"I enjoy working on practical applications of math."
Mike originally wanted to be a computer programmer. But co-op terms spent processing data for the TTC and BF Goodrich in Kitchener convinced him that he needed to switch. He transferred to his preferred course of study, Combinatorics and Optimization. Luckily, the program differences were minimal, and he was able to change majors in fourth year. “I started getting ‘A’s.”
After graduation, from ’71 - ’78, he worked full time in the Data Processing Department at UWaterloo, on payroll and student administrative systems. He also launched projects to optimize exam scheduling, the matching of students to co-op placements, and classroom assignments. His algorithm for classroom assignment was awarded the annual practice prize by the Canadian Operational Research Society in 1988. When asked to describe the impact of the system he said, “There used to be three people in the Registrar’s Office working every term for three weeks full time to assign rooms to classes. When the automated system was implemented, nobody complained; No one even noticed!” It would be the first of four practice medals Mike would receive during the course of his career.
Throughout his full-time employment in Data Processing, he was also a part-time student and a teacher. He began teaching an introductory course in simulation in 1973 and completed his master’s degree in C&O in ’74. This experience sparked his passion for university teaching. He entered the PhD program in ’75 and eventually began teaching optimization full time for two years from January ’79 to December ’80. At the time, faculty positions were scarce in mathematics but his data processing experience appealed to the University of Toronto Department of Industrial Engineering. He was hired as an assistant professor in 1981. Now the Dept. of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Mike is a full professor and has served as associate chair twice.
In 1989, he was a co-investigator on an operating room scheduling project for five Toronto hospitals. During the two-year study, he began to realize how inefficient our healthcare system was. “Things are much better today, but there is still work to do.” He decided to focus his research efforts on process improvement in healthcare, including operational issues like the optimization of nursing and operating room rosters, and policy decisions like forecasting the needs for physicians in Canada. For a time, he was the only academic researcher in Canada working on process improvement in the healthcare system. Today, there are dozens of Canadian researchers helping to build a better system through the development of mathematical decision support tools.
In 2008, Mike founded the Centre for Healthcare Engineering to promote education and research in collaboration with healthcare institutions. The Centre has grown to include 11 affiliated faculty members and is among the leading centres in the world for healthcare modelling.
During his 36-year career, he has supervised more than 100 graduate students and most of those have joined him in addressing significant challenges in the healthcare industry. “I’m always on the lookout for excellent graduate students interested in this field.”