What does it even mean to be a decision scientist? And why would I want to be one?

You see it every time you look through the course catalog, browse the Cal State Fullerton business college website or look at the directory. Information Systems and Decision Sciences (ISDS). The first part makes sense. But what in the world are decision sciences?

You’ve probably guessed it’s not scientists trying to make decisions. But what is it?

And as a business student, you’ll have to make a decision about it – whether to pursue it as an academic or professional path.

Have no fear, for ISDS Lecturer Daniel Cavagnaro, director of the CSUF Decision Research Center, is here to interpret this field.

“I view decision science as a merger of data science and behavioral science. It is an interdisciplinary collection of quantitative techniques for understanding and improving decision making,” he says. “Some decision scientists study why people choose to do what they do, investigating questions like why people buy insurance, or gamble, or choose not to wear a seat belt. Others focus on optimal decision making, which means balancing risks, costs and benefits in optimal and/or strategic ways to achieve precisely defined goals. This includes data-driven insights to help organizations make better decisions.

“Ultimately, the decision sciences are about enhancing individual, group, organizational and societal decision making in support of a better future.”

A decision scientist might work at a university, researching or teaching on the field. But many more are in the private sector, applying their know-how to real-world business problems in the technology, manufacturing or supply chain fields, or other industries.

Why Should I Pursue Decision Sciences

Studying why people make the choices they do might not seem too exciting – or lucrative. So why would you want to devote your lifework to this?

Turns out decision scientists can make some good money. Salaries average $96,799 per year, according to ZipRecruiter in November 2019, but can be as high as $149,000. And the market is very active, both in Orange County and nationwide.

“One rewarding aspect of a career in decision science is that it is a young field, so there is a lot of space for creativity,” says Cavagnaro. “The field is very open to new methods and ideas. Thanks to its interdisciplinary nature, there are many entry points into a career in the decision sciences.”

Despite the room for individuality, there are some skills Cavagnaro says you’ll have to possess to make it big in decision sciences. These include math, technology and behavioral science acumen, and that typically means a graduate degree or higher.

“Some decision scientists will start with a degree in mathematics or computer science, and then apply those techniques to solve business decision-making problems in areas like advertising, human resources or insurance,” he says. “Others will start with a degree in a business discipline such as marketing or finance, and then supplement that training with a master’s degree in data science or business analytics.”

For Titans, there are three concentrations in decision sciences. One is for undergrads, the others are for grad students as part of the M.S. in information systems program or the M.S. in information technology, an online program geared for working professionals that is ranked second in California among online degree programs.

The Decision Sciences of the Future

As a decision sciences professional, Cavagnaro is excited about the merger between human and algorithmic decision making.

“Researchers are discovering new ways for computer systems to incorporate the unique strengths, as well as various limitations, of human decision making,” he says. “For example, research on the wisdom of the crowds, domain-specific expertise like chess, human creativity, selective attention, and smart heuristics are helping to inform the design of sophisticated decision aids, collaborative filtering mechanisms, and recommender systems.”

These tools will make it easier for business leaders to make smarter and more efficient decisions that will improve their firms’ performance and the functioning of the overall marketplace.

About Daniel Cavagnaro

A Cal State Fullerton lecturer since 2011, Cavagnaro, a UC Irvine Ph.D. alumnus, hopes that the Decision Research Center he leads will become a hub for interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-pollination in the decision sciences field.

“The center can do this by hosting conferences, workshops and other events that bring together faculty and students from different departments sharing a common goal of enhancing our scientific understanding of decision making,” says Cavagnaro.

Currently, the center is gearing up for the annual Edwards Bayesian Research Conference, scheduled for Feb. 27-29, in which investigators will present original research on a wide range of topics related to judgment and decision making.

On a lighter note, Cavagnaro played water polo in high school, can carry on basic conversations in Mandarin Chinese, and likes to listen to the soundtracks of classic video games while working.

For More on ISDS

For more on Cal State Fullerton’s Information Systems and Decision Sciences programs, visit the Department of ISDS online. Or read more of our articles on ISDS education and research.

And after finding out more about decision sciences, are you motivated to pursue this as a field of study? We’d love to know what you decide.