Careers in Human Factors & Aging

A graduate student contacted me with questions about career paths for those of us in HF with an aging background.  This sounded like a great opportunity for discussion so I’m posting it here.  If you can contribute responses to any or all of these questions, please leave a comment!

I am giving a presentation on the Aging Technical Group [of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society] in my Human Factors Professional Issues course and the focus is on potential career options in this area. I am gathering information from past ATG newsletters and publications within HFES Proceedings in recent years.

I am emailing you to ask if you could provide any additional career-related information. Some questions that I thought might be relevant are listed below.

  1. What are the most common areas of research within human factors in aging?
  2. What are some of the largest changes in research trends within this area?
  3. What are the most common types of careers that individuals working in aging within the realm of human factors typically hold?
  4. What are some unexpected places that one may find hf aging professionals employed?
  5. Is there anything in particular that sets careers in aging apart from working within other areas of hf?
  6. Any other information you can provide about careers in this area

Also, if you could provide any additional suggestions for resources where I might find more information (other than what I listed above), I would very much appreciate it.

4 thoughts on “Careers in Human Factors & Aging”

  1. Just because your research is in aging, don’t limit yourself to an “Aging” job. There are many domains where aging is relevant but may not be specifically titled that way. For example, think of mobile tech usability. One of the biggest growth areas for smartphones is to create age-friendly interfaces. That would open up millions of new customers. Same thing for car dashboards. Right now, it is the young that are most excited about them. Then in health care there is a different origin for aging needs. The average age for doctors and nurses is increasing, which means medical technology and electronic health records need to be usable for an aged population as much as a young one. All of these areas are ripe for your job search.

  2. 1. What are the most common areas of research within human factors in aging?

    Off the top of my head: transportation, mobile technology (as Marc mentioned), home health technology (supporting aging-in-place), web/internet, cognitive training and augmentation…much more.

    2. What are some of the largest changes in research trends within this area?

    Not sure about this one. One thing I’ve noticed (in reviewing papers) is more of an emphasis on social factors (in addition to cognitive/physical factors) in human factors and aging.

    3. What are the most common types of careers that individuals working in aging within the realm of human factors typically hold?

    As Marc stated, it is as varied as any other field.

    4. What are some unexpected places that one may find hf aging professionals employed?

    Maybe some professionals can chime in but you might be surprised at where they are.

    5. Is there anything in particular that sets careers in aging apart from working within other areas of hf?

    Again, Marc hit the nail on the head. Those in HF & aging have the same set of core knowledge and skills as “plain” HF professionals but they also have extra knowledge about the aging process.

  3. 1. What are the most common areas of research within human factors in aging?

    This is a tough question, because there are so many areas! I think it can best be answered abstractly – research on basic ability changes, sociological changes, and their interaction.

    However, this can be split into a myriad of areas — from the emotions older users experience with new technology, to adoption (or not) of that technology, to trust in automated systems, to the types of assistance they desire from systems.

    2. What are some of the largest changes in research trends within this area?

    I’m certainly not the oracle of human factors and aging research, but I do believe I have been seeing more work that takes into account the emotions and motivations of the older user, rather than a strict study of abilities and limitations.

    3. What are the most common types of careers that individuals working in aging within the realm of human factors typically hold?

    Training in cognitive aging as a specialization is also training in cognitive psychology: what you learn by observing differences in age groups can be applied to younger users as well as old. I think this is why you see us all working in such various fields.. you are prepared to study, design, or evaluate anything. I know designers, usability analysts, people in marketing, military research and application, aviation, and academia who have human factors and aging backgrounds.

    4. What are some unexpected places that one may find hf aging professionals employed?

    Software and hardware companies that don’t specifically focus on aging, but appreciate the coming changes to the world population.

    5. Is there anything in particular that sets careers in aging apart from working within other areas of hf?

    It’s a context area, like any other. Most interesting questions only become more interesting when you ask “and I wonder what would happen with older users…,” but it does not mean you aren’t equipped to work with other populations as well.

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