So you want to go to school for Human Factors: General Sequence of Events

This is Post 2 in our ongoing series about graduate school in Human Factors. (Post 1)

In this post, we discuss a general to-do list for those considering graduate school in Human Factors. Comments from other faculty welcome!

1. Get Involved in Research as Early as Possible

  • This can be through a senior project, a class at your university where students do a research project, or (optimally) by working as a research assistant in a lab.
  • If your university does not have these opportunities, look around (nearby universities). Many professors will take volunteer research assistants, including in the summer, and train you in their lab. This gives you both experience and a potential reference letter.

2. Start Looking for Departments/Mentors and Evaluate Fit

  • Many programs or labs have information on their alumni. Do they have the kinds of jobs you want? Do their alumni work at places you would like to work?
  • You will work mainly with a single advisor in an apprenticeship model. However, it’s a good idea to consider programs where you match more than one professor.
  • Check out the research interests of potential advisors by reading some of their recent publications or look at their curriculum vitae (the academic term for resume; often found online). We often have an area of expertise but work in other areas as well. You don’t want to choose an advisor based on work from 20 years ago that isn’t being continued today.
  • It is highly unlikely that a potential advisor will initiate a new research area to fit your interests–be flexible in your interests.
  • Create a spreadsheet listing department, contact information/web address to apply, potential faculty (and their major research areas), application fee, deadline, required materials, and your rating of fit.

3. Contact Prospective Mentors

  • When you have identified some potential programs, check their website to see which faculty are affiliated with the program and taking students.
  • Not all faculty take students every year. Some faculty list on their website whether they are taking students. If unsure, a short, formal email to the professor asking if they are accepting new students is appropriate.
  • Just because they are on a departmental website does not mean that they are affiliated with the HF program (that department may have other graduate programs) or that they are taking students that year. If it is unclear, email and ask. It isn’t helpful if, for example, you are applying to a psychology program but list an industrial engineering professor as your preferred mentor.
  • If you would like to evaluate potential fit between you and your potential mentor, you can ask if they are willing to meet with you in-person. Opinions vary, but Skype/video conference meetings may work.

Our next post will give an example of the kind of formality expected in contacting a prospective advisor.