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Page updated May 29, 2003

Opportunities for Students


 Mission

As noted elsewhere, 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.

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

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 the literature, write reports and papers they list on their resumes, receive letters of recommendation from well known human factors specialists, and develop many contacts in the profession, all of which 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.

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.

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) who are interested in automotive human factors. About half of those students later go on and 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 for undergraduate students interested in research or senior women interested in attending graduate school. Among them are the UROP (University Research Opportunity Programs) and the Sarah Parker Scholars Program. These students have little, if any, exposure to human factors. Students interested in these programs apply directly to the UROP or Parker Program offices.

For UMTRI to continue to fund undergraduate students, they need to show growth in the 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.

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 as until at least that point, an undergraduate student who has completed the introductory ergonomics class is a more cost effective hire. These support practices are common in graduate programs in engineering. 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, confidence 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.

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 speak to him 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/foyer.html. 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.