This post is from our series of human factors career profiles. Check them all out if you’re curious about what kinds of careers you can have in this field!
Dr. Ron Shapiro received his Ph.D. from Ohio State University. He has had a long career in human factors, including being a visiting Assistant Professor at Denison University, consulting for three years with Dunlap and Associates, and then spending 23 years at IBM in their Large Systems Group, Software Group, and in Corporate Learning and Human Resources. He has taught as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Conneticut, Dutchess Community College, and at Marist College. He is currently an independent consultant in Human Factors and Human Resources.
Anne: Hi Ron, would you briefly describe your job and what you enjoy most about it?
Ron: Right now, my favorite activities are introducing Human Factors/Ergonomics to students, faculty and to organizations and helping to grow our profession. This includes consulting on career planning for students and offering recommendations on how to solve problems. An advantage of being on my own is that I get to do work that I want to do.
Anne: That’s a nice advantage. So, how did you get interested in Human Factors as a career?
Ron: As an undergraduate I was interested in people (psychology) and computers/information processing. A graduate associate recommended that I look into Cognitive Psychology, which I did.
While I wanted an academic appointment when I graduated, they were few and far between for Cognitive Psychology. A number of the graduate students at Ohio State were taking applied jobs in Human Factors, so I decided to learn more about HF. One very valuable discussion which I had, that actually became a turning point in my career, was with Tom Eggemeier at the University of Dayton. As I learned more about HF from Tom and others, I found that I was very much in demand in the applied world (after a year of getting mostly academic rejections I received numerous job offers without even filling out applications!!!) Indeed, I was not prepared for this level of success, and as I think back about it I probably could have managed the success better.
Anne: It sounds like you have gotten to do a number of different things in your career. What skills do you need the most for your current job?
Ron: Listening to people and drawing on the human factors literature, experiences which colleagues, many of whom I have met through HFES and APA Division 21, have shared with me as well as my own personal experiences to propose solutions to problems.
Anne: Could you share an example of how you’ve seen HF make a difference in the world?
Ron: Actually, the example I’ll give is of something I have not seen. Neither has anyone else, but I can certainly imagine it: The number of accidents/injuries/deaths which have been prevented through HF Design. I think about it whenever I’m going to do something significant like ride in an airplane.
Anne: If you could tell an undergraduate psychology major about opportunities in human factors, what would you say?
Ron: Actually, I do this very frequently both formally and informally. My next formal address on this will be at the Eastern Psychological Association (EPA) Conference in Boston in March.
First, I highly recommend the career for individuals interested in both people and technology. The advantages are that it is interesting work, there are very good opportunities for internships and jobs, and they are high paying. Now, the disadvantages are that you will need to live where the jobs are and you won’t necessarily know whose life you saved.
Anne: Good summary! Undergraduates frequently tell me that they want to help people, but they imagine that as a 1 on 1 job, rather than creating systems and products that help a large number of people, as you describe. I saw from the HFES site that you have been on a number of panels on that very topic.
Ron: Yes. I agree with you. I have also found that students do not think of careers in prevention as a means of helping people — probably more people than they could ever help in a treatment role, but anonymously. I began to work in the career development area for HF students and professionals years ago when I observed that students needed guidance from professionals with experience working in government and industry. In 1996 Tony Andre, who was also doing significant work in this area, and I decided to work together on HFES Career panels. We traditionally offered these on Tuesday afternoon at the HFES meeting immediately before the student reception, but last year we decided to team with Sandra Garrett and move these to Student Career Monday. By coincidence, this year Tony is the President of HFES and I’m the Secretary-Treasurer, so Tony and I have the opportunity to work together in a new capacity. Tony is currently on a two-year leave from the Career panel organization to serve as HFES President.
I also participate in the Student-Professional lunches at HFES which are organized by Haydee Cuevas. I would encourage blog readers to attend the career panels and to participate in the lunches. I would also like to acknowledge Bill Moroney’s work in providing analysis and interpretation of data on “where the jobs are” to help shape educational programs and to help students prepare for their careers. (Since you are in North Carolina I might add parenthetically that my career development work expanded beyond the HF profession. One of my management jobs at IBM was managing Career Services for IBM North Carolina Employees.)
Ron: First, our success as individuals and as a profession is in part highly dependent upon our developing a market for our services and developing future as well as current members of the profession is critical to our growth and survival. I believe that in order to be a profession we need to communicate with each other both personally and technically… transcending corporate boundaries for our entire career… not just until we graduate from school. Professional societies are critical to doing all of the above. While the internet is useful, without an organized structure its utility is limited.
Anne: Many of us have heard about your Games to Explain Human Factors: Come, Participate, Learn & Have Fun!!! Outreach Program. How can we learn more about it?
Ron: You might check out the Games website. The 168 page program is available free to HFES and APA Division 21 members and teachers upon request.
Anne: And finally, how can one arrange to have you speak or consult?
Ron: Just send me an email: DrRonShapiro1981 at SigmaXi.Net or call. I’d be pleased to work with you.