What's Your StORy?

Lauren Steimle


June 2017 What's Your StORy?
PhD Candidate in Industrial and Operations Engineering, University of Michigan

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What prompted you to enter this field? Why?

My first taste of operations research came in a high school computer science class when I had to write code to simulate the flow of cars through a hand car wash. My teacher gave us the challenge of designing this simulated car wash to make it run more efficiently. After that project, I kept noticing examples of systems that could be improved using the kind of analysis that I did in my computer science class.  It wasn’t until college that I realized there was a whole field dedicated to solving these kinds of decision-making problems. While the O.R. classes that I took were great, it was undergraduate research that really pushed me to pursue a career in this field. For my undergraduate research project, we investigated how to use optimization for scheduling electricity usage in a smart grid to better balance the supply and demand of energy. Further, we analyzed incentives that would encourage consumers to follow the optimized schedule. This project was an exciting way to use O.R. to work on a problem of societal importance. This combination of optimization and the potential for positive impact on society convinced me that this was the field for me.



If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?

I consider myself extremely lucky in terms of mentors. My undergraduate research advisor, Dr. Arye Nehorai, was the one who first encouraged me to consider pursuing a PhD and was so supportive throughout my undergraduate career and beyond. In graduate school, I’ve had the incredible opportunity of working with Dr. Brian Denton who is a fantastic mentor both in terms of research and professional development. Their guidance has been invaluable to me. 


Tell us about your role as president of the UMich INFORMS Student Chapter. How has it impacted your work/life?

Luckily, I work with a fantastic team of officers who are active in generating new ideas for programs and planning events. In large part, I view my role as supporting and coordinating these initiatives. Already this year, our officers have organized numerous events, such as invited speakers from industry, mentoring programs, data competitions, company tours with networking opportunities, and social events.

 In addition, I view the role of the president as driving the strategic plan for the future of the chapter. One of the strategic goals that we were able to achieve this year is to become recognized by the University of Michigan as an official student organization. This status provides us with more opportunities for funding and broadening our visibility among the student population. Another goal that we are working on this year is broadening our membership beyond the Industrial & Operations Engineering department.

Holding leadership roles within the INFORMS chapter has been a positive experience for me. I’ve learned a lot about leadership while helping organize events that enhance the training we are receiving as students and researchers. I’m also thankful for the opportunities that this role has provided me in terms of networking and professional development. Recently, I attended the INFORMS Student Leadership Conference in Baltimore where I was able to work on my leadership skills and learn from my fellow INFORMS student chapter officers. It has been wonderful to get to know INFORMS student members at other schools who will be my colleagues for years to come!


What do you wish you could tell your prospective employer?

That I’m a hard-working, curious person who wants to use O.R. to save the world!


Can you tell us about your NSF-funded project "Stochastic Optimization Methods for Care Coordination of Chronic Conditions”?

Yes! In the United States, around 1 in 4 people have multiple chronic conditions and management of these conditions accounts for the majority of our national healthcare spending. Operations researchers have used stochastic models and optimization methods to better medical decision making for screening and treatment of chronic diseases and conditions. However, these models have traditionally focused on a single disease at a time and may ignore other chronic conditions that a patient may have. This siloed approach permeates the medical community where guidelines for different conditions are designed by independent committees with little consideration for other chronic conditions. This project is focused on creating new ways of modeling multiple chronic conditions by leveraging observational data and developing new optimization methods that hedge against the ambiguity that can present itself in these models. We are using the common triad of hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), and type 2 diabetes as a specific test case.


What INFORMS journal do you read the most? Why?

I’d say Operations Research is probably the one I read the most because of the wealth of cutting-edge methodology and novel applications of O.R. 


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 hope we are celebrating an extremely productive year of research and that my upcoming presentations and publications have influenced both operations researchers and clinicians. Also, I am planning to teach an introductory course on operations modeling in the fall, so I hope we are celebrating a successful course that has inspired many students to pursue O.R. as their future career. 


What’s your favorite Pandora station?

That’s tough because it changes very often. However, I’m usually listening to one of the Indie or Alternative stations. Or Adele. There’s always a good chance you’ll find me listening to Adele. 


What interest do you have outside of research that might surprise us?

About a year or so ago, I started doing orienteering races. In this sport, competitors get a map that marks the location of flags in some unfamiliar terrain (such as one of the beautiful Michigan state recreation areas). The competitors will use the map and a compass to navigate to these flags as fast as possible. In classic orienteering, the flags must be reached in a certain order. However, in the “Score-O” style, competitors can go to the checkpoints in any order, which means that everyone starts the race by trying to find a good solution to a Traveling Salesman Problem! I enjoy the sport because it is a nice challenge both mentally and physically due to the combination of route planning, navigation, and trail running.