Human Factors Psychology Dominates Best Psychology Jobs

Edited because it’s even more awesome than I first thought…

A recent Buzzfeed article listed the “8 Awesome Jobs That Will Convince You To Be A Psychology Major.” I clicked, despite my oath not to read articles that have either numbers in the title or include the word “actually.”

Turns out… three (edit: FOUR) of the eight jobs are held by human factors psychologists.* Of course, if you want any of these jobs you’ll need a Ph.D, not just a psych major.

Get your graduate applications ready for next year, folks. (And use our handy guide to give yourself a leg up).

*One is officially I/O, but I think HF can claim him since he’s been President of HFES, an HFES Fellow, and Editor of the journal Human Factors.

So you want to go to graduate school in Human Factors?

This is the first post in an upcoming series about human factors graduate school.

If you have decided that you might want to further your education in human factors and ergonomics by going to graduate school, here is some useful information that Anne and I have collected over the years.  While there are many sources of similar information, this one is tailored to potential HF students and answers questions that we’ve received.

First, graduate school will be very different from undergraduate.  Yes, you take classes, but the most important experience is in conducting research–that is how you will be evaluated and ultimately what determines whether you are successful.

Most prospective students in HF are interested in the topic because they are interested in design or usability.  It is important to realize that graduate school will not be like working in a design studio.  Instead, it will be more like being in an experimental psychology program where you take courses in statistics, research methods, cognition, perception, etc.  

You will also take specialized courses in usability or other evaluation methods but it will be one of many.  The goal is to educate you on the fundamentals of human capabilities and limitations so that you can then use this knowledge in the design or evaluation of artifacts (for those going into applied fields).

In the rest of this series, we’ll discuss researching programs, contacting faculty, and various dos and don’ts.

Big Data and A/B Testing

I became interested in using “big data” for A/B testing after a speaker from RedHat gave a talk to our area about it a couple of years ago. It’s a tantalizing idea: come up with a change, send it out on some small percent of your users, and pull it back immediately if it doesn’t work or isn’t better than the original. Even more amazing when you consider a “small percent” can be thousands and thousands of people – a dream for any researcher. Certainly, this connects to last year’s news on the controversy over Facebook’s A/B testing adventures.

The only con I can think of is that if something works or doesn’t work, you may not know why. We are always fumbling toward success, but maybe it’s not good to encourage fumbling over development of theory.

NPR’s Planet Money did a great show recently on A/B testing their podcast and the surprising results. They were also willing to think further about how it could be taken to an extreme, audience testing every segment of the show. Certainly worth a listen.

Warning against overgeneralizing in UX

I enjoyed this article by Matt Gallivan, Experience Research Manager at AirBnB, about the tendency of experts to overgeneralize their knowledge. I try to watch out for it in my own life: When you’re an expert at one thing, it’s so easy to think you know more than you do about other areas.

Excerpt:

Because if you’re a UX researcher, you do yourself and your field no favors when you claim to have all of the answers. In the current digital product landscape, UX research’s real value is in helping to reduce uncertainty. And while that’s not as sexy as knowing everything about everything, there’s great value in it. In fact, it’s critical. It also has the added bonus of being honest.

Somewhat related, here is a fun page analyzing where and why AirBnB succeeds at usability.