Promoting operational research in Plymouth

Last Wednesday (November 8th) there was a STEM Careers Fair at the University of Plymouth.  The O.R. Society (ORS) had booked a stand, and appealed for volunteers to run it.  Juggling my diary, I decided to say "Yes" and Tina said that she would come too.  Then we discovered that we would be the only people on the stand.  The ORS sent us briefing notes, and had provided literature and publicity materials which we would find in Plymouth when we arrived to set up.  For the rest of it, we could manage without further forward planning.
First decision: how to get there?  The railway timetable was inconvenient; leave the house at 7:45 for the train, arrive in Plymouth with far too much time to spare, or leave at 9:00 and arrive with 10 minutes to set up.  Decision; don't go by rail.  Bus is a little better, except that the fast bus leaves from the edge of Exeter and we would have to drive and park to catch it.  Don't go by bus.  That leaves the car: but where to park?  Fortunately, there is a park-and-ride site convenient for travellers from Exeter, but we had never used it and didn't know how full it would be after the morning rush hour.  We knew that we could resort to a city centre car park if need be.  Decision made.
Somebody had done some good analysis and Coypool car park (Park and Ride) had plenty of spare space even though most office workers would have been there much earlier than us.  Was it O.R. that did this?  Or an engineer using O.R. tools?  The bus service had a timetable that changed at 9:20 from "every 12 minutes" to "every 20 minutes".  The 9:20 bus was late, but would not accept our free bus pass even though it was 9:30 when they become valid.  He made a forecast: the next bus will be just as quick.  Wrong, he didn't use O.R. forecasting tools!  But the 9:40 bus was on time, we found the room, our kit and set up the stand.

Here we are on the Operational Research Ociety stand
Unfortunately, the iron-on letter "S" fell off the cloth as we unrolled it.
We set out literature and some key-rings and pens on the desk, took a selfie and sent it to the ORS office, and watched as other stands were set up.  The ORS was one of two professional bodies at the fair, there were a few recruitment agencies, and a lot of STEM businesses, most with links to Devon and Cornwall, or to the maritime industry - you can see the Royal Navy stand in the background.  Other stands had free gifts; many had sweets, branded pens, desk toys, memory sticks, plastic or cloth shopping bags,  ...
From 11 to 3 we had a steady stream of students interested in what we were promoting.  The careers fair literature had said that people from biochemistry backgrounds, and from maritime studies could go into O.R., and so several conversations were about the interdisciplinary nature of the profession.  But more than half of those who came were doing maths or computer science, and these had a little idea about the techniques of O.R..  One was writing a routine to solve the Travelling Salesman Problem in the R language (the results might be interesting!).  We emailed one of the statistics staff who had - we learnt - promoted O.R. in her classes, and had a very useful conversation with her.
The poster for the stand asked "How would you design a Sat Nav?" and one visitor knew about shortest path algorithms.  Generally we talked about the data requirements for a Sat Nav, the algorithms and the communications links, all ideas which the mathematicians and computing students could relate to.
There were other topics which came up; a psychology student wanted to talk about the relevance of her subject.  A student who worked part-time for a department store with many branches wanted to know how O.R. fitted into that business (I have asked the ORS to contact their head office about it) and several people asked about O.R. in transport - being so far from London, people in Plymouth are very aware of the rail fares set by revenue management models.
At the end of the day we were exhausted, and we had spoken with 40-50 students as ambassadors for O.R.; maybe half a dozen will end up in organisations where O.R. is used, and hopefully, will be more aware of the power of "The science of better"


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