Premaster experience

Studying Econometrics and OR with different study background

Most of the master students have a similar background: the Econometrics and Operations Research Bachelor. However, some of them took a different path before they decided to do the master. Jelle Vogelzang, Tamar Kastelein and Chris Franssen all have a different background. Does this make any difference in how they experience their study? We asked them about it!

Jelle is 26 years old. He started his studies at Leiden University where he did one year of law school, but changed to Industrial Engineering & Management at the TU Delft, before he started the premaster. He is interested in economics, politics and logistics and therefore went to Delft and now to the VU for the OR master.

Tamar is 28 years old. She lives in a small house just outside the city center of Gouda. Her favourite activities are board games with friends and traveling with especially hiking in the mountains and camping in the nature. In 2013 she graduated her bachelor of Applied Mathematics at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam. The same year she started a traineeship at the IT company Macaw were she worked for six years as Data and Analytics consultant. Now she is doing the OR master.

Chris is 23 years old and currently does the Financial Engineering specialization of the OR track. He has a background in both Artificial Intelligence and Psychology for which he obtained bachelor’s degrees also at the VU. Besides studying, he is part-time working as a Data Scientist at Dataplied.

Where did you find the EOR master and what made you decide this was going to be the next step in your career?

Jelle: During my bachelor I had some courses in Operations Research that I enjoyed a lot, and therefore I was interested in this master. Quite some students from my bachelor choose to switch to econometrics, but most go to Rotterdam. This was also my initial plan, but then I decided I would want do my master in Amsterdam rather than in Rotterdam. The UvA does not offer the OR track, so then it was easy to choose for the VU.

Tamar: During my job I helped a lot of clients to gain more insight in their own data. Mostly through reports and a data platform. However, I never applied my mathematics knowledge. I missed the puzzles of Operation Research. I loved the OR track that I did during my Applied Mathematics study. However, I did not have the confidence to apply for an OR job. I wanted to obtain knowledge and an scientific perspective. I spoke to colleagues and started to look on the internet for OR masters in the Netherlands. I liked the master since this is a one-year-master, and they allowed applied mathematics students after doing a pre-master. The VU master lived up to my requirements.

Chris: During my two bachelor’s degrees, I strongly missed some mathematics in my curricula. My bachelor in Artificial Intelligence at the VU was a good combination between Computer Science and Psychology, but there was not much mathematics involved. In fact, the only compulsory advanced course in mathematics I attended was Linear Algebra. Furthermore, during my Psychology studies, there was not much to it besides some statistics. Especially during these courses, I felt I wanted to learn more about mathematics and its applications. Since EOR concerns applied mathematics on a high level, the program felt as an exciting new challenge. I also thought that further developing my mathematical skills would greatly improve my understanding of the machine learning algorithms used in Artificial Intelligence. Now, I study many methods from the algorithms used in Artificial Intelligence on an advanced mathematical level, as I desired.

Which courses did you take during your premaster? Was there a course you hated? Which one did you like most?

Jelle: I took OR1, OR2, OR3, Numerical Methods and Financial Engineering. OR3 I liked the least because it was very difficult and abstract, whereas I liked Financial Engineering, given by mr Heidergott and mr Ridder, the most because of its setup: a big case that was central in the course and took most of the workload.

Tamar: In my premaster I had to take five courses and I had to pass them within the premaster year; Probability Theory, Numerical Methods, OR II and OR III and Analysis II. A few courses where very difficult, I did not hate them but it was tough. Analysis II was very hard since I did not practice these skills during the past five years, but I liked the knowledge I gained. I did like OR III, because the knowledge about the algorithms were the reason I applied for this master. Furthermore, I really liked Numerical Methods; mostly to learn Python. Previously I only practiced R during my work. I had hoped to learn python during my study as it is very popular in the IT sector.

Chris: At first, I never thought it was possible for me to make such a major switch in studies since I had little background in mathematics. However, to participate in the EOR master (Operations Research track), a student needs to complete the following 4 courses: Operations Research I, Operations Research II, Numerical Methods and Operations Research III ór Financial Engineering. These four courses are spread over a full academic year. This makes it impossible to complete the premaster in half a year, like most of the premasters. I also followed courses in Probability Theory and Analysis the first period to develop a more fundamental understanding of the mathematics applied, as was recommended by the university. I would also highly recommend this to anyone considering doing a premaster, since the premaster takes a full year anyway. Even then, you have a full month off in January and June. You can use this time to work or to make a trip abroad.

Was the premaster difficult? Was there a point you regretted starting it and what did you do to pull through?

Jelle: In the beginning I had troubles getting used to the level of mathematics that was a lot higher than in my bachelor, and a lot of knowledge that was assumed that I did not know yet. After getting more used to the mathematics, it all went fine and I also enjoyed it more after really getting the material.

Tamar: I definitely had some stressful moments. Especially the point where I had to pass OR II, OR III and Analysis II while still having a job for two days a week. Even though I struggled, I was still motivated since I loved what I learned.

Chris: During the first month, I needed some time to adjust to the high level of the courses. Especially the first part of Operations Research I was very theoretical and therefore quite challenging to me. However, it was the challenge that motivated me. Because the premaster program contains both first-, second- and third-year courses in a not subsequent order, I sometimes experienced a lack of prerequisite knowledge during second- or third-year courses. However, this disappeared as the year advanced.

What do you think about the Master? How was the transition from the premaster?

Jelle: The master I think is more difficult than the premaster, and a higher workload. That does not surprise me though, as I also expect any master program to be more tough than its preceding bachelor, you hear that everywhere.

Tamar: I started to study full time. It gave me the time and possibility to focus but also took away the structure and routine. It took me a while to adjust to a full time study life. I like the diversity of the courses and the interesting learnings. The master courses took me more time to prepare for the exams than the premaster.

Chris: The program is challenging, but this was also the case for the premaster. In fact, since I completed the premaster successfully, I now feel confident enough to complete the courses of the master program. I also attend some extra courses from the Financial Econometrics tracks, since this will be of great relevance for my future career path, probably in risk management or data analytics.

Do you think it is different/more difficult to do a master with another background than the Econometrics Bachelor? Or would it be an advantage that you have another background?

Jelle: In this master obviously it is important to have a solid background in mathematics, so if you have this prior to commencing the master, you will be fine. If not, you will have a harder time, but it is still doable I think. Of course a lot of knowledge I obtained during my bachelor, I can use during my master, as well.

Tamar: I felt prepared by the pre-Master, and I think that is similar for those with another bachelor background. However, I did feel the bachelor EOR students were more prepared for some courses. Fortunately, all the teacher are aware of the different backgrounds and they are very helpful if necessary.

Chris: Even though I took a full year to prepare for this master program, it will never be an equivalent of the bachelor EOR. I can almost surely say that by the end of the premaster my mathematical skills were not as advanced as a bachelor EOR graduate. However, I still continuously try to improve by attending extra courses. Besides that, I feel that I have an advantage in programming from my Artificial Intelligence background and my current job as Data Scientist. This saves a considerable amount of time when making the assignments.

Did you experience a change in “culture” with respect to your bachelor/previous university?

Jelle: At the TU Delft you have more of a university feeling because it has a huge campus with a different building for each faculty, contrary to the VU where there are only a few big buildings. Therefore, at the TU Delft you know a lot of people when around you when you are at your faculty. This is something I miss at the VU and something I do not really like. Furthermore I have the idea that at the VU more students do not live in Amsterdam, compared to students not living in Delft. What I do like about this programme, is that the OR master does not have too many students and that this probably causes that the distance between teachers and students is smaller so there is more contact between these. I don’t think any of my teachers in Delft would even recognize me.

Tamar: From my previous study, I was used to small classes and taking every break with friends. Our teachers knew everybody by name. At the university it is a lot more individual and massive. I did make a few friends but you see them less often because of having your own schedule. In university I have a lot more responsibility. It does fit me right now, but I can imagine it would have been hard for me when I was younger.

Chris: To a certain extent, yes. I believe that quantitative subjects as in EOR are harder to self-study. Therefore, students can greatly benefit from lectures and tutorials incentivizing to pay more attention during classes.  I feel many students studying EOR realize this. Compared to my former studies and I guess for qualitative subjects in general, I think the course material is easier to digest. In my bachelor Psychology, the tutorials were mandatory. At EOR, this is not the case since the majority of students will show up anyway.

If you look back to when you were choosing your study: if you then had to choose, knowing what you know now, do you think you chose a different path to cross?

Jelle: I have really enjoyed my bachelor in Delft and I do think it is a very good programme, so I do not regret having completed it. However, doing a premaster requires extra study time that you wouldn’t need to fulfill if I would have done an econometrics bachelor, so in that perspective I might would have chosen this. But of course in retrospect this is always easy to say. On the other hand, masters in Delft take two years and EOR only one, so I am not ‘losing’ time.

Tamar: I wish I would have taken the master one or two years earlier. I felt like I wasted some years doing a job that did not completely fit. Besides, then I would have gained student allowance.

Chris: I do not think I would have done things very differently. Although I ended up in a quite specialized field of studies like EOR, it was my studies in Artificial Intelligence (and psychology to some extent) that made me explore and develop my interests in multiple disciplines. When I finished high school, I struggled choosing a field of studies, like most students do. The number of multidisciplinary studies today make it easier to choose for a student. In the end, the current educational system allows you to further specialize into a field of your interest, by means of a premaster and master. Something I feel I really took advantage of.

What are your plans for the near future after succeeding your master?

Jelle: I do not know yet, but luckily I still have a few more months to think about it!

Tamar: My plans were to travel by train to Nepal with my boyfriend after finishing my thesis. So hopefully corona will be over by then. My ambition is to make a difference in the current consuming world. I hope to find a job at a logistic supply chain company in which I can do that. Plus hopefully not wait to long with getting married and have kids.

Chris: First, I am planning to finish my thesis by the end of the academic year. Then, I might extend my studies by also finishing the Financial Econometrics track. During the (pre)master EOR, I developed a strong interest in (financial) risk optimization. By further learning skills from Financial Econometrics, I feel I will have gained sufficient knowledge in time series models, mathematical optimization, and machine learning, to pursue a career in risk management or data analytics.

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