What's Your StORy?

Trilce Encarnacion

Trilce Encarnacion

August 2017 What's Your StORy?
PhD Candidate in Transportation Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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What prompted you to enter this field? Why?
I have always loved math, and while I was in high school I learned to code, so I naturally enrolled in a systems engineering program. In college, I took a data mining class and I fell in love with the challenge and the amazing and sometimes surprising results that you could discover from almost any data set. Now in a PhD program, I have been able to combine my background in statistical analysis with operations research to solve transportation problems.


What advice do you have for new students entering this field?
The key advice would be to become involved in the professional society/section that best matches your interests, and raise your hand at meetings to volunteer. Attend business meetings at the INFORMS Annual Meeting and get involved. You get to meet amazing people and make a difference.


What do you think are the most significant barriers for women/minorities in OR/MS careers? How could they be remedied?
This is such a complex topic, one that I feel very passionate about, but cannot do justice in just one paragraph. Studies exploring the obstacles to female leadership abound, many citing biases from current leaders and higher standards. In my personal experience, I can attest to the effect that a lack of role models can have in forming a young person's idea of what professional life looks like. It took me longer than my peers to realize that I wanted to pursue a PhD, because growing up in the Dominican Republic, there were not many PhDs that I could look up to. When I was an undergraduate, getting an MS seemed like the highest reasonable degree. I think that my experience can be translated to many women and minorities who do not have access to role models growing up. I think that one way we can improve things is to redouble efforts to engage these groups in middle and high school, and show students all the possibilities that these careers can offer.


Tell us about your experience with both the Edelman Award Competition and the SAS/Analytics Society Student Analytical Scholar Competition, and how being named the winner of the latter has affected your professional life.

Being part of a team participating in the Edelman Award competition was a once in a lifetime opportunity, one that I don't take for granted. I joined the New York City Off-Hour Deliveries Project in the last couple of years, but this project has been in development for more than a decade. So I felt very lucky that my contributions allowed me to be a part of the team. The whole process was an amazing learning experience. Those last days in Las Vegas, refining the presentations, were particularly intense. I cannot convey how much work goes on behind the scenes, not only from the competing teams, but also the coaches and the committee. It is something I will never forget. 

The SAS/Analytics Society Student Competition was such a fun process. The case study topic for this year fit very well with my research and previous work experience, and it was really interesting coming up with a solution from the limited information provided in the–very brief!–problem statement. The process really forces you to think about the client and their needs. Winning the competition allowed me to participate in the Professional Colloquium and attend the Analytics Conference for the first time.


What member benefit do you find most useful/helpful?
The forums are a fantastic way to keep informed about many opportunities.


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 have a couple of papers accepted that are currently under review, and I would be preparing to defend my dissertation very soon!


Tell us something that not many people know about you.
I used to swim competitively in high school, and trained as a lifeguard.


What advice would you give to your younger self?
I received this advice a couple of years ago, and I wish I had it before: "Be your best self every day, just focus on doing your best one day at a time."


What plans do you have for the rest of the summer?
My advisor famously sends a 'Papers to write' list at the beginning of summer, so those are dominating my plans. For fun, I am looking forward to visiting Niagara Falls.