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Page updated April 19, 2010

 Opportunities for Students

Mission

What Students Do?

Why Work on This Team?

Generally Desired Characteristics

Undergraduate Students

Graduate Students

Applying to Join the Team

Independent Study for Undergraduate/Graduate Students

Guidance for Students


Mission

The driver interface team conducts studies of the safety and usability of navigation systems, telematics applications, and related devices, and carries out more general studies of the workload of driving. Because of our mission to educate students, the team consists of both undergraduate and graduate students (except for Paul Green and the secretary) from the University of Michigan. We spend time not just on conducting human factors research, but also more generally on teaching students the research process. To carry out that mission, we provide an environment that encourages students to learn while satisfying the needs of our customers.

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What Students Do?

The responsibility students are given depends on their expertise and experience. Newer students without a substantial human factors or psychology background are initially likely to serve in a support role: developing software and hardware, helping to reduce data, editing or writing small sections or reports, or other directed tasks depending on their expertise. Students with a bachelor's or master's degree in human factors who have worked at UMTRI for 6 months or so may be given much more responsibility. Graduate students (and even sometimes highly experienced undergraduates) are often given responsibility over an entire project. They are expected to handle the bulk of the day-to-day activities from start to finish of their project. This includes developing test procedures and instructions to subjects, developing test routes to be driven, writing software to control driver interfaces, reducing data, computing statistics, creating figures and tables, and writing and editing reports. Everyone assists with demonstrations.

Students need to realize that most of the time spent on a research project includes planning what to do, analyzing the results, and reporting what was done. Only 10% of the time (or less) is spent testing subjects.

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Why Work on This Team?

Some students join us (especially volunteers) because they have interest in human factors, while for others, finding a way to help pay for school is equally important. When students finish working with us, they invariably say the experience gained from the work was far more significant than the financial aspects. Students learn about human factors procedures and literature, write reports and papers they can list on their resumes, receive letters of recommendation from well known human factors specialists, and develop many contacts in the profession. All of these benefits also prepare students for the working world. Significant contacts are often made in activities related to the Human Factors Engineering Short Course.

Also, our policy is to provide travel funds for all paid team members to at least one non-local relevant professional meeting (Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group for Computer-Human Interaction, Intelligent Transportation Society of America) each year. These meetings (and potential presentations) provide an opportunity to broaden student knowledge of the material, interact with colleagues, and attend job interviews.

Finally, working at UMTRI is an enabler for academic success at Michigan. There are other students at UMTRI who have completed many of the courses the prospective student might be taking. Each student gets their own desk with a networked computer to be used for their research and academic course work, valued resources at the end of the semester when the campus computer labs are busy. There are copy machines available for student use. UMTRI is quiet in the evenings and on weekends (prime home work times) and there are lots of conference rooms for group meetings. UMTRI is a good place to get school work done.

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Generally Desired Characteristics

When considering candidates to join the team, the primary factor for advanced undergraduate and all graduate students is the student's human factors background. Most commonly this takes the form of courses in human factors engineering, ergonomics, or something similar. At the present time, the team is a mixture of graduate and undergraduate students, though there have been times when the team consisted exclusively of undergraduates. Most commonly, students, especially graduate students, are enrolled in industrial and operations engineering, though there have been students from electrical engineering, psychology, mechanical engineering, computer science, human-computer interaction, statistics, and industrial design. Because of our educational mission, if a student's reason for working on the team is predominantly financial, it is best if the student seeks support elsewhere.

Consistent with common business practice, other characteristics that we look for in new students include:

Experience - Do they have a track record of achievements (based on written materials, coursework, etc.) of contributions to human factors or technical areas needed to support the group?

Dedication - Will they complete projects on time (willing to put in extra time if needed, not distracted by personal matters, etc.)?

Teamwork - Can they cooperate with others? Do they work well in groups?

Initiative - Do they show initiative when necessary (do more than what they are told to do)?

Attendance - Do they come to work on time?

Professional Growth - Have they made efforts outside of class to learn more?

Personal Appearance - While we do not wear suits and ties, both individuals and their workplace need to have a professional appearance. Outside visits from sponsors are common.

For a more detailed list of what skills you should have, download this document.

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Undergraduate Students

About half of the team members were at one time Industrial Engineering Undergraduate (IOE) students at Michigan enrolled in IOE 334 (Ergonomics Laboratory) or IOE 436 (Human Factors in Computer Systems). These students are primarily interested in automotive human factors. About half of those students later go on to seek a master's degree in Industrial and Operations Engineering at Michigan.

Our preference is to hire undergraduate students as hourly employees, though when funding is tight, some students may elect to work as volunteers to prove their worth. There is no guarantee that volunteers will eventually be hired. Undergraduate students are expected to work a minimum of 10 hours per week during the school year, though 20 hours per week are desired. When fewer hours are worked, projects take too long to complete and contractual obligations to sponsors are not met. During final exams students may elect to reduce their hours slightly. However, students are expected to bank hours during the semester to cover this situation. During the spring-summer semester, students work full time (40 hours per week), though they may work a few hours less in the spring half semester (to take a class).

Consistent with our educational mission, some students are supported (either for pay or for credit) by various University programs. These are specifically for undergraduate students interested in research or junior women interested in attending graduate school. Among them are the UROP (University Research Opportunity Programs) and the Sarah Parker Scholars Program. These students usually have little, if any, prior exposure to human factors. Students interested in these programs apply directly to the UROP or Parker Program offices.

For those unfamiliar with these programs, UROP provides students with credit or financial support for their research experience, which makes them more attractive. Furthermore, the UROP program provides tutorials and other activities that enrich the research experience. There are approximately 1000 students involved in UROP.

The Marian Sarah Parker Scholars Program encourages women in their junior year who are doing well (GPA 3.5 or above) to consider pursuing graduate degrees. The program provides some limited financial support as well as workshops to help them think about the future. UMTRI’s experience with Parker scholars is that they are very capable students, and that the program does help them make better decisions about graduate school.

Students are strongly encouraged to consider these programs.

For UMTRI to continue to fund undergraduate students, they need to show growth in their research accomplishments, not just academic progress. Growth may be reflected in time spent outside of work hours learning how to use facilities (the simulator, instrumented vehicle), software, or other tools at UMTRI. UMTRI is under pressure to publish its research in journal articles or proceedings papers. Accordingly, to receive funding, undergraduate students are expected to author or co-author a submitted conference paper or journal article each year they are at UMTRI.

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Graduate Students

In addition to University of Michigan undergraduate students who remain for a graduate degree, there also are usually graduate students (especially Ph.D. students) on the team who came to Michigan with specific interests in human factors and driving, and a particular interest in working with Paul Green. These students are mostly engineers and psychologists with some human factors coursework seeking to deepen their expertise. Research or practical experience as a usability specialist, human factors engineer, or ergonomist is a plus for graduate applicants.

For graduate students, some sort of financial aid is often a requirement for them to pursue a graduate degree. The University has an extensive program of financial support, described in detail on the Office of Financial Aid web site. Graduate students can either fund themselves, work in local businesses, work as hourly employees for the University, or work for the University as graders, instructional assistants (IAs), graduate student instructors (GSIs) or graduate student research assistants (GSRAs). Graders and instructional assistants are hourly wage appointments. GSIs and GSRAs are provided with a stipend, health care, and their tuition is paid. Their financial package is established based on an agreement between the University and the graduate student union. We will only hire graduate students research assistants if they are willing to work at least 20 hours (a 50 % appointment) during the fall and winter semesters, and full time as an hourly employee during the spring-summer. They may elect to spend additional time on their own research. The support from GSRA or GSI positions should be sufficient to cover living expenses.

The pressure to publish is also on graduate students. After 1 year, graduate students are expected to author or co-author a submitted conference paper or journal article each year they are at UMTRI. Similarly, to receive funding, Ph.D. candidates are expected to produce 1 journal article per year.

GSI appointments are made by the students home department (industrial and operations engineering for most students) based largely on faculty input. GSI appointments are for a single term to teach specific courses. If a graduate student is interested in a GSI appointment, they should identify the specific courses (by number and title) they can teach, check the course description, determine when the course is being taught, and if there is a match, submit an application to the appropriate department administrative contact (Mary Winter for industrial and operations engineering). In IOE, contact with faculty members is generally not advised, though GSIs interested in working with Paul Green should contact him. Previous teaching experience is the best argument for teaching a similar course at Michigan. If there is a good match between the student, the course, and the faculty member, and if the student meets other University requirements (having completed on-campus instruction on teaching methods, adequate knowledge of English, etc.), the faculty member can recommend a specific student to teach a specific class.

The College of Engineering does not allow international students to be given GSRA/GSI positions for their first semester, and first semester support for domestic students who were not undergraduates at the University of Michigan is uncommon. Normally, industrial and operations engineering does not allow international students to be GSIs in the first year in the department. Furthermore, international students must take the GSI exam at the English Language Institute and complete numerous workshops related to teaching.

In general, graduate students without a human factors background should not expect support for 2 semesters. This is because an undergraduate student who has completed the introductory ergonomics class is a more cost effective hire. These support practices are common in engineering graduate programs. In fact, students must certify they can support themselves for their career at Michigan if financial aid is not available.

The University is much more likely to give financial aid to students in whom the faculty have confidence. This confidence is established by ongoing, direct contact with the faculty via email, phone calls, and visits to campus. Visits to campus may not be possible for international students. Meetings with faculty members at professional conferences (such as the annual meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society) are a plus. Students are much more likely to obtain financial support if they contact a few faculty members with whom they have common interests rather than every faculty member in the department. The best strategy is to contact 1 person.

Some faculty find that coming to campus a month or so before school starts and working with a faculty member as a volunteer is a good way to establish confidence in the student. This approach facilitates the transition into campus life because starting classes and getting established in Ann Arbor (setting up an apartment, getting a local bank account, file change of residency forms, etc.) do not occur at the same time.

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Applying to Join the Team

Students interested in joining the team can apply by sending a cover letter, the skills/knowledge interview form, and a resume with references to Paul Green via email, or in person. Should the application process proceed, at least one example of a written technical work in English (journal article, technical report, or paper) relating to human factors and a list of references will be requested for graduate students. A visit to UMTRI to meet the team and participate in face-to-face interviews is suggested.

Prior to being considered for addition to the team, students must first be admitted to an academic department. To apply, go the University of Michigan web site, click on "prospective students," and find the program of interest. The main page for graduate school admissions is http://www.rackham.umich.edu/Admis/index.html. The main admissions page for the College of Engineering is http://www.engin.umich.edu/admissions/. For additional information on industrial and operations engineering, see http://ioe.engin.umich.edu/. Students who are contemplating attending the University of Michigan should know that Paul Green has no influence over admissions to the University. In considering additions to the team, both individual capabilities and funding are considered.

Students are supported by outside research contracts, and those funds are limited. Students are hired only if there is adequate support for them until they graduate. Students are usually not hired for single projects or for a single semester, so to the extent we can provide it, there is job security. Sometimes, no matter how deserving a student, we may not be able to support them.

Even for volunteers, we are reluctant to have students work with us for a short term because of the training time required for students to become efficient. Because they may leave as soon as a funded alternative arises, volunteers need to provide a written commitment before we will consider them.

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Independent Study for Undergraduate/Graduate Students

From time to time students approach us about wanting to work with us. Either because they want some record of the activity or they need the credits, students elect to take an independent study course, Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) 491 (for undergraduates) or 591 (for graduate students). Before doing such, check with the IOE department advisors that the planned independent study course will fit program distribution requirements and, of course, obtain Paul Green’s permission before enrolling in his section (37).

For students who are contemplating an independent study, it is highly recommended they contact the prospective advisor (here, Paul) the semester before they plan to take the course. Working with that faculty member, they need to determine what the independent study should encompass.

Common practice is for an independent study to be 3 credits for 1 semester. Given a 3-credit class meets 1/week, and it is typical to have 3 hours of homework for each hour in class, the expected effort is 12 hours/week. Given a typical 13-week semester, target the effort for a 3-credit independent study to be 156 hours. It is not as that one must complete 156 hours and when 156 hours have passed, one is done. Rather, it is a target to help define the scope of a study.

Thus, the first step is to determine what will be done by meeting with Paul. Resulting from that meeting will be some ideas about the type of activity (literature, experiment, etc.) and specific questions to be addressed starting with the words who, what, when, why, or How. In addition, needed is 1 paragraph describing what is to be done, and a rough schedule. All of the information should fit on 1 page. For undergraduates with no research experience, they will need help from Paul with developing time estimates. Do not expect the first proposal to be acceptable. It may take 2 or 3 rounds of editing, which is why what the independent study will be should be resolved the semester before the independent study occurs.

Also, make sure there is extra time in the schedule so that all the work is completed in the desired semester. Students cannot graduate with an incomplete grade, and incompletes that remain such for a year automatically lapse into an “F.” Because independent studies usually do not have hard due dates (such as those for tests and homework assignments), there is a tendency to delay tasks and not complete them on schedule. The better students do not have that problem.

Once the study is underway, the student will be given a desk at UMTRI and a key. They should expect to be at UMTRI for most of the project time each week to interact with others at UMTRI. They should set up a regular schedule. Following that schedule indicates they are dedicated to completing the course on time and are reliable.

For many students, this independent study is their first, so assessing their progress is difficult. As a benchmark, the first draft of a literature review is the halfway point. For an experiment, finishing testing subjects is just past the halfway point and the first draft of the report is ¾ done.

It is very important than an independent study produce a physical deliverable, either an UMTRI technical report or a draft proceedings paper. For the student, when interviewing for a job or applying for graduate schedule, this should be a quality piece of work that distinguishes them from other applicants. For faculty (e.g., Paul), this is important because salaries and raises are determined by how much they produce.

For the format of UMTRI reports, check the publication section of the driver interface site. For proceedings, check the last year for the society of interest on their site.

Whichever type of document is the deliverable, allow in the schedule for many, many reviews, say at least 4 or 5. Remember, Paul is juggling many tasks, so he may not be able to provide a thorough review the day after you submit a draft. The acceptable level of quality for professional publications is much higher than one can submit for a homework assignment, and it takes time and effort to achieve that quality.

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Guidance for Students - the Importance of Professional Societies, Conferences, and Journals

Students that have read this far are either dedicated, very interested in human factors, or both, so congratulations on getting this far.

The most important message students should gain from college is that professionals must be regularly engaged in learning on their own. This is a message that Paul Green makes repeatedly in IOE 436, 437, the Human Factors Engineering Short Course, and on many other occasions. Encouraging self-actualized learning is not a secret scheme to create permanent employment for professors.

Many think of college as beginning a trade school—to provide specific knowledge to become employed. But what people need to know is changing, and after a few years, some of what was learned previously in college may be obsolete. However, new and presumably less expensive new graduates (who could replace current employees) should be well informed of the latest developments in a profession. Those who do nothing to enhance their professional knowledge fall behind. Regardless of how much or little an employer helps with professional development, each individual bears responsibility for assuring they have a future with their employer, they can be promoted, and if the organization fails, they have marketable skills for a position elsewhere. Thus, an important lesson from college is to teach students how to learn on their own, when there are no required tests or due dates for assignments, as well as reinforcing a thirst for knowledge.

There are many ways that learning can occur, but it often involves professional societies. Students are strongly encouraged to join professional societies, attend conferences, and read professional journals, spending on average, several hours per week on these activities. Performing these activities will keep students informed of the latest developments in their field and put them in contact with other folks with similar interests who can help them find information they need, jobs, employees, and support other professional needs. The smartest people are invariably the most prolific readers.

Speaking in the first person, if I were to consider someone for a job, the first thing I would do is to check the candidate’s resume for membership (either as a regular member or student member) in a relevant professional society. In the case of what the Driver Interface Group does, the most relevant society is the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, but sometimes the Usability Professionals Association or ACM SIGCHI are appropriate substitutes. Membership in a professional society is less of concern for undergraduate students because they are still determining their professional interests. However, by the time someone has graduated or they are a graduate student, those interests should be determined. If a job applicant did not belong to a relevant society, further consideration for a position would be unlikely, as they do not appear to be committed to being a professional and growing intellectually.

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