Tools for Discovery: Laura Albert

Laura Albert
Laura Albert

Laura Albert is an affiliate of the optimization group at WID and an Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Her background is in operations research–the discipline of applying advanced analytical methods to make better decisions.

She recently gave a SILO Seminar at WID titled A Modified Logistic Regression Markov Chain Model for Forecasting the College Football Playoff illustrating how it is possible to forecast the teams that will be selected for the four team playoff. 

What do you work on?

My research studies how to allocate scarce resources to patients, passengers, and casualties in a risk-based manner. We care about how to allocate resources because we live in a world with limited resources and we have to make tradeoffs. Resource allocation problems are hard problems to solve because we must weigh multiple criteria and consider many types of operating constraints. Additionally–and importantly–real systems have many interdependencies, meaning that we cannot affect one part of the system without creating ripple effects through the entire system. Optimization and mathematical modeling tools are great for studying these issues.

“We care about how to allocate resources because we live in a world with limited resources and we have to make tradeoffs.”

–Laura Albert

My expertise is in public sector applications. My research has studied how to screen airline passengers and perform airport security, how to locate and dispatch ambulances and fire engines to different types of 911 calls, how to respond to emergencies and repair critical infrastructure after a natural disaster, and how to manage cyber-security mitigation efforts. For fun I work on bracketology. I have a model that forecasts the College Football Playoff.

What are your tools for analysis?

My research tools for analysis are all based on math: math modeling, integer programming, approximation algorithms, dynamic programming, queuing and stochastic processes, and Markov decision process models. My bracketology work uses Markov chains, logistic regression, and simulation.

Tools for Writing?

My main tool for writing academic papers is LaTeX. I use Matlab and sometimes R to create the figures in my papers. In addition to writing academic papers to a narrow set of colleagues who share my specific academic interests, I also write two blogs (“Punk Rock Operations Research” and “Badger Bracketology”). These blogs explain my research, my academic discipline, and sports analytics. My blogs use the WordPress platform. I also write 140 characters at a time on twitter (I am @lauramclay). I enjoy performing outreach and interacting with a broad spectrum of people through social media.

Tools for Collaboration?

Filesharing tools such as Dropbox and Box are indispensable for maintaining research collaborations both at UW and at other universities. I am also a huge fan of Skype and Google Docs in my collaborations. I increasingly use my iPad to nurture collaborations. My favorite apps are PDF Expert for editing and then sharing documents and ScannerPro for scanning and sharing documents.

Your ultimate tool for discovery?

I would say that intellectual curiosity is my main tool for discovery. I cannot make any discoveries unless I am curious enough to start opening doors. My friends would tell you that this is not the whole story—my ultimate tool of discovery is my unflagging energy. It is helpful for everything I do, not just for my research. When I am not working on my research, I am serving my discipline as the Vice President of Marketing Communication and Outreach for INFORMS, raising my three daughters, and running marathons and half marathons.

— curated by Patricia Pointer