Category Archives: profile

Profiles in Human Factors: Dr. Elizabeth Blickensderfer, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

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

Profiles in Human Factors: Dr. Ron Shapiro

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.)

Anne: I know you are heavily involved in organizations like APA, especially Division 21, and HFES. Can you tell me why that is a priority for you?

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.

Profiles in Human Factors: Dr. Julian Sanchez, Medtronic

This post is the first in our new series of human factors career profiles. Dr. Julian Sanchez  was kind enough to answer my questions about his job and the journey he took to get there. Dr. Sanchez received his Ph.D. in psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology and has worked in a variety of settings, from agricultural technology at Deere & Co. to aviation at the MITRE Corporation and is currently with Medtronic in Minneapolis.

Anne: Hi Julian, let’s start with “Would you briefly describe your job and what you enjoy most about it?”

Julian: I work for a medical device company called Medtronic, within their Cardiac Disease Management division. I am part of the R&D group so I work alongside scientists of all disciplines on product ideas that are at least 5 years from making it to market. I help ensure that Human Factors and UX issues are considered early in the design process.

Implanted pacemakers and defibrillators have the capability of wireless communication with a receiver that then transmits all of the data from the patient’s heart to the doctor’s office. I mean, how can anyone think that working in this field is not the coolest thing?

Anne: Sounds like you like it!  How did you get interested in Human Factors as a career path?

Julian: To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I was really going to love HF as a career path until I did an internship at John Deere. This was only two years before getting my PhD, so thank god for that! I guess the internship really hit home that all of the theoretical principles that I had learned in grad school could be applied, AND there was a real thirst for it.

Anne: So, what skills from graduate school have you used the most?

Julian: During grad school I taught myself Flash, a prototyping tool. Besides HF knowledge, this has been the skill that has best served me. Being able to mock up a prototype gives you the ability to pitch ideas to other engineers and designers.

Anne: Neat. Ok, if you could tell your first-year graduate student self a single sentence, what would it be?

Julian: Great question. “Don’t rush”

New Series: Profiles in Human Factors

An upcoming series of posts will cover interviews with human factors professionals and academics. I would like to put faces on the career and share the multitude of options an HF degree can offer.

If you have a question you’d like me to consider putting in my interviews (or a person you would like to see interviewed), please post a comment or send me a message.

Stay tuned!