What Is Operations Research?

Female Operations research specialist giving presentation in office

Do you enjoy working with numbers and other forms of raw data? Do you have an analytical mind with strong attention to detail? Then you may find that a career in operations research is a great choice for you. What is operations research? Get the answer here, and find out what a typical operations research analyst job description looks like.

What Does an Operations Research Analyst Do?

The decisions that executives face every day have the potential to make or break a company. Into which international market should they consider expanding? Is a particular product line going to be profitable, or will it be a drain on the company’s resources? Do they need to hire more workers?

A smart executive is not able to make impactful decisions for an organization without first considering all the data available about a particular issue. Yet, executives are also busy professionals who typically do not have time to sort through raw data themselves. That is where operations research comes into play.

An operations research analyst is a data expert who knows how to compile and sift through large amounts of raw data in order to generate crucial insights that will inform the direction of an organization and the decisions executives make. Smart applications of operations research can help businesses reduce costs and improve operational efficiency, while capitalizing on consumer trends.

Operations research is applicable across a wide range of industries and subfields. Military planners used its principles during World War II, but today, you will find it at work in everything from the transportation and logistics fields to manufacturing, and even healthcare.

A Look at a Typical Operations Research Analyst Job Description

An operations research analyst applies mathematical principles and logic to raw data in order to recommend solutions to business challenges. A day in the life of one of these professionals will depend heavily on the type of organization they work for and the particular challenges that company is facing. In general, however, an operations research analyst might perform any of the following tasks:

  • Identify organizational challenges and compile related data from a range of sources
  • Liaise with workers, customers or subject matter experts to gather first-person insights
  • Organize the collected data and analyze it using quantitative methods, sophisticated software and analytics tools
  • Develop written reports on the findings and recommended solutions or decisions
  • Present findings to executives and other stakeholders

An operations research analyst will not necessarily present just one solution to a business challenge. It is ideal to present a range of solutions and to explain the potential benefits and drawbacks of each one. This helps executives make smarter decisions.

Operations Research Analysts Work Across Industries

Where can operations research analysts work? Since all types of organizations rely on data analytics to make informed decisions, operations research analysts can work across industries and fields. You will find them in the following:

  • Finance
  • Insurance
  • Manufacturing
  • Logistics
  • Transportation
  • Scientific services
  • Healthcare

You will even find operations research analysts working for federal government agencies (e.g., the Department of Defense) via private consulting firms. These professionals may need to obtain a security clearance if they work with sensitive information.

How to Become an Operations Research Analyst

If you are interested in becoming an operations research analyst and are still in high school, talk to your guidance counselor about adding relevant courses to your schedule. Classes such as computer science, computer applications, and advanced mathematics will be valuable for you, as will any business and management-related courses.

After high school, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree. A technical or business-related degree is ideal. Following graduation, you may decide to acquire a few years of professional work experience in an entry-level position before returning to school to earn a master’s degree in business analytics.

Earn a Relevant Undergraduate Degree

Following high school, the first step toward becoming an operations research analyst is to earn a relevant undergraduate degree. There is considerable flexibility regarding the type of bachelor’s degree you can earn. An operations research analyst might have an academic background in any of the following fields:

  • Computer science
  • Mathematics
  • Engineering
  • Business and management
  • Data analytics

While you are working toward your degree, take the opportunity to pursue job shadowing, internship, and part-time positions that are relevant to your career aspirations. The career services department on your campus can assist you with locating and applying to these positions. As important as academic credentials are, it is also crucial to build your professional network and acquire real-world experience.

Earn a Graduate-Level Business Analytics Degree

It is possible to find work as an operations research analyst with a bachelor’s degree alone. However, you are likely to discover that many employers prefer or require that their job candidates possess a graduate degree as well. After acquiring a couple of years of professional experience, you could head back to school to earn your master’s degree.

Aspiring operations research analysts will typically earn a graduate degree in business analytics. You have two main options:

What is the difference between an MS and an MBA in Business Analytics, and which one should you choose? One of them is not necessarily better than the other; they are both excellent choices. The right degree for you depends on your particular interests, strengths and career aspirations.

An MBA in Business Analytics focuses on applied knowledge. You will study all the technical aspects of business analytics in classes that cover the following:

  • Data mining techniques for extracting data patterns from large data sets, with a look at inferential techniques for interpretation and recommended application
  • Foundational data analytics concepts, such as predictive analysis using industry tools
  • Advanced analytics techniques, such as prescriptive analytics to identify and develop solutions intended to address key business issues
  • Descriptive and diagnostic analytics to identify business challenges and uncover their root causes

As you can see, this curriculum is quite technical and hands-on. It is an ideal way to prepare for a rewarding career as an operations research analyst.

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is an equally viable choice, but it may take your career in a different direction. Every MBA, regardless of its concentration (e.g., business analytics) will focus on foundational concepts in business leadership, organizational science, finance principles and operations management. However, you will also take courses in your concentration, such as descriptive and diagnostic analytics.

In short, an MBA program will focus on the competencies you will need to become an effective and ethical business leader, while also offering some technical skills in data analytics. You could still become an operations research analyst with an MBA in Business Analytics. However, earning an MBA as opposed to an MS may also position you to pursue a higher-level career as an executive who is responsible for making data-informed decisions.

Are Operations Research Analysts in High Demand?

Yes, it is a great time to consider pursuing this career, as these professionals are in high demand, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. As of September 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for operations research analysts will increase by about 25% from 2020 to 2030, faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 25,600 jobs in the field.1

You can combine your passion for business analytics with your future goals when you apply to Grand Canyon University. In addition to our wide range of relevant undergraduate degrees, you can choose from graduate-level programs designed to nurture your analytical reasoning and critical thinking abilities. Consider applying to the Master of Business Administration with an Emphasis in Business Analytics degree or the Master of Science in Business Analytics program at GCU.


1COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on September 2021, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Operations Research Analysts


Approved by Full Time Faculty for the Colangelo College of Business on Nov. 3, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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