INFORMS Open Forum

What's Your StORy? August 2015

  • 1.  What's Your StORy? August 2015

    Posted 08-03-2015 16:00

    Introducing Alan Briggs, this month's "What's Your StORy?"

    Enjoy the Q&A below and feel free to ask more questions on this thread. If you are interested in participating, please contact me or Mary Leszczynski (

    What's Your StORy?

    Alan BriggsAlan Briggs
    Project Manager & Data Scientist, Elder Research

    INFORMS member since 2011

    What has been your best INFORMS experience?
    I’d have to say my best INFORMS experience was attending the INFORMS Professional Colloquium. It was the first INFORMS activity I participated in when I attended the 2011 Analytics Conference in Chicago. I’ve been privileged to participate in helping plan the event every year since, and have seen first-hand a number of careers transformed just as mine was. It’s such a fantastic way to help students get involved with INFORMS and transition from academia into the practice of advanced analytics and OR.

    What is your favorite method of visualizing data?
    I really love the way network graphs look and the insight you can gain through simple observation. I remember exporting nodes and edges from one of the social media sites I use and importing them into an open-source graph visualization tool (Gephi). Using a force directed graph algorithm, it was interesting to see how my early life is [and isn’t] connected to my life today (see below).

    What have you done to improve your data analytics knowledge in the past year?
    I’m fortunate that there is a thriving data community here in the DC Metro area. I really enjoy plugging in with other data scientists and analytics practitioners through Meetups and other informal events (there’s plenty of OR folks there as well). More formally, I did part of a Coursera course, attended a variety of industry trainings, and did some independent study on a couple topics of interest. For me, the key to improving data analytics knowledge has been to keep an open ear for interesting applications and then mapping it back to a problem I’m familiar with.

    Why did you become a CAP and how has it helped your career?
    The Certified Analytics Professional designation is something I’m really proud of. To be perfectly honest, I wanted to get it done early, fearing it would only get harder to attain as the program grew. Elder Research really delighted in my achievement and they’ve made a point to recognize me both internally and externally. Since completing the certification last year, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how much it’s served as a conversation starter—people want to know what those initials are on my business card, and I’m eager to tell them.

    What is your favorite O.R. application?
    I love logistics problems—facility location, vehicle routing—basically, anything involving getting something from point A to B. Shortly after graduating from college, I began working at UPS and spent almost a decade there in a variety of different roles. Even though I’ve changed careers into a completely different industry, I’d say I still approach problems from the perspective of a logistics engineer.

    What interest do you have outside of work that might surprise us?
    Before moving to the DC Metro area, I resolved that I wouldn’t take for granted all this city has to offer. I’m always out and about dragging my wonderful daughter from museum to museum, park to park, and event to event. I’m also a [barely] budding foodie.

    Which INFORMS journal do you read the most? Why?
    I would have to say Operations Research is the journal I read the most. While Transportation Science is more relevant to my graduate coursework, I like that Operations Research represents the true breadth of methodologies and applications that define our field.

    What is your spirit animal?
    The moose, Alces alces, of course. In the early 90s I went on a canoe camping trip to Northern Minnesota with high hopes of seeing a real-life moose. Although I never saw one on that first trip, I returned years later for a summer job in college and finally got to see one.


    Kara Tucker
    Production Editor/Marketing Content Specialist
    Catonsville MD

  • 2.  RE: What's Your StORy? August 2015

    Posted 08-30-2015 14:44

    Alan: What Coursera course did you take? What value did you get from it?

    For anyone else: what online courses or tutorials have you found valuable in your careers?

    John Clifford
    Senior Research Scientist
    Alexandria VA

  • 3.  RE: What's Your StORy? August 2015

    Posted 09-01-2015 07:37

    Thanks for the note, John. The course was not actually through Coursera, but it was through Stanford's free online course program offering called Lagunita. It's like Coursera, but exclusively for Stanford material. Last year, Trevor Hastie and Rob Tibshirani offered a course in Statistical Learning. My schedule got a little hectic and I ended the course before its conclusion, however, the content and delivery were really fantastic. Definitely first rate! Here's the link:

    Have you done a MOOC before, John?

    Best Regards,


    Alan Briggs
    Data Scientist
    Elder Research, Inc.
    Odenton MD

  • 4.  RE: What's Your StORy? August 2015

    Posted 09-02-2015 07:03

    All fellow members,,

    Yes, I highly recommend the course .. while I could not take it sooner, and got in the last half , so I have not completed. The course material is excellent commensurate with Stanfrod U. Both Trevor Hastie and Rob Tibshirani made it extremely student friendly and down to earth material. I hope to continue and complete the next offering.

    Chandrasekhara Ganti
    Operations Research Analyst/ Applied Statistician
    Independent Consulting
    Franklin MA

  • 5.  RE: What's Your StORy? August 2015

    Posted 09-03-2015 07:31

    Alan: thank you for the info.  I have never taken a MOOC, but I have taken a few TCOCs (tiny closed online courses <grin> ). The courses were in national security strategy from an online-only university, and the focus of the online part was student interaction rather than the instruction. We had one or two discussion questions each week: post your answer and then comment on other students' answers. The instructor provided an outline of the week's learning objectives, assigned readings, provided a short summary of them, and assigned/graded research papers. My experiences seem different from what little I know about MOOCs.

    Chandrasekhara: thank you for the feedback on the course.

    I imagine that both of you had trouble fitting a MOOC into your busy schedules. How did you weigh the pros and cons of an instructor-paced MOOC vs. some kind of self study? 

    Being "forced" to keep up with the rest of the class seems both good and bad. I have started a completely self-paced course that doesn't seem to become urgent enough with enough frequency for me to finish. (I need to do some work on staying in the 2 "important" quadrants  of the four-quadrant model and staying out of the urgent-but-not-important quadrant.)

    John Clifford
    Senior Research Scientist
    Alexandria VA