Enhancing lives by improving technology: There’s a degree for that

New master’s program will train students in the psychology behind technological design

Imagine this scenario: A woman enters a booth to cast a ballot in this year’s election. After carefully going through every screen and marking her choices, she reaches the end of the ballot, presses the next key and leaves the polling place. Unfortunately, because of the way the voting machine was designed, she didn’t realize she needed to press one more button to finalize her vote.

Photo credit: 123rf.com/Rice University. Back view of worried businessperson on city background with connected question marks. FAQ concept

Photo credit: 123rf.com/Rice University

If you’ve ever made a mistake caused by poorly designed systems and technologies, you’re not alone. The fields of human factors psychology and human-computer interaction deal with the psychological reasons behind these struggles. A brand-new master’s degree program from Rice University’s Department of Psychological Sciences will offer instruction in this high-demand area.

The full-time, two-year program scheduled to launch in fall 2019 will train students to address issues including health care, driving, aviation, product design and cybersecurity. Students will learn to examine human behavior and capabilities in order to find the best ways to create safe and effective products and systems that are also user-friendly.

Eduardo Salas, chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences and a professor specializing in human factors, said although many people might not realize it, we’re affected by human factors from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed.

He said that poorly designed systems and technologies affect everyone, and problems can range from misunderstanding voting equipment and failing to cast a ballot to life-threatening situations caused by a mix-up of patient information in a hospital setting.

“Human factors is rooted in everything we do,” Salas said. “Developing better products, services and routines can result in something as simple as instructions that are easier to understand or as important as saving the life of a hospital patient.”

Designed for students from a variety of backgrounds, including psychology and engineering, the program includes 37 credit hours across 11 courses, including a summer internship and a master’s project. After graduating, students will have the skills to:

  • Understand fundamental human perceptual, mental and physical capabilities.
  • Comprehend the relationship between technology and human behavior.
  • Collect human performance data and analyze and explain it.
  • Apply knowledge to the design and assessment of products or systems.

Fully accredited by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), the program will be led by faculty who are fellows in the HFES, the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, the Association for Psychological Science and the National Academy of Inventors.

Houston’s size makes it a great location for the new master’s program, Salas said. Students have access to industries and other institutions of higher learning that can provide valuable experiences during their studies and job opportunities after they graduate, he said.

“Houston is a fantastic place to launch this degree,” he said. “We’re excited to offer a program in such a high-demand field that will provide opportunities in industry, government and education.”

Patricia DeLucia, a professor of psychological sciences at Rice specializing in human factors, said you need to look no further than a jobs website to see the demand for human factors psychologists.

“Just search one of these websites and type in ‘human factors,’ and you’ll see thousands of these jobs across the United States,” DeLucia said. “Most of the jobs offer starting salaries between $65,000 and $85,000 a year.”

Rice’s Department of Psychological Sciences already boasts successful graduates who have gone on to work in many industries. Rice psychology alumni are currently working at NASA, AT&T, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Bloomberg, Halliburton, General Motors, Dell, Fidelity Investments and more.

More information can be found at http://psychology.rice.edu and http://psychology.rice.edu/MHCIHF.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.