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I'm getting my Master's in mathematics (specifically operations research) and I'll be graduating this May, 2011. The positions I'm applying for are usually called "Operations Research Analyst." I'm running into the issue of employers wanting experience, but I don't have any.

Does anybody know of other job titles or other areas that are entry level that someone with an operations research background can do? I have a feeling there is a lot out there that I'm just not informed about.

In case you need more information, I have my Bachelor's in math. I have a basic knowledge of C++ programming and MATLAB programming. The operations research courses I've taken include Linear Programming, Advanced Linear Programming, Network Flows, Nonlinear Programming, Integer Programming, Multi-criteria Optimization, Network Algorithms and Data Structures, and Integration Through Optimization (24 hours).

Thank you in advance for any help!

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Many of my students have graduated with similar backgrounds, so your situation sounds familiar. My comments are based on their experience.

First, I think it's important to look at your background to see why you aren't really well qualified yet as an "operations research analyst." The basic problem is that although you've taken a lot of courses focused on particular optimization techniques, and you have some programming background, you don't appear to have any experience in actually taking an operations research project from start to finish.

How could you get that experience? Ideally, you could have gotten some of this in courses that you took as a graduate student and particularly through an individual MS thesis/project. You haven't said anything about doing such a project, so I fear that you've gone through a master's degree program that only involves course work.

The reality is that graduate programs with an academic focus (unlike the professionally oriented graduate programs in business schools, law schools, and medical schools) are not a very good place for students to get this kind of experience.

Another very good way to gain this experience is to do an internship in a corporate or government environment. I strongly encourage my students to do such internships because they often result in a permanent job after graduation. If there is still time for you to do this, I'd strongly encourage you to do an internship.

Without this experience, you're going to have to start with an entry level job and gain the experience as you work. Since your employer is going to want you to do something useful from the start, rather than paying you to train for a year or two, you really need to have some skills that will be useful in the short term. In my experience, students with backgrounds similar to yours have most often found entry level jobs with titles like "programmer", "programmer/analyst", "data analyst", or "statistician."

It's a very tough job market right now. You're going to have to be very persistent to find work. Good luck!

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