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Preparing for Ph.D. Programs in Operations Research

Pursuing a Ph.D. in Operations Research is an exciting, rewarding, and challenging experience. The Operations Research and Engineering (OR&E) major at Cornell can be tailored to prepare students for rigorous Ph.D. programs in Operations Research.

Beyond classes, our department offers many opportunities to prepare for a Ph.D. program and to become a more competitive applicant. We encourage students to start by discussing their interest in graduate programs with their advisor and other faculty in the department. OR&E alumni who are now in Ph.D. programs have given the following advice:

  • Talk to your advisor early and often: Talk to your academic advisor about your aspirations as early as possible, and work with them to choose electives that will prepare you for Ph.D. programs. They will also be able to provide advice about other opportunities, including research experiences.
  • Build relationships with faculty: In addition to your advisor, other faculty in the department are a great resource for getting advice. One way to start building relationships is to attend their office hours and discuss material from their classes that you find interesting.
  • Choose electives that build mathematical maturity: Ph.D. programs in OR are mathematically rigorous. The Mathematics of Operations Research track suggests courses in ORIE, CS, and Math that will help build the requisite skills. It is important to become comfortable writing and reading proofs; Math 4130 (Honors Introduction to Analysis I) and 4330 (Honors Linear Algebra) are strongly recommended courses for doing so. To prepare for these courses, consider taking Math 3040 (Prove It!) and/or CS 2800 (Discrete Structures), both of which can count towards the fourth Engineering Core mathematics requirement or can be taken in place of Physics 2214. You might also consider minoring in mathematics.
  • Get experience with research: Talk to your advisor and other professors about summer research programs off campus or within the department. To broaden your exposure to leading research, consider attending ORIE colloquium or conferences such as the INFORMS Annual Meeting.
  • Develop depth in an area of OR: Use electives to gain a better understanding of an area of Operations Research that you find especially compelling. You might consider taking M.Eng. or Ph.D. courses in that area. ORIE 6300, 6500, and 6700 form the basis of Cornell ORIE’s Ph.D. course requirements, and you might consider trying one during your senior year.
  • Get involved with the INFORMS student chapter: The Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS) is the professional association for OR professionals. Getting involved with INFORMS and attending an INFORMS conference is a great way to see how OR is used in practice, and see what OR research is like.