Decision Science Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a decision science program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD and potential careers.
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Master's and PhD Programs in Decision Science at a Glance

Decision science, which may also be called operations research or quantitative business analysis, is the application of mathematical models to solve operational problems. It is an interdisciplinary field of applied mathematics, where statistical and analytical models are combined with principles of scientific research to optimize and rationalize decision making.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), positions for operations research analysts are expected to grow at a rate of about 15% in the years 2010-2020. This growth will be driven by the goals of reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Certain applications, such as data mining, have been driven by technological shifts and the relationship between companies and information.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in applying mathematical modeling to decision processes Individuals who want to work in academia as professors or researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Operations research analyst ($72,000)*
- Operations manager ($95,000 - with additional experience)*
Same as master's, plus:
- University business professor ($75,000)*
- University engineering professor ($91,000)*
- University mathematics professor ($67,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 10-15 courses
- Master's thesis or capstone project
- Master's exams
- Roughly 15-25 graduate-level courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
- Teaching requirement
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in mathematics or related technical field Bachelor's or master's degree in mathematics or related technical field
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Decision Science

A master's degree program in decision science or operations research prepares students to apply mathematical models to processes in order to achieve optimal results. A master's degree is generally the minimum degree necessary for these positions. Often, graduates work in the business sector, but these skills can be applied to any decision-making scenario, and they have been applied successfully to military and medical activities. Programs are commonly found as part of business programs, mathematics departments or engineering departments.

Master's degrees offered by these programs may be a traditional Master of Science (MS), which usually has a thesis option, but may also include Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Science of Operations Management (MSOM) and similar degree titles. Not all programs are designed to prepare students for further academic work, so you will want to research programs to make certain that they match your career plans.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Decision science has professional organizations associated with it that will make both continuing education and career networking simpler.
  • Many schools have decision science or operations research programs, which may help you to find a program that suits your needs more easily.
  • While these programs might be considered pre-professional in nature, the skills you learn can also be applied across a number of fields.

Cons

  • These analytical approaches are mathematically complex and may be challenging for students who do not have rigorous mathematical training.
  • A master's degree in operations research without a thesis is not generally considered preparation for professional-level research and publication.
  • Since this field is constantly advancing and using new software tools for behavior and process modeling, professionals will need to stay current in the field.

Courses and Requirements

Some master's degree programs have thesis options or requirements, and you should take note of these and determine if they fit with your academic plans. For those seeking or considering a PhD in decision science, the thesis option provides an introduction to formal research methods. Coursework outside of the field of decision science may be required as well, especially advanced mathematics. Topics covered in the program may include:

  • Statistics and probability
  • Decision-making models
  • Forecasting
  • Business dynamics and strategic modeling
  • Information systems and management

Online Degree Options

For those seeking a master's degree program in decision science online, there are programs available. These programs more often than not do not include a thesis option, and they offer specialized degrees, such as the MSOM. Online programs are generally offered asynchronously, which may be more convenient for students looking to complete the program while working full-time.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you are looking to stand out with a degree in decision science or operations research, you may want to develop close professional relationships with mentors. These mentors will be able to guide your research and speak to your academic ability as references during your job search. Additionally, you may seek to gain work experience through internships and integrate research with your current career projects.

Doctorate in Decision Science

Students seeking a PhD in decision science generally do so because they are planning to enter into the academic profession and teach in the field, or because they want to pursue high-level research. These programs require a bachelor's degree for entry and may be available through different departments or in interdisciplinary programs, depending on the school. Decision science mixes aspects of mathematics, business and the social sciences.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A doctorate in decision science or operations research is the required training for most academic positions in the field.
  • These doctoral programs prepare you for both high-level research and teaching.
  • Graduates who have completed PhD programs will be on the cutting edge of research in the field.

Cons

  • A PhD program in decision science is a significant commitment of both time and money.
  • Placement in academic positions is generally highly competitive.
  • Across all fields, schools are increasingly relying on part-time faculty to fill teaching positions, which may limit your job opportunities.

Courses and Requirements

In addition to developing further skills in data analysis with advanced courses in mathematics and statistics, you will study research and analysis methods appropriate for the field in preparation for the dissertation process. Some programs have additional requirements, such as teaching or even entering the workforce, to develop skills in applying theoretical models. Courses may cover such topics as:

  • Static decision modeling
  • Econometrics applications
  • Stochastic modeling
  • Empirical approaches in strategic operations
  • Microeconomics theory
  • Decision analysis models

Online Degree Options

While some programs feature a hybrid format that includes periodic face-to-face interaction, at this time, PhD degrees in decision science are not available through wholly online delivery. These doctoral programs focus on developing academic researchers by training candidates not only in skills and research methods but also in collaboration, which makes fully online program options difficult to offer.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you already have work experience or ideas for research that would be applicable to the field, you might consider finding a professional who can help turn those ideas into a dissertation that could lead to publication. If you have not yet developed a research plan, becoming involved with your advisor's projects can be an effective way to gain research experience as well.

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Northcentral University

  • PhD in Business Admin - Organizational Leadership
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Indiana Wesleyan University

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Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership
  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Individualized Studies
  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Leadership Coaching

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Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Global Leadership (Executive Format)
  • Doctorate: Management - Organizational Development and Change
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Abilene Christian University

  • EdD Organizational Leadership - Conflict Resolution Track
  • EdD Organizational Leadership - Higher Education Track
  • EdD Organizational Leadership - Digital Learning Track

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Grand Canyon University

  • DBA - Management
  • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership - Organizational Development

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Trident University

  • Business Administration (Ph.D. BA)

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University of the Rockies

  • Ph.D. in Organizational Development & Leadership - Innovation & Entrepreneurship
  • Psy.D. in Non-Profit Management
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Organizational Development and Leadership

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