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. Elizabeth Blickensderfer received her Ph.D. in Human Factors & Organizational Psychology the University of Central Florida and is currently an Associate Professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL.
Anne: Hi Beth, thanks for agreeing to an interview. Would you tell me a little about your job and what you like most about it?
Beth: I am an associate professor in the Human Factors and Systems department. I teach 2-3 classes each semester (undergraduate and graduate), and work on various funded and unfunded research projects. For example, I am currently working on two FAA funded projects. The first one is examining human-machine interface issues related to certifying Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to fly in U.S. airspace. The other FAA funded project is testing the efficacy of a training course which teaches pilots to better understand weather technololgy tools. Some other projects that I am involved with focus on human error in aviation maintenance and weather related issues in Helicopter Emergency Medical Service flights. I also oversee master’s theses on a variety of topics at Embry-Riddle.
One aspect that I LOVE about my job is that I am able to balance teaching with research. I love my students and interacting with them in the classroom and mentoring them as they develop their human factors/erogonomics knowledge and skills. I also love staying involved in sponsored research projects that involve interesting questions about a variety of human-machine interaction issues.
Anne: One of the commenter on our blog wanted to know why people would choose to work in academia versus industry. How did you decide on your career path and what pros and cons do you think there are for an academic job?
Beth: Again, I love teaching and my students. While most jobs involve the mentoring and coaching of junior colleagues, my position in academia allows me even more opportunities to mentor and also to instruct in the classroom. I am fortunate to be a faculty member at a teaching university that also values research. That way I am able to do both. Not all universities have the same culture, however. Another reason I enjoy academia is that I have considerable flexibility in where and when I do my work. This allows me to balance my career with having a family. A potential con to my position at my university is that I do not manage large scale research programs. That would be extremely difficult to do effectively with my teaching course load.
Anne: What kinds of jobs do your graduates, both undergrad and graduate, usually end up with when they leave your program?
Beth: Our alumni work everywhere! A few examples are the United Space Alliance, Rockwell-Collins, Symantec, Microsoft, Northrup Grumman, the FAA, NASA, various organizations within the Department of Defense, Boeing, and the list goes on.
Anne: Many universities never teach their psychology students about the field of human factors. If you had the opportunity to guest lecture to introductory psychology courses, what would you tell them about the field of human factors to get them interested?
Beth: Working in human factors and ergonomics means you get to combine many interests in one field – you are working at the cutting edge of technology and seeing your work make a difference in the world, all while earning good money!
Anne: That’s true. We can have fun while being practical. So, who was the last speaker that you saw present and what did he or she talk about?
Beth: Yesterday I saw Ms. Anousheh Ansari, a successful engineer and entrepreneur. Ansari established the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million cash award for the first non-governmental launch of a reusable manned spacecraft twice within two weeks. In 2006, she participated in an 8 day expedition aboard the International Space Station. Ansari has published her life story in My Dream of Stars: From Daughter of Iran to Space Pioneer, a book coauthored with Homer Hickam.
Anne: Wow, that must have been fascinating! Speaking of books, what book are you currently reading?
Beth: “The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir” by Katrina Kenison. It is all about treasuring the ordinary, unremarkable moments of everyday life the most.
Anne: So true. Well, here is one last question that I already know the answer to… What are you doing on April 7, 2011?
Beth: Ha! Hosting the 2011 Student Conference on Human Factors and Applied Psychology! All students interested in human factors are welcome, even if they do not wish to present and there is no need to pre-register.
Anne: Thanks so much for your time — I hope the conference goes well!
Background Image Photo Credit: iagoarchangel