. When I was at Oxford University as a Visiting Fellow, for example, and in London to give a talk at Imperial College in June 2016, I received a message late at night from a journalist in Canada, who had heard of the talk on cybersecurity that I had given at the University of Waterloo and wanted my impressions on ransomware. We had a phone conversation and his article was published before midnight.

2. Sometimes you may have to wait weeks for an interview, as I recently experienced. First, I was asked if I was available to be interviewed on disaster management at 11:30PM on the same night that I was flying back from our INFORMS conference in Houston (October 25, 2017) so I, graciously, declined. There were some negotiations for another time and, this past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Terry Gilberg, who is the host and Executive Producer of the radio show Think!America. That interview aired this past weekend and it is 22 minutes into last Saturday's show, which can be accessed here. She was intrigued by the article I had written in The Conversation: Response to natural disasters like Harvey could be helped with game theory and wanted me on her show.  I enjoyed the interview a lot and she even followed up with a nice phone call to my Isenberg School office!

In late August I was interviewed by Angela Kokott for her radio show in Calgary, Canada, also on my research with collaborators on disaster relief and game theory.

3. In many cases (such as 2 above) one may not get questions ahead of time so you have to be creative and anticipate the kinds of questions that you might be asked. Always be ready with one or two strong takeaway messages!  In contrast, last July, while I was a Summer Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, I was interviewed for the Matt Townsend Radio Show on Infrastructure Spending. One of the producers had sent me sample questions ahead of time and I was really pumped. The script was not very closely followed, but it did provide a framework. Townsend, as Gilberg and Kokott, are fabulous interviewers - very dynamic and provocative and I enjoyed these interviews tremendously.

4. And last winter, after my article: Uncertainty in blood supply chains creating challenges for the industry was published, I was contacted by our local NPR radio station for a segment: America's Blood Economy. My interviewer was Karen Brown and you get read the interview transcript here. 
For this interview, I had to show up in the recording studio, which was on caampus and very convenient.

5. A few years earlier, after  speaking on a panel at the AAAS meeting in Washington DC, I was contacted by a journalist in Italy and ended up talking about the Braess paradox on Italian radio! 

You can see from the above examples (and I have more, including experiences on TV shows and documentaries that I have been part of), that if you share your Operations Research in print outlets or even give good talks, news can be picked up by media outlets. So, do keep that great research going and try to disseminate it further since that is how you can broaden the impact.

Your university might also be able to help or sometimes even the publisher of the journal in which your exciting research has appeared but, honestly, it is also up to you. And, it can be very rewarding, fun, and also a great way in which to grow professionally.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Wildfire Fuel Management and Operations Research: Fabulous Talk by Prof. Dmytro Matsypura from Australia

This has been a truly amazing week!

We not only celebrated the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter receiving the Magna Cum Laude Award from INFORMS at the recent conference in Houston, but we also hosted  Dr. Dmytro Matsypura from the School of Business at the University of Sydney in Australia!

Dr. Matsypura was my former doctoral student at the Isenberg School and received his PhD in 2006, with a concentration in Management Science. He is now a tenured Senior Lecturer (equivalent to a tenured Associate Professor) and has been recognized for his exceptional teaching with awards.  He is also a Center Associate at the Supernetwork Center at the Isenberg School. Below is the notice for the talk that he delivered yesterday which was outstanding!
Dr. Matsypura spoke on his latest research on a topic of great relevance -- that of wildfire fuel management. The talk was based on an article with the same title, which is literally, "hot off the press" and published in the European Journal of Operational Research, volume 264(2), 2018, pp. 774-796.  The article was co-authored by Professor Oleg A. Prokopyev of the University of Pittsburgh, and an undergraduate student of Matsypura's: Aizat Zahar, who is from Malaysia and has since graduated.

Dr. Matsypura had the audience at the edges of their seats as he spoke about the number of wildfires in the past year in the US, and in Canada (over 50,000 each with millions of hectares burned) and how the model he constructed with Prokopyev and Zahar can assist in prescribed burning, while taking into consideration not only the biology of the fuel provided by the vegetation in the region, but also zones, and how often the prescribed burning takes place. He described in a very eloquent and commanding way the nonlinear equations underlying the model and how they can be linearized; how  graphs can be used to represent zones in a region, and the role that network interdiction plays. I absolutely loved the way in which he presented different objective functions that the authors had explored and how this impacted the solutions as well as the computational results. In addition, he described a heuristic that was very effective.

Dr. Matsypura noted that there are very few papers in this area and even mentioned that we can learn a lot from aborigines as to how to do prescribed burning. Australia has been doing prescribed burns for 30-40 years now and the goal is to burn on purpose so as to remove "fuel" and to do it sustainably.

He made some very quotable statements including one of my favorites - how we sometimes may need "less complexity - more usability."

The paper I am sure will be very highly cited and he has already spoken with practitioners in both Australia and the US (Montana)  on the results that he has obtained. His talk was an example of how a passion for an important application can drive great Operations Research in terms of model and methodological advances.

We first welcomed him with a dinner on Thursday evening.
On Friday, Dr. Tony Butterfield, who had been the PhD Program Director at the Isenberg School, when Dmytro matriculated, stopped by to give him a hug.
We also managed to take the photo below in the Supernetwork Lab with several of my Doctoral Student Center Associates, including Deniz Besik and Mojtaba Salarpour.
The turnout for his talk was excellent and it even made the UMass Amherst homepage!
I was surprised and delighted when even Professor Amir H. Masoumi, also a former doctoral student of mine, and an Isenberg PhD alum, who is now a Professor at the School of Business at Manhattan College in NYC, showed up! And there was even a guest from the United Nations in NYC.
We then took Dr. Matsypura to lunch at the UMass Amherst University Club, where the food and conversation were terrific. Dr. Masoumi also joined us as did my doctoral students, including Pritha Dutta.
And, in the afternoon, Professor Jose M. Cruz, of the School of Business at UConn, stopped by the Supernetworks Lab. Jose was also one of my doctoral students and a contemporary of Dmytro's and is a great friend of his.
This was a talk and a visit to remember - inspiring, energizing, and very impressive. The UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter also conducted a video interview with Dr. Matsypura and when it gets posted we will certainly let you know!

Thanks to an Isenberg School of Management PhD alum and Supernetwork Center Associate whose research and teaching are making a big impact and difference!