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Dr. Eric Bickel, winner of a 2010 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Eric Bickel, winner of a 2010 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation.

Wikipedia Definition: Decision Analysis

Decision Analysis (DA) is the discipline comprising the philosophy, theory, methodology, and professional practice necessary to address important decisions in a formal manner. Decision analysis includes many procedures, methods, and tools for identifying, clearly representing, and formally assessing the important aspects of a decision situation, for prescribing the recommended course of action by applying the maximum expected utility action axiom to a well-formed representation of the decision, and for translating the formal representation of a decision and its corresponding recommendation into insight for the decision maker and other stakeholders. Read more. -->

Dr. Eric Bickel was awarded a 2009 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. These grants are awarded to deserving young faculty members to seed their research programs. The award is for $400,000 and is spread over a five-year period. Two other faculty members, Drs. Adela Ben-Yakar and Alexandre da Silva won it in 2008. See the chart below of ME faculty members who have received a CAREER Award as Assistant Professors since 1992.

Dr. Eric Bickel's Biography

Dr. Eric Bickel's area of research is Decision Analysis (DA), a sub-field of Operations Research. He received his B.S. degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in economics from New Mexico State University and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University in Engineering-Economic Systems, where he studied under Professor Ronald Howard, one of the founders of the Decision Analysis discipline. After leaving Stanford, he worked as a Senior Engagement Manager in the Houston firm, Strategic Decisions Group, and as an assistant professor at Texas A & M, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering for four years before coming to The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2008 to work with the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy and the for Center for Petroleum Asset Risk Management.

Decision Analysis

Dr. Bickel explains that decision analysts help people and companies make better decisions. Primarily, the focus is on decisions made under uncertainty or on decisions that include complex issues of preference. For example, decision analysts help women with breast cancer make treatment decisions. They also help Fortune 50 companies make extremely large, bet-the-company, strategic choices.

Dr. Bickel stresses that good decision making goes beyond the math.

Solid logic is necessary, but not a sufficient condition for high-quality decision making."

Dr. Bickel stresses that good decision making goes beyond the math. "Solid logic is necessary, but not a sufficient condition for high-quality decision making." To address this, he studies what information people need to make good decisions and common decision-making mistakes. One example of the later is the consideration of sunk costs. "I was in a board meeting of a large pharmaceutical company regarding a decision about the development of a drug. It had become clear that the drug was a poor investment. Yet, when we tried to kill the project, someone spoke up and said we 'We can't do that. Look how much money we have spent already.' This should have been a joke, but nobody laughed."

My advice: the past is a canceled check and you have no claim on the future.

Current Research, Consultation and Educational Offerings

Dr. Bickel's primarily research is improving decision making methods and tools. His CAREER proposal is focused on improving the modeling of probabilistic dependence. His primary area of applied research is in energy and climate policy. Recently, Dr. Bickel's research into climate engineering was selected by a panel of economists, including three Nobel Laureates, as the best approach to climate change. Dr. Bickel's hobby is applying DA to baseball strategy. He developed his own decision support tool for pitching and hitting strategy, which was used by 30% of NCAA Division I baseball teams and ESPN.

Course Offerings

CAREER grants must include an educational component. To this end, Dr. Bickel plans to teach decision analysis to ME undergraduates. "We spend more time teaching students seldom used mathematical formulas than we do critical decision making skills." He has received approval for a decision-making course to be offered to qualified undergraduates beginning in the spring semester of 2011, as well as an undergraduate certificate program in Management Science and Engineering.

In summer 2010, Dr. Bickel taught decision making skills to high school teachers and adults that work with at-risk children in a week long course at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, through collaboration with the Decision Educational Foundation. The summer class students dealt with decisions that at-risk teenagers have to make about topics like sex, drug use, college and gang membership, and the ownership of one's decisions. As a community outreach project, Dr. Bickel plans to offer a teacher camp in decision making to Austin area school teachers. For the ME department, Dr. Bickel is teaching Engineering Finance (ME 353) in the fall and spring. His graduate course in decision making will be offered in the spring.

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