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Operations Research PhD Decisions


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Considering offers from Stanford MS&E, Cornell ORIE, Berkeley IEOR, Northwestern IEMS.

Thought I would go to Stanford in a heartbeat, but not a great research fit and less professors in OR that I am excited about. Current student told me it's not a great place to be if you're still unsure about your research topic and want to explore more. 

Cornell seems like a great program, small department, good research fit. Not sure about student placement though, more seem to be headed to industry than academia. Also relatively low ranked, though I'm not sure if the rankings really mean much.

My undergraduate professor told me Berkeley has a great program, but has had funding issues lately.

I'm indifferent to location.

Any thoughts, advice? Anyone have thoughts on Cornell?

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@myh Hi.. among these 4 (and in general too), Berkeley and Stanford have the strongest programs. Based on my interaction with students from both programs, I have observed that Stanford's program tends to be more slanted towards CS. If you observe, quite a few Stanford MS&E professors have PhD in CS. I felt that many students at Stanford were unhappy because they perceive themselves as being second fiddle to CS - they try to do work that appeals to a CS audience, but obviously they cannot be as good as a CS-proper program.

Berkeley on the other hand is a bit more theoretically inclined. They primarily stick to optimization, but also foray into "newer" and applied areas like data mining, network flows, power grids, robotics etc. I feel that these projects are oriented towards both general OR/CS as well as domain specific audience. I think they try to see how an OR perspective adds to a problem in data mining or robotics, as opposed to doing low quality work in data mining or robotics. So you'll see a lot more collaboration, and multiple PI names on the paper. I think this is a good middle ground to retain the theoretical rigor of OR, but at the same time get exposure to newer and "hotter" research areas.

It is true that Berkeley on the whole, and IEOR in particular had a funding crunch some years (3-4) back. However, they have recovered gracefully. I believe they have given fellowship offers to all students this year (a college told me), and 100% of students have got full funding for the past 3 years or so. They even got a part of new building (CITRIS) and renovated their main building. You shouldn't be worried about funding, but do make sure with the program manager.

I am only familiar with Peter Frazier at Cornell who does interesting work. However, both Berkeley and Stanford can offer more in nearly every metric than what Cornell can offer you. I'd recommend that you choose one of these two. If you want to do more applied work at interface of CS, Stanford is likely a better option. If you want to do more mathematically grounded work, have a shot at faculty positions, but also do some applied projects from time to time, Berkeley is the best option.

Edited by Dawnbreaker
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@Dawnbreaker That's a very insightful comment! Do you happen to know much about these places: Wharton OID, Kellogg OM, USC ISE, and CMU Tepper OR/OM. I'm mostly considering the first two.

@myh Congratulations on those offers! Stanford MS&E is my ideal place, but I did not make it. ^^"

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