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How Do I Become a Human Factors Engineer?

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  • Written By: Kenneth W. Michael Wills
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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Human factors engineering is a growing field of importance, particularly in the design of products used by people to accomplish tasks. It is a fairly new field of study and application, synthesizing knowledge from a broad range of fields to include agronomics, psychology, cognition, probability, statistics, engineering, operations research and industrial design. Those looking to become a human factors engineer will usually need a Master’s in Human Factors Engineering or in a related discipline. Many of the graduate programs available will require undergraduate training in the discipline as a prerequisite for entry. Lacking such a degree will make it virtually impossible to secure a position as a human factors engineer due to the precise training required to succeed on the job.

In the workplace, a student who graduates and goes on to become a human factors engineer will conduct research and work with product and systems design teams to build products that end-users will feel comfortable using. Objectively, a human factors engineer will apply advanced scientific theory and sound engineering principles to optimize a product's design so that it responds to natural human movements. As such, a human factors engineer needs an extensive background in human factors science, human factors interaction, and human factors engineering. Additionally, there are several specialties in the field to include usability, human/machine interaction, cognitive ergonomics, and user experience engineering.

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A new student, working to become a human factors engineer will need to first earn a bachelor’s degree in a field that directly deals with human factors, cognitive science, engineering and ergonomics. Undergraduate study will prepare students with the foundational knowledge required to conduct design studies and to understand human ergonomics and cognition, while gaining foundational understanding of engineering principles. Degree programs vary among colleges and universities, and are not always called human factors engineering. Terms utilized include applied psychology, applied cognitive science, industrial engineering and human ecology. It is important to note, however, that the undergraduate degree does not prepare one to work as a human factors engineer, but will usually get an applicant into a design study or research position.

After completing an undergraduate degree, a student will need to apply for and gain admissions to a graduate program if he or she wants to become a human factors engineer. Whether a master’s or a doctorate program, employers will require graduate training in a human factors engineering discipline, industrial engineering or applied psychology. Preferably, many employers seek candidates with a PhD, but will often consider those with a master’s degree. Increasingly, programs at the graduate level specialize as well, offering options to study human/computer or machine interaction, usability, cognitive science, or applied psychology. Experience working in an engineering environment is also important, and internships upon graduation can help students gain this experience.

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