Marcelo Olivares

Degree Date: PhD, 2007
Program: Operations, Information Management & Decision Processes
Placement: Columbia University

Marcelo Olivares came to Wharton from the University of Chile, where he worked in the engineering field. The switch from engineering to business required a transition in thinking for Olivares, who as a doctoral student focused on applied econometrics and operations management. “In engineering, a lot of what I was doing leaned towards methodology,” he explains. “At Wharton, I had to learn how to do research through business fundamentals. Rather than focus on a particular method, the focus is on trying to find an interesting question, trying to find the problem before knowing the method you are going to use to tackle that problem. That took time to get used to, but it’s definitely something I prefer.”

Finding a Clear Path

Olivares says the Wharton program’s flexibility ultimately enabled him to make a seamless transition from one field to the other. He was able to delve into economics, which he says aided him in finding a clear path during his studies, along with classes in marketing, statistics and econometrics. “I was able to take courses in economics and statistics and marketing and other areas that have a longstanding tradition in working with data relative to what people in operations have,” he says. “I think that worked well because I received training in this approach to research. Basically, an approach that is data driven.”


That flexibility also applied to professors as well. Olivares’ empirical research interests, at the time, were still new and unexplored in the field of operations management, and he says he benefited tremendously from the open-mindedness of the faculty. Whereas traditional operations management research focuses more on methods related to optimization, he explains, Olivares was more interested in data, and in particular, trying to make sense of economics using data. “That’s why it was great to work with people who were very open-minded in the kind of research they liked to do,” he says. “Not just in terms of methodology, but also in the problems with which they engaged. Many things I worked on could have possibly been done in marketing or in economics, yet I worked with faculty in the field of operations management. They were open to work in this area.”

Olivares says that doctoral candidates should approach their program with an equally open mind. “You have to know more or less which field you want to be in, but knowing the exact topic of dissertation—well, you’re probably going to change your mind since you’ll be exposed to things you didn’t even know existed once you enter the program,” he says. “That’s what happened to me. If you have that kind of approach, you’ll be able to take more advantage of the PhD program at Wharton.”