Where do I begin?
The first step is a BSc or BComm university degree, where you can major in Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science and possibly, depending on the individual university, Operations Research / Quantitative Management or other equivalent; or a BSc degree in Industrial Engineering. Ancillary subjects will have to provide as much as possible of the training in the other, often nonmathematical fields which are important to the practice of Operations Research. In particular, some basic knowledge of Economics (the objectives studied by Operations Researchers are often of an economic nature) and computers (most Operations Research problems require some computer solution) is virtually essential.
Further, some background in accounting and management principles would be useful in its own right, and would facilitate communication and cooperation with other disciplines. This first degree could then be supplemented by an Honours degree in Operations Research, which can lead after a number of years of appropriate experience to registration as a professional natural scientist, specialised in Operations Research.
The second path is a BSc in a different, but numerate discipline, probably followed by an Honours year or a second degree in Operations Research. These are a variety of ways in which this path may be followed, depending on the different university curricula. Many successful Operations Researchers were originally trained in disciplines such as Physics, other sciences, various branches of Engineering, Computer Science, and so on, and some started their professional lives with non-numerate degrees. Many employers will help their staff to achieve a second qualification while in employment.
Universities also offer other training in Operations Research for certain engineering and business administration students. This training is not intended to prepare them to start a career in Operations Research.
These less specialised courses, which may be part of a post graduate diplomas, are aimed at giving an appreciation of Operations Research to those in associated professions, to help improve communication between managers, engineers and Operations Researchers.
The environment of the Operations Researcher differs markedly from that of many scientists. Furthermore, recognition comes not so much from the judgement of scientific peers as from that of the employer or client. Success for the Operations Researcher thus depends largely upon the extent to which he can gain the confidence of those whom he advises.
The ambitious potential Operations Researcher may be deterred by the fact that the primary function of Operations Research is to assist decision makers and not necessarily to take the decisions themselves. As suggested in some of the cameos of careers in this field, however, there is nothing that prevents the Operations Researcher form becoming a decision maker. Indeed, knowledge and practical experience of Operations Research and its use on real world problems places practitioners in a strongly competitive position for advancement into managerial posts. This is to the advantage of all, as the manager who is thoroughly acquainted with Operations Research will know where it may best be utilised.
In summary we see that a wide range of opportunities opens up for those with the motivation and ability to undertake this subject and apply it in the hard realities of life. Whether as a manager or as a senior consultant, the Operations Researcher will be found where the important issues are decided, and the rewards will be commensurate with this.