What's Your StORy?

Christian Blanco

Christian Blanco

January 2017 What's Your StORy?
PhD Candidate in Decision, Operations and Technology Management, University of California Los Angeles

More questions for Christian Blanco?
Check out the Open Forum on INFORMS Connect!


What prompted you to enter this field? Why?
Dan Kammen, my research advisor in undergrad, had a huge influence on my career. I have always been interested in solving environmental issues, but I was not yet sure how I can use my technical training to do so. Dan saw that my research interest was a good fit in his research team, so he invited me to join his group. We developed a mixed-integer linear program to identify the lowest cost combination of conventional (e.g., coal, nuclear, and gas) and renewable (e.g., wind, water, and solar) energy that will meet energy demand and other carbon-related policies. It was my first exposure in using math programming with energy resource data to identify the least-expensive way to meet the goals of a low-carbon economy. I was convinced that there were a lot of opportunities to explore environmental issues within operations management (OM).


What advice do you have for new students entering this field? Including how you handle work/life/school balance.
I have two recommendations.

Interact with members of the industry. I’m not just referring to a one-time interview, but if possible, build a good rapport with members of the industry. This relationship can be beneficial in all stages of research. In the early stages, they can help you identify the problems that matter most to them. In the later stages, they can help validate your results and findings.

Don’t forget about your health. I feel (although I don’t have the data to support it) that I am more productive when I am healthy. I enjoy swimming and running. There are times that I have to let those go because it just gets too busy, but I try to squeeze in short runs even when I get busy. I sometimes get good ideas while I’m swimming or running!


What do you wish you could tell your prospective employer?
I am a happy researcher. I think the key to being a happy researcher (at least for me) is to know yourself very well. I know that sustainability is something I am very interested in, and I hope I can find a place where my research interests and contributions are appreciated.


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 would be delighted to share our research with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and I hope that our work can contribute to their discussion.

Another one would be getting a gold medal at the 2017 UCLA Grad Games (I came close last year with a silver in the 100m breaststroke).


Tell us about your research on how companies are mitigating their climate change impact.
We explore whether profitable carbon abatement projects are becoming less profitable over time. We examine over 11,000 carbon abatement projects implemented by 978 global firms from 2010-2014. Imagine that firms pick the “low-hanging fruit” first, e.g., they select the most profitable opportunities. If there was a limited number of opportunities to choose from, then we would expect that the profitability of these opportunities would deteriorate as firms implement carbon abatement projects. Our results suggest that it is possible for firms to continuously find profitable ways to reduce their carbon emissions. We find evidence that firms that focus more on opportunities directly related to their core operations (e.g., changes in manufacturing, etc.) face more favorable trends than those that focus on opportunities that are not directly related to their core operations (e.g., lighting fixtures, building insulation, etc.).


What INFORMS publication do you read the most? Why?
I mostly read Manufacturing & Service Operations Management and Management Science, but I do not limit myself to those. The two journals I mentioned tend to publish more on topics that are closer to my research interests.


What member benefit do you find most useful/helpful?
Discounts! (And access to the discussion boards and topics.)


Tell us how the Energy Natural Resources & Environment Section has impacted your life/career.
I get inspired when I hear about what other people have accomplished. I sometimes think, “That’s so cool! I wonder how that relates to X, Y, and Z…” I then use that energy to inspire me to push my own research topics.


If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
I am very grateful with my current mentors, but there is someone I would have been delighted to meet: Paul Kleindorfer. Note that I have never met Professor Kleindorfer; he passed away before I joined the OM community. His early papers covered topics such as peak load pricing in electricity and the economics of public utilities. My understanding is that he was very instrumental in shaping the direction of sustainability and disruption risk management within the OM community. His contributions continue to resonate to young researchers like me.


It must have been fascinating to work as a research assistant under astronaut Jay Apt. Tell us your favorite memory or story.
I have a lot of fascinating stories with Jay. I recall visiting his office and seeing several photographs on his wall. I asked, “Did you take those photos?” He replied, “Yes, I did. They are all from outer space!” Jay still keeps his NASA manuals, and if I recall correctly, some of them are in Russian. One day, I noticed that he switched his (computer) mouse, and he told me that the reason for that is to stay ambidextrous. I can imagine being ambidextrous can be very useful when you are in outer space! Jay flies his own plane; I think he likes to be as close to the stars as much as he can.


How did you spend the holidays?
I spent my holidays with my family in San Francisco. I spent my free time building Legos and reading Letters to a Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson.


What interest do you have outside of work that might surprise us?
I enjoy surfing. I’ve seen dolphins and sea lions while surfing. I have been stung by a stingray, but I still gave a presentation the day after the incident. (I presented with a swollen big toe.)


Name three uses of a stapler that has no staples.
1) Doorstop (I have actually done this before when I left my office keys at home).

2) An alternative to a stress ball.

3) Book divider.

(My friend suggested a banana phone.)