Looking for job experiences involving human factors or education that will help me decide which field of study to pursue.
August 16, 2010 12:02 AM   Subscribe

Pre-Graduate School Question: I am interested in both human factors and education/education administration. Do you have a job related to either of these fields in some way? Can you provide a small window into this current or past job and help me decide which (if either) field to pursue?

Hello everyone,

I recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a minor in Business and, while I was fortunate enough to find a stable entry-level job at a big company doing customer service/general operations work, I have decided that I most definitely want to attend graduate school and do not want to pursue a career in the field I have entered. I always believed I wanted to continue schooling but I really had no idea what I wanted to do when it came time to apply during my hectic senior year of college.

It is nearing application time again and, while I have narrowed down my interests, I still have not made a decision. I’m hoping this question will help. My two interest areas are currently human factors and education/education administration and, although I can read all about the different career paths available after these two areas of study, nothing beats hearing stories of personal experience.

My Interests

Human Factors: I frequently find myself imagining how the systems and products we all use could be more efficient, intuitive, or enjoyable to use. The idea of figuring out how to improve something through different forms of research and then perhaps seeing some of these changes through to completion sounds fun to me. If I took this route I can’t decide if I would want to go into academia or work for government or business.

Education/Education Administration: I began thinking about this when I developed an interest in being a principal (the part where you’re in charge of running a complex establishment with admirable goals, not so much being the stereotypical voice of discipline). This is still appealing. University-level administration is appealing as well. I’ve also thought about research in education. My ideas of what kinds of jobs are available in regards to this interest are a little more vague.

What Would Appeal to Me In a Job

-I enjoy leading
-I enjoy autonomy (although I’d imagine this is common)
-I think I would like doing a wide variety of tasks and having a variety of responsibilities
-I enjoy a challenge and like opportunities to be creative
-I don’t want a job that is very solitary. I enjoy working and interacting with others.
-I have conflicting feelings about working in a company, but maybe I just need the right job (I’m only working an entry-level job right now after all). I don’t really like the idea of toiling away on somebody else’s creation or idea, I guess. I suppose I have this desire to at least partly own what I’m doing? As I said, these feelings are conflicting and complex.

What I’ve Done In The Past That I’ve Enjoyed

I didn’t do too bad for myself in my undergraduate and worked under a professor in a psychology research lab investigating facets of motivation and task persistence. I enjoyed this and found the process of creating and implementing an experiment a lot of fun. I also tutored statistics and to date that has been my most enjoyable job. I like statistics, but, more importantly, I enjoyed teaching and interacting with my students. Finally, I was president of our campus’s chapter of an honor society and loved it. We had always been very active and I did my best to take everything to the next level. I really enjoyed creating a vision of the organization and leading the team of officers to making it happen.

Research I’ve Done In Regards To This Question:

I met with a mentor professor and discussed different options, I’ve attempted to read research in both areas (although I feel like I’m doggy paddling in circles through the Pacific), I’ve visited aera.net and hfes.org, I’ve done a handful of Google searches, and of course, I’ve searched through Mefi archives.

Finally, The Question

For those of you who work (or have worked) in a job that involves human factors or education/education administration (including forms of teaching), can you tell me a little bit about your job? Or, if you took the time to read the above (thank you!) and you do work that you think I would enjoy, your response is extremely welcome as well. Some specific things I would love to know:

1. What is the job? What are the daily responsibilities? Etc.
2. What schooling and/or job experience did you need to get where you are?
3. What do you enjoy about the job? What do you dislike? What are the challenges?
4. How much do you interact with others? How much solitary work is there?
5. In hindsight, what would you recommend to someone like me?
6. Any resources you can suggest?

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and for any answers you might have. I’m really grateful for even the shortest answers or smallest pieces of information.
posted by Defenestrator to Education (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to all the ideas that you mentioned, but if you want to be a school principal then you will need to be a teacher first in many states. I would like to think it is a requirement for all of them. However, I think you would enjoy it. You get to be around (little) people a LOT, you get to organize a complex team, you get to be creative, you get challenged and you have to lead.
posted by aetg at 7:45 AM on August 16, 2010

Hi there. I'm a Human Factors Engineer who practices Voice User Interface Design. I'll be happy to answer your questions.

1. As you may have noticed, Human Factors is a wide-ranging field. While the core practices and knowledge may be the same across fields, the specifics are different depending on whether you work in ergonomics, consumer hardware product design, web design, speech recognition, etc. There are also a number of different roles, such as "interaction designer", "usability tester", "business analyst", "user researcher", etc and your day to day job activities would vary greatly depending on your role and what kind of company you were in. You could work for a consultancy or as an in-house staff member. I apologize for the vagueish answer, but feel free to ask more questions.

2. I have a B.S. in Engineering Psychology and a M.S. in Human Factors Engineering.

3. I love making things better. I hate it when I am prevented (either by technology or business reasons) from making them the best I can. In my role as a consultant, the biggest challenges are satisfying clients and their business needs yet still making a usable system.

4. This will depend highly on your role and company. Generally though, a HF engineer of whatever sort will be a part of a team. My projects are always staffed with a PM, HF, and dev resources. It also depends on the project and what phase it's in. My work now is a bit more solitary because I left my job that was office-based and now work from home.

5. Hard to tell b/c I don't know much about you, but probably yes. If you are creative and enjoy problem solving, that will be a huge help.

6. HFES is a good start. Also check out the Usability Professionals Association and ACM SIGCHI. Find local chapters of these or IXDA or Refresh and go to their meetings. People love to talk about themselves and what they do and you can easily use that to your advantage. Just like me here.... ;)
posted by reddot at 8:54 AM on August 16, 2010

I've worked as an HFE in a few areas (mostly office equipment, software, on-line & multi-media training materials) - in a large company, for a small consulting company, and in academic environments.

1. It is usually project-based. Major activities include: reading up on the area or domain the system is being used in; reading up on design issues, standards, technology issues; interviewing subject matter experts and users; working on project plans (for research activities and system development activities); conducting research (usability testing, knowledge elicitation, etc.); data analysis (quantitative and qualitative) and writing reports. The most important part involves figuring out the goals of the different stakeholders, and determining how you can efficiently and effectively contribute to the design.

2. BA in psych, MS in ergonomics. Returned to school to get PhD. An MS is sufficient for most jobs in business. For academic/government, you may need a PhD. Psych, Industrial Eng, Comp Sci, Information Science are all good areas to get training.

3. I enjoy working with marketing researchers, programmers, industrial designers, subject matter experts, etc. And I like helping to create tools that make people's jobs better.
Similar to reddot, I find it frustrating to start work on a system in which decisions made without my input have led to a bad design which I can only mitigate, not really fix. Getting involved earlier, esp. with system requirements, is a way to have more impact. Having to make decisions without much data, and trying to manage the compromises that are part of any design, are other challenges.

4. It is a mix of solitary and collaborative work - exactly how much depends on the project.

5. There are wide ranges in MS programs - look around, compare. Getting funding (via a RA position) is fairly common. Getting experience with research (experiments, stats, qualitative methods) and development (prototyping tools) is a good idea. Some exposure to design will be good too. If you are going to get into UI design/development, you may want to plan on developing a portfolio.

6. In addition to what reddot listed, the Society for Technical Communication has a nice resource page. Also, since you are interested in education administration as well, you might consider human factors/HCI with a focus on e-learning, computer-assisted training, etc.

Good luck with your decision.
posted by neutralmojo at 11:12 AM on August 16, 2010

It sounds like occupational therapy could be something that you would enjoy? I am currently in an OT Assistant/PT Assistant program, and I hope to become a full-on OT one day.

In Ontario, OT is a master's degree. Typically, applicants will have experience volunteering or working in some kind of health care setting (for example, a lot of our pool staff - I work in a rehab hospital - have gone on to OT). What I love about Occupational Therapy (from what I've learned so far) is that it's (ideally) all about figuring out what people want/need to do, and then figuring out a way to get them doing it (I say ideally, because budgetary constraints can limit the amount/type of OT people receive). Your work on motivation and task persistence would *definitely* be relevant. OTs provide assistive devices to people, and in cases where the device isn't available, they may make it themselves (this sounds like it might appeal to your HF interests). Also, a huge part of the job is teaching clients (to use devices, how to transfer, etc.) OTs do work in public schools, as well as acute care hospitals, rehab facilities...

Being an OT gives you opportunity for leadership (i.e. in hospital departments), and also the opportunity to supervise clinical students or become faculty (for example, for an OTA/PTA program!). You will definitely work with lots of different people and have opportunities to be creative! I'd imagine that the downsides are similar to those of many healthcare provider roles - limited budget, limited resources, potential for downsizing. OT, at least in Ontario, is heavily female-dominated - this could be a pro or a con (I know from a friend currently doing her master's that the faculty prize the few male students - more than one! - in her year).

This is a link to the American Occupational Therapy Association. Good luck with your decisions - what an exciting time!
posted by purlgurly at 1:55 PM on August 16, 2010

« Older Help! Bedbugs in my brand-new place!   |   Alternatives to Le Creuset? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.