What's Your StORy?

Thiago Serra

Thiago Serra

October 2016 What's Your StORy?
PhD Candidate and President of the INFORMS Student Chapter at Carnegie Mellon

More questions for Thiago Serra ?
Check out the Open Forum on INFORMS Connect!


What prompted you to enter this field? Why?
I was a freshman and looking for something meaningful for a career as software developer---I found that with computational optimization. I fell in love with the idea of coding systems to make better decisions, pushing myself to learn more math, and measuring the impact of my work in terms of money, resources, and time saved for everyone around.


What advice do you have for new students entering this field?
No one is ever done mastering math, coding, writing, presenting, and time management. The mathematician Terry Tao has great career advice on his blog. My favorite is the suggestion to always push yourself to do things slightly out of your comfort zone. Read the “Handbook of Writing for the Mathematical Sciences” and “The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.” Watch Randy Pausch’s video on time management.


What is something you learned in the last week?
George Dantzig, the father of the simplex method, learned about upper bounds the hard way. When his doctor told him to limit his calorie intake, he tried to formulate his own diet problem to maximize his feeling of satisfaction. But some constraints were still missing, so he got the following unusual suggestions in his first attempts: consume 500 gallons of vinegar, then 200 bouillon cubes, and lastly two pounds of bran a day!


If we were sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it's been for you, what would we be celebrating?
I have been doing some interesting work on decision diagrams and cutting planes. A great year would be to see these upcoming papers accepted in good journals and the academic community discussing them.


What have you done to improve your data analytics knowledge in the past year?
I have invited great speakers to a seminar series with industry leaders in analytics at the CMU Student Chapter. At the very first, Steve Sashihara gave an amazing lesson on human factors in optimization projects.


Which INFORMS event are you most looking forward to this year?
The INFORMS Computing Society Conference in Austin, where I am chairing a session on new paradigms for cut generation. I am glad that Chen Chen (Columbia), Joseph Paat (Johns Hopkins), and Yuan Zhou (UC Davis) have accepted my invitation to present. They have all been doing great work. Based on the first session held at the Optimization Society Conference in Princeton, I am expecting a good and engaging audience.


If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
I was fortunate to be accepted for a PhD in the school that was my top choice and have been working there with the people that made it my top choice. I regard professors John Hooker and Egon Balas as visionaries in my field.


Which INFORMS journal do you read the most? Why?
Interfaces, which is a great resource for the real-world impact of O.R. As a TA for MBA courses at first, and now as an instructor for undergrads, I am always looking for applications that will excite and engage my students.


Which social network do you use most and why?
Twitter. It is short, fast, and it is changing academia. You can discuss the talk you are in, follow parallel sessions, and meet interesting people. After a great time curating tweets for ISMP 2015, which by then was one of the most tweeted OR conferences, I used the INFORMS 2015 blog to entice more people to join us. We had a thousand tweets. I hope we go over one tweet per attendee in Nashville!