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How to Become an Operations Research Analyst

Massive amounts of data are created every day with each click of a mouse or tap of a phone’s touch screen. In fact, International Data Corporation predicts the amount of global data will reach 175 zettabytes (that’s 175 followed by 21 zeros) by 2025. Powerful computers that can handle enormous amounts of data and improved data storage have made it possible to manage this data faster and more efficiently. Companies and organizations understand that big data can lead to big opportunities, which is where operations research analysts come in.

Operations research analysts offer insight to organization leaders and stakeholders that enable them to increase productivity and efficiency. Imagine knowing which customers are buying certain products in particular locations of a supermarket, or what days and times most customers shop. Armed with this type of information, leaders could make better purchasing plans and product stocking decisions, and schedule staff based on predicted peak shopping times.

Operations research analysts can provide these critical insights. But how do you become an operations research analyst? Individuals interested in gaining the necessary skills for a career in the field may benefit from pursuing an advanced degree, such as a master’s in data science.

An operations research analyst works on his laptop.

What does an operations research analyst do?

Operations research analysts use mathematical and analytical methods to solve problems and issues using vast amounts of data. They use methods such as big data mining, statistical analysis, and mathematical modeling to find solutions to key operational problems.

Big data mining is an advanced type of analytics that involves examining data — from websites, social media, or any sensor or device that collects data — to uncover trends or patterns.

Statistical analysis helps analysts examine data without bias. In addition, analysts may apply mathematical concepts to examine a system and make predictions about the results with different variables, which is mathematical modeling.

Work Settings for operations research analysts

Most operations research analysts work full time in an office environment, but occasionally gather information in the field if needed. They can often be found in the operations, finance, or human resources departments of an organization. They can improve efficiency in any number of operations functions, depending on the industry.

For example, in the package delivery industry, an operations research analyst may develop the most efficient routes to save time and money. They can also help an organization’s financial function by finding areas to save money or predict areas that are beneficial for investment. Within a human resources department, an operations research analyst may use data to determine staffing and employee needs.

Steps to become an operations research analyst

There is no one-size-fits-all path for how to become an operations research analyst. However, there are some steps individuals interested in entering this exciting field can follow.

Start with a bachelor’s degree

Whether seeking an entry-level position or looking ahead to a graduate program, those interested in becoming an operations research analyst should begin with a bachelor’s degree. Popular undergraduate programs that can lead to a career as an operations research analyst include data science, math, or business.

Becoming an operations research analyst requires significant skills in quantitative analysis, so courses in advanced mathematics are critical. Coursework should include calculus, statistics, and linear algebra. Students should also have some understanding of computer science and technology. The work an operations research analyst does may draw from many different sciences, including psychology, economics, political science, and engineering. Coursework in these disciplines can help prepare for graduate studies or professional work in operations research.

Develop skills for success

An undergraduate degree may give a student knowledge and experience in many of the technical skills an operations research analyst needs, such as computer programming or advanced mathematics. In addition to these skills, strong critical thinking and persistence to work through complex problems are important for an individual who wants to become an operations research analyst.

Analysts should be able to work well under pressure and with deadlines. They must also have strong communication skills to present information to others, and must be committed to learning new skills as technology advances.

Pursue an advanced degree

An operations research analyst seeking a position beyond entry-level will likely need a master’s or doctorate degree. A sound program should offer students opportunities to build on their undergraduate foundation with practical, real-world experience.

Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Data Science prepares students to tackle real problems that an operations research analyst may face. Coursework includes advanced computer programming, predictive modeling, and big data analysis. Students also benefit from a capstone project and optional field experience. A project-based curriculum can help students develop valuable skills that can prepare them for a successful career. Those seeking a terminal degree in this field may pursue a doctorate degree to reach the highest level of education.

Operations research analyst salaries

Operations research analysts can work in virtually any industry or branch of government, which can impact salary range. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage in May 2019 for operations research analysts was $84,810. Of the top industries employing operations research analysts, the federal government paid the highest median wage, at $113,940. The next highest was the manufacturing industry, which paid a median of $92,320.

Those with a master’s or doctorate degree typically earn higher salaries and have more opportunities for growth. However, salary ranges are dependent on many factors, including work experience, education, and geographic region.

Employment outlook for operations research analysts

Advances in technology, plus growth in the number of companies that are seeking efficiency and cost savings, are expected to drive expanding demand for operations research analysts. Those interested in becoming an operations research analyst can expect job opportunities to increase steadily.

The BLS projects operations research analyst jobs will grow by 25% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. In particular, growth is expected in telecommunications and service firms, as well as in the defense, manufacturing, and transportation industries. Opportunities to advance in the field are strong, especially with the right combination of education and experience.

Explore a career as an operations research analyst

Discover how you can turn the massive amounts of data being created daily into actionable insight that can impact the bottom line for organizations in any industry. Whether you want to grow your career in the private sector or government, Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Data Science can help you prepare for a role as an operations research analyst.

Recommended reading:

Key Careers in Data: Comparing Data Analyst vs. Data Scientist vs. Data Engineer Professions

The Future of Data Science and Important Skills for Data Scientists

The Future of Big Data in Business: Using Data Analytics to Provide Insight


Analytics Magazine, “What Is Analytics and How Does it Relate to Operations Research?”

CIO, “What Is Data Science? Transforming Data Into Value”

Forbes, “6 Predictions About Data in 2020 and the Coming Decade”

Houston Chronicle, Operations Research Analyst Careers

InfoWorld, “What Is Big Data Analytics? Fast Answers from Diverse Data Sets”

International Data Corporation, “The Digitization of the World – From Edge to Core”

The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, Consider a Career in Operations Research and Analytics

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Operations Research Analysts