Field of Study: Industrial and Systems Engineering
Industrial and systems engineering programs prepare people to plan and build systems that are efficient, productive, and safe. Students learn to solve problems in many fields such as health care, banking, and production. They also study math, physics, and social science.
Think of a modern business as a complicated piece of machinery. The comparison works especially well if you think about a factory that produces goods, but it also works for service businesses such as hospitals and restaurants. Like a machine, the business has parts that need to fit together smoothly, without friction. It should produce certain outputs at an acceptable rate and it should not consume excessive amounts of inputs. There should be procedures in place for what to do if a part breaks down or needs replacement. From this comparison, you can see that in industrial and systems engineering you learn how to make decisions for a business as you would for a machine.
You learn how to help the business to run efficiently. For example, you might learn how to create a computer-based simulation to choose the ideal location for a factory. You might do experiments to find how often supervisors should evaluate their staff. You might study how to combine salary and vacation to get the highest productivity from workers. You learn that a large part of the job is just figuring out what to measure as indications of success.
A closely related field is systems science. Systems science teaches that some problems are so complex that you can't solve them unless you bring in several kinds of knowledge. Because the ultimate purpose of systems science is to solve real-world problems by applying science, it is often classified within engineering. Many schools combine systems science and industrial and systems engineering into one. In some cases, you can specialize in systems science as part of the larger engineering program.
In general, this program requires that you study both physical sciences and social sciences. And both types of sciences use a lot of math and research methods, so you study those too. You learn how to design an experiment to test a theory. You learn how to survey people and collect data in other ways. You get proficient at using statistical methods to interpret your findings and extract meaning from them. Of course, you also take several engineering courses.
Usually a bachelor's degree in industrial and systems engineering will get you started in this field. This takes four or sometimes five years of full-time study beyond high school. A large number of colleges in the U.S. offer the major in this field.
Or you may get a master's degree in this field. Some universities offer a program that combines the bachelor's and master's degree into a five-year sequence. Another route is to get a degree in another engineering field and then get a master's in industrial and systems engineering. This usually takes one to two years beyond the bachelor's. About 180 graduate schools offer the master's degree in industrial and systems engineering.