Hi all,

I'm entering the second year of my PhD, and I find myself asking, "do I really know whats going on in OR?", to which I feel the answer is "no" to a certain degree, and that doesn't seem right. I want to address this, but I don't know the most efficient way to do so.

One thought is to mark in my calendar the dates new high-impact journals (OR, MS, MOR, etc.) come out and set aside time to read through all the abstracts. But surely I'm going to find myself reading a fair bit I don't care about, as well as missing things published elsewhere (or not even in journals at all) - some things end up as preprints distributed on websites, or are only at conferences. Which journals I read as well seems problematic - its probably best to read some things I'm not explicitly interested in as they may provide inspiration or ideas I can explore or use in current work. This is all somewhat contradictory - there is a trade-off here.

There are many academics on OR-X, so I'd be interested to hear how you "keep up" with the state-of-the-art - a calendar-based approach, RSS feeds, blogs? How do you sample areas outside your core interests?

To make this question more generally useful, I'd love to hear from practitioners - how do you try and stay roughly current (less important to be on the cutting edge)

This is not completely specific to OR, so please forgive that. Also of interest are the related questions:

Operations Research Journals RSS List

What are the recommended Operations Research journals?

asked 03 Oct '12, 21:09

Iain%20Dunning's gravatar image

Iain Dunning
accept rate: 33%

edited 04 Oct '12, 01:11

Great question, makes us all ask "well, do we know what is going on in OR?", and the answer is probably "no".

I am an academic.

I believe that you already respect the most important rule: read, read, read. And once you are done with this: read more.

You probably don't have to mark the publication dates of journals any longer in your calender these days, as there are "content alert" features you can subscribe to for the journals you think are relevant [no, we should not discuss here, which are relevant...]. When you are an academic, you are probably not a "general OR researcher", but you are specialized in some field, and even keeping up-to-date in your field is hard. Google from time to time your key words for new preprints [google scholar's "updates" can automatize this for you to some extend as well]. Attend conferences and: talk, talk, talk. About what you do, and to peers in your field. Ask your adviser how she/he keeps up-to-date. Speak with your PhD colleagues about "news". Does not sound as "organized" as you suggest, but maybe it only tells you about me that I am not too organized in these things myself. Maybe I should have asked this question, and you already gave the answer.

All this helps to explore the "familiar" areas, but (great question, again!) how to explore new areas? To me (besides speaking with peers at conferences etc.), it actually helped to read a bit what others say, here are ORX, but also on twitter, and twitter again often links to interesting blogs. Websites of professional societies like INFORMS may help, too. Doing this, I picked up some words I did not think about years ago, like "analytics", "machine learning", "big data", and so on. I don't know whether I want to dig into all these, but at least I know that some people think there is some activity which should not be ignored.

Last: this is an almost undoable task that will ruin you if you feel too much pressure on "I need to know everything". Be open to new things, but accept that it will probably not kill you if you "miss" a trend or an important general result. When it is really important it will get to you sooner or later anyway. The only topic you really need to research very often is the topic of your thesis, because everyone will expect that you really "know everything" there. Read, read, read, ...


answered 04 Oct '12, 04:06

Marco%20Luebbecke's gravatar image

Marco Luebbecke ♦
accept rate: 16%


I gave this answer one up-vote. I'd give it another if I could. Worrying too much about staying "up to date" will drive you bonkers (not to mention reducing you social life to a faint memory).

(04 Oct '12, 16:58) Paul Rubin ♦♦

thanks, @Paul, this is very kind of you.

(05 Oct '12, 04:31) Marco Luebbecke ♦

Couldn't agree more with Paul's sentiment. During my Ph.D., I was a paper-reading machine. But staying up-to-date only helped my research marginally; in fact in some ways it actually hindered it because having too much information kept me from having original thoughts (I was subconsciously constrained by others' results). Also, the bulk of the papers out there don't have very much new to say, It's a case of diminishing returns. I think my time would have been better spent trying to understand nuances of a few "classic"/highly recommended papers, and then developing my own thinking from there.

(05 Oct '12, 11:00) Gilead ♦

Besides the points offered by @Marco and @yeesian, I can offer the following points:

  1. Create search alerts for main keywords in your research area: Google would do this for you easily. But as you're in an academic institution, you probably have access to ISI Web of Knowledge and Scopus as major database indexers. In addition, many journal databases offer search alert services. Although, Google has the advantage of finding research reports not published yet, but the commercial options are usually offering better specific search features.

  2. Browsing TOCs of new issues of the main OR-related journals is a good way to keep yourself familiar with the general advances in the literature. One way is to use RSS feeds, but you could also subscribe to new issue TOC alert offered by journals and publishers.

  3. Using online databases for pipeline research (research not published yet) such as Optimization Online and its monthly digest is very useful.

  4. Try keeping notes of interesting papers in your field that you came across. Keeping the notes organized on your computer or tablet would be better for future references.

  5. Find the main scholars in your area and check their homepages and research groups to find out what they are doing and what their current and future projects are. Also, you might find the draft version of their working papers or recently submitted papers there.


answered 04 Oct '12, 11:04

Ehsan's gravatar image

Ehsan ♦
accept rate: 16%

edited 04 Oct '12, 11:45

I pay attention to the following:

What I currently 'know'

See also: How effective is the tendrils of knowledge approach to computer science?

My level of comfort with a topic will influence the willingness with which I'm willing to read a paper/follow a discussion. And I've found taking classes to be an effective way of being introduced to a topic I'll otherwise struggle with. Otherwise, if you can find a peer/mentor/advisor who's willing to guide you along, get them to introduce you to the area: it'll be alot more effective than randomly/arbitrarily reading papers which you happen to come across.

Existing (software) tools/libraries

Tracing people's github profiles, checking out the opensource libraries they contribute to, following their blogs, google groups discussion (for the projects you care about), reading the papers their implementations link to, etc can be a pretty effective way of keeping your feet grounded on what's relevant/current/lacking.


Being aware of the different conferences available, as well as their calls for papers, might give you some indication of the areas that are currently 'hot'. More importantly, get to know the people who actually attend such conferences, their current areas of research, etc. Above all, recognise the ways with which people build communities around the conferences they attend, opensource projects they contribute to, online forums they participate in, blogs they follow, etc.

While they are not exhaustive ways of keeping up with research, and it is alot more individual/personal than it sounds, the above are ways in which I have a steady stream of information coming in. With RSS, I occasionally try to categorise my feeds, and to prune old ones/add new ones.

You might also want to check out: Academia StackExchange


answered 04 Oct '12, 03:47

yeesian's gravatar image

accept rate: 3%

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Asked: 03 Oct '12, 21:09

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Last updated: 05 Oct '12, 11:05

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