Vivek Farias did not seek out a career in operations research (OR); instead, the electrical engineer “fell into” the field while in graduate school, when he needed to use OR tools to conduct his research.
“I found more and more that OR just happened to be a name for a bunch of things that I thought were very valuable,” he recalls. “Here’s a set of tools, ideas, and problems that are broadly applicable to the world. I found that notion really exciting.”
Now the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Associate Professor at MIT, Farias teaches and researches OR topics, specifically dynamic optimization in the face of uncertainty—a concept that has enthralled him since his days as an undergraduate building record-beating computer players for the game of Tetris. <- Edited.
Farias’ research in approximate dynamic programming has tangible applications in such diverse fields as finance and health care. And his work in high dimensional statistics has far-reaching applications in marketing, e-commerce, and retail—in fact, it led to his co-founding a company, Celect, which offers retail analytics for merchandise planning and assortment optimization; he currently serves as Celect’s chief technology officer.
Farias is quick to point out how his entrepreneurship enhances his teaching and researching at the ORC.
“I’m exposed to the actual problems — as opposed to problems I make up in my office. This informs the research I’m doing with students, and they benefit from these real-world scenarios.”