Careers in O.R.
ProfileS - Adam Letchford



Adam Letchford

Job Title:   Professor of Optimisation
Years in Current Position:        Lecturer since 2001, Professor since 2007.
Organization Name:   Lancaster University
Qualifications:   BA (Jnt Hons) Linguistics & Psychology, Nottingham University; MSc Operational Research and PhD Management Science, Lancaster University.

Briefly describe the organization you work for. 
Lancaster University was created in the early 1960s and has grown rapidly in both size and status.  It now has 16,500 students from over 120 countries.  I work in the Department of Management Science, which now has over 25 full-time academic staff.  We work in three main areas: Operational Research, Operations Management, and Information Systems.  I belong to the OR group.

How did you get your current job & what were the steps you took from graduation?
After gaining my BA, I spent 2 years working as a research assistant, but was then unemployed for a year!  I decided to return to university and do a masters.  It might seem a big change to go from Linguistics and Psychology to OR, but I spent those 2 years doing what is now called Data Mining, analysing large psychometric datasets.  So the transition was actually quite natural.  While on the MSc course, I was encouraged to stay on and do a PhD, so I did.  It turns out that I have a knack for conducting research and writing it up in a publishable form, which explains my rather rapid promotion from Lecturer to Professor.

How relevant was your subject of study in securing your current job? 
Well, as I said above, Linguistics and Psychology are not strongly related to OR.  I don’t see this as a problem.  Indeed, historically, OR has always tended to be inter-disciplinary, bringing in people from a variety of backgrounds.  The field would become too narrow if everyone was a mathematician, or an engineer, or whatever.

Describe a typical working day in your current job. 
At the moment, I have a research fellowship, so I have no teaching responsibilities.  Much of my time is therefore spent conducting research.  In practice, this can mean corresponding with PhD students and collaborators, designing algorithms, writing computer programs, conducting experiments, analysing results, writing or revising journal articles, or just doing mathematics (“theorem-proving”, as some would call it).  I do however have some internal and external responsibilities, i.e., serving on various committees, panels and editorial boards.  (When the fellowship ends, it likely that my time will be split pretty much equally between research, teaching and administration.)

What do you enjoy/like most about your job? 
I love research and get a deep sense of satisfaction when I feel that I have “cracked” a problem.  Also, I have been able to travel extensively, mainly in Western Europe, and I have really enjoyed meeting people from different countries and backgrounds.

What are the most challenging parts of your job? 
Being at professorial level means that one is often involved in strategic decisions or initiatives, at local, national or even international level.  This means that one has a sense of responsibility, especially to the next generation of students and researchers.

Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job? 
In my opinion, the best researchers are those that have a genuine interest in their subject; a genuinely curious and enquiring mind.  This quality will keep one going during those frustrating periods when progress seems to be slow.  One must also be able to work quite happily either alone or with other people.  Many people can do only one or the other.

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