Operations research analysis may be among the top degrees for the highest-paying business careers, but the discipline puts a heavy emphasis on mathematics. If you choose to major in operations research, or to pursue an operations research analyst career with a different academic background, then you should expect to take considerable courses in areas of mathematics such as statistics, algebra and calculus. You should also take relevant courses outside of mathematics, such as computer science, engineering, economics and political science.

Is There a Particular Area of Math That I Will Use More in the Field of Operations Research?

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Statistics and Probability

Aspiring operations research analysts must do more than touch on the basics of statistics. They must know the concepts and applications of statistical analysis methods inside and out, because they will use these complex mathematical methods daily in their careers. A basic statistical analysis course will usually cover the properties of categorical and continuous variables used in statistical analysis, scales of measurement, the Central Limit Theorem that establishes normal distribution of data and methods of testing scientific hypotheses. Further coursework throughout the operations research curriculum will go into much greater depth and complexity on topics like multivariate data analysis, statistical modeling and simulation, stochastic models, linear regression and statistical methods for quality control improvement.

Students of an operations research degree program should expect to take upper-division courses in statistics, such as probability concepts and theories, probability for data science and game theory. Some programs include specialized statistics courses, such as probability and risk analysis for engineers or engineering statistics, quality control and forecasting.

Statistics and probability are closely related branches of mathematics, but they’re not the same. Statistics applies analytical methods to data from past occurrences, while probability is the theoretical approach of forecasting future events based on data from the past.

Algebra

How often will you ever really use algebra? If you become an operations research analyst, your knowledge of algebra will come into play frequently. Lower-division courses in linear algebra and differential equations are common in operations research degree programs. The concepts and methods used in linear algebra provide the underpinnings for most branches of mathematics, which is why learning the foundations of linear algebra early on in the curriculum is necessary for success in later coursework in more complicated branches of mathematics. Courses in advanced linear algebra can help students build upon that foundational knowledge.

In your algebra courses, you can expect to study topics like vector spaces, matrices, quadratic forms and linear first-order and second-order differential equations.

Calculus

Calculus is a discipline of mathematics that allows for the quantitative study of change. Understanding changes in data is integral to your work as an operations research analyst. If those changes are an intentional result of changes in business decisions and strategies, you need to calculate the extent of the change and how it lines up with expectations, as well as its consequences. If not, the company will be relying on you to guide its response to those changes, which will likely include interpreting the cause of those changes.

Students of an operations research program often take multiple calculus classes. You might begin your major coursework with a sequence of courses that cover the basics of college-level calculus and follow it up with studies in multivariable calculus.

The principles of stochastic calculus, which allows for the modeling of data in systems act randomly, are used in quantitative fields like financial engineering.

Beyond Math Courses

Although statistics, algebra and calculus are probably the most important courses for operations research analysts, this career field is multidisciplinary enough to require courses in other fields, too, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. One area of particular interest is computer science. Since so much of statistical analysis is done by computer software applications, operations research analysts need to know how to use these applications and, to a lesser extent, how to program. You will likely need to take an introductory class in computer science or computer programming. Learning to use programming languages like R and Python is valuable for anyone studying the general field of business analytics.

Although you may think of engineers as innovating in labs or developing bridges, vehicles and electronic devices, there’s a lot of overlap between operations research analysis and the field of industrial engineering. Many courses you may take in subjects like algorithmic decision-making or in decision-making in industrial and service systems fit into the discipline of industrial engineering, including classes on industrial and commercial data systems, manufacturing improvement methods and decision analytics.

Operations research analysis is a highly quantitative field, but it also requires you to analyze qualitative data, as well. Studies in economics, political science and business can all prove beneficial in approaching this career field, the BLS reported.

Additional Resources

What Is the Salary Potential for Someone With an Operations Research Degree?

What Is the Benefit of a Mathematics Degree vs an Operations Research Degree?

What Are Some Typical Types of Jobs Someone With a Bachelor’s in Operations Research Do?