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Page updated August 20, 2008

Opportunities for Visiting Scholars

(Engineers, Faculty Sabbaticals,

Post-Docs, and Others)

Can I Work at UMTRI As a Visiting Scholar?
Why Do Scholars Want to Work at UMTRI?
How Do You Explore the Possibility of Being a Visiting Scholar ?
How Long Is a Typical Visit?
What Is the Best Time to Arrive?
Planning a Visit

Can I Work at UMTRI As a Visiting Scholar?

We are always interested in looking for opportunities to collaborate with others from all over the world who have carried out quality research on driver interfaces, driver workload, and related topics. We have had (1) engineers who work for automotive manufacturers and suppliers with whom we have contracts send engineers to work on site, (2) graduate students from other universities spend a year with us, (3) professors from other universities spend a 6-month or year sabbatical, and (4) post-docs seeking additional training. There are 2 key questions we consider:

  1. Has the person done prior research that is closely related to our research? Automotive research that is not human factors does not qualify, nor does research in other areas of human factors, such as restraint system design. (Those with interest in restraints or crash biomechanics should contact the UMTRI Biosciences Division.)

  2. Do they have their own funding? UMTRI is a soft money organization, meaning we are funded by companies and the government to do contract research for them. Therefore, a person seeking to be a visiting scholar must have their own funding for basic support, though if the person works on UMTRI projects, a supplement is possible. According to the International Center rules as of 2008, a visiting scholar must document they have a minimum of $1500/month ($18,000/year) if they have no dependents, $2000/month ($24,000/year) with 1 dependent, and $2200/month ($26,000/year) with 2 or more dependents. For the latest information, check the University of Michigan International Center web site (

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Why Do Scholars Want to Work at UMTRI?

UMTRI has an international reputation for doing first-class research on driving. Visitors come to gain a better understanding of research methods, the research on some topic they are just beginning to understand, or to help conduct a research project their organization is funding. More generally, such visits strengthen the bond between UMTRI scientists and the visitor, and UMTRI and the sponsoring organization. Often, the visitor becomes a “window person” to the sponsoring organization and vice versa. The more general understanding of human factors is what visiting engineers often find most valuable.

Unless the visitor is an engineer funded by their employer, it is difficult to know in advance on which project the visitor will be working, though clearly it will be related to driver interfaces. Many projects are only 1 year long or less, and sometimes funding is not received until 2 or 3 months before the project starts. However, the application process usually starts 6 months to a year before the visitor arrives in Ann Arbor.

Visitors often find that an academic component is an important part of a visit. This includes sitting in on the Human Factors Engineering Short Course ( as well as other courses Dr. Green teaches (Industrial and Operations Engineering 437, Automotive Human Factors, September-December; Industrial and Operations Engineering 436, Human Factors in Computer Systems, January-April). Visiting engineers and graduate students may elect to enroll in a degree program or take courses for credit. To be admitted to a University degree programs or obtain credit as a “not candidate for degree,” the scholar must apply to an academic department. UMTRI has no control over admissions. (As an aside, UMTRI is not an academic unit, so we do not offer classes or award degrees, though UMTRI personnel do participate in teaching through academic departments.)

Another reason to work at UMTRI is to use the instrumented vehicles and especially the driving simulator. It is extremely important to emphasize that except for scientists who have had extensive experience with instrumented cars and driving simulators for human factors research, these are not walk up and use facilities and are quite expensive to use. The major cost is paying for the personnel who operate them. Furthermore, to use the driving simulator, visitors should know TCL (or a similar language) and experience with Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems is desired because they will probably need to write their own scenarios. It usually takes a month to learn the simulator and several months to write the scenarios. Keep in mind that all studies involving human subjects requires approval of the Behavioral Sciences Institutional Review Board ( and it takes several months to obtain approval.

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How Do You Explore Possibility of Being a Visiting Scholar?

Those interested should email Paul Green, including a resume, copies of publications in English, and say why they interested in being a visiting scholar and what kind of support they have. There is no application form.

Eventually, there will be some sort of discussion of the objectives of the visit. Unfortunately, the objectives are often very general, such as “to learn more about human factors.” When the objectives are so general, assessing if the objective was achieved (at the end of the visit) is difficult.

To clarify the purpose, sometimes estimates of how time might be spent during the visit can be helpful. Though one cannot be certain in advance what will occur, these estimates using the table that follows are requested and useful.

% of Time
  UMTRI project Usually, the main reason to visit UMTRI is to work on UMTRI research projects.
  Continuing work on reports, papers, articles, and books This may include reports and articles started before their visit to UMTRI, articles in review, etc.
  Administrative/ company tasks This might include other projects (not UMTRI projects) a company asks a visiting engineer to undertake, which could be as minor as a few hours of library research to something more significant. It also includes paperwork associated with the visit.
  Attend classes This includes the 2-week short course and IOE 436 and 437 (which meet for 3 hours/week for 13 weeks). Those sitting in on classes are expected to do the homework, which takes about 9 hours/week
  Vacation Visitors to UMTRI for a year usually take about 3 weeks of vacation to visit other parts of Michigan (the northern part of the state is popular in the fall and winter) and other cities (New York, Chicago, San Francisco), other states, and national parks. Those with young children often visit Disneyland or Disney World. It is an important part of the cultural experience.
  Proposals If the visitor is a student or professor, they may have obligation from their home university to write or complete proposal for their return.
  Dissertation/thesis For graduate students, their dissertation or thesis, presumably started, may need work during their visit.
  Reading Literature Keeping up on the human factors literature (reading books, journal articles, materials on line, etc.) independent of projects is important.
  Hosting other visitors This includes meeting with colleagues from the company or home university or others form the same country.

After there is agreement about the visit, the UMTRI Director needs to write a letter to the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research to obtain approval. We have never had a request denied.

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How Long Is a Typical Visit?

Most visits are for an extended period of time, 6 months to a year, but 2 years is feasible. In some cases, companies have had a succession of engineers work at UMTRI, with a new engineer rotating to UMTRI every year. Ideally, after an email exchange, there would be some later opportunity to meet at a conference or talk on the phone.

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When Is the Best Time to Arrive?

If someone has complete flexibility, and the visit is a year long, the best time to arrive is around the second week of July. July is a less active month and there are fewer students on campus, so settling into town is easier. Usually, at least 1-2 very busy weeks are needed for administrative matters (getting an apartment, getting a driver’s license, etc.) and then the visitors should sit in the Human Factors Engineering Short Course. Hopefully, by that point their English language skills are sufficient. (Sometimes non-native English speakers take courses at the English Language Institute throughout their stay in Ann Arbor.)

Other good times to arrive are the end of August or early December as the academic semester start early in September and January. Early in May is also a good choice. Settling in takes about a month, with most tasks being completed in 1-2 weeks. Preparing to leave is spread out over 2 weeks.

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Planning a Visit

For the most part, if one must, one can get around Ann Arbor by walking, bike, and public transportation. However, every visiting scholar to the Human Factors Division has purchased a vehicle while they were here for convenience. Cars (for personal use, not research) and car insurance are usually provided by a visiting engineer's employer. Other visitors usually purchase a used car shortly after they arrive (1/family) and sell it shortly before they leave. Students and faculty must use their own finances. If the purchase price is less than $4000, expect to have several large repair bills (>$1000 each) over the period of the visit.

Visiting scholars should therefore get an international driver's license before they leave their home country. This will allow them to drive for 1 year in the U.S. If they don't have an international license, they will have to get a Michigan license immediately (which is useful anyway). As proof of identity, the State of Michigan requires a passport, foreign driver's license, and a third document. To get a Michigan driver's license, one must pass a written test, wait 2-3 weeks for a driving test to be scheduled, and another 1-2 weeks for the license to come in the mail. Obviously for someone studying driving, not having a driver's license is a problem.

Visiting scholars should bring copies of their medical and dental records to the U.S. If they should have a health problem while they are here, a medical history can be obtained quickly. Since most U.S. doctors only speak and read English, visitors might want to have some of the records translated. An alternative would be to get a general health examination shortly after coming to the U.S., so there are health records in English. If there are non-prescription medicines you use regularly (for headache, colds, upset stomach) and prefer, bring them as they may not be available in the U.S.

At UMTRI, we generally provide visiting scholars with a Macintosh computer and connections to the Internet. The computers for Japanese engineers usually have some Japanese application software. Visitors almost always bring their own laptops with them that they can connect to the UMTRI network.

When asked what to bring, one visiting engineer from Japan said "money." Clothing is less expensive in the U.S. than overseas, especially Japan. Most UMTRI employees dress informally. Dr. Green usually just wears a nice pair of pants and a sweater. Some people wear jeans. UMTRI employees rarely wear jackets and ties except at conferences. If the visiting engineer likes certain sports (golf, skiing, bicycling, tennis, fishing, sailing, running, and so forth), they might bring the proper clothing and equipment (except for sailing). The University has excellent athletic facilities. There is a fee to use them (probably $200/year). After paying the fee, most facilities can be used for free, except for golf, for which there is a several dollar daily charge. How much money is needed to start for a 1-year visit varies with the individual, but $3000 should be sufficient (ignoring the purchase of a vehicle).

One of the differences between the U.S. and other countries, especially Japan, is that smoking is not common among professionals here. Smoking is not allowed in most public buildings and it is not allowed at UMTRI. Of the 150 people at UMTRI, less than 10 people smoke (and they go outside to do so). A Japanese engineer from Toyota commented that he had to adjust to this while visiting the U.S. If the visitor is a smoker and reduces their smoking before traveling to the U.S., the adjustment might be easier.

Upon arrival the visiting engineer will need an apartment. There are several complexes not too far from UMTRI (1-2 miles). Most people who work at UMTRI live in Ann Arbor, often only a few minutes away. If desired, UMTRI can obtain information on housing from local real estate agents, but usually housing in coordinated by the visitor, except for visiting engineers, who rely on their employer. For an unfurnished 1-bedroom apartment, rents are about $700-1000/month. The down payment on an apartment is typically rent for 1-1.5 months. The initial fee for furniture rental is $250 or more, though sometimes people purchase furniture at Ikea. Additional funds will be needed for dishes, utensils, pots, pans, cleaning supplies, towels, sheets, blankets, and so forth (maybe another $500). Appliances (TV, microwave, vacuum cleaner, etc.) could be several hundred more. The visiting engineer will also need a bank account. A minimum of about $500 is needed to open an account.

Food is relatively inexpensive in the U.S. There is a very large supermarket 1/2 mile from UMTRI and an Asian food store at about the same distance.

For tax purposes, the visiting engineer will need to obtain a social security card. This will require a visit to the local federal office building.

A visiting engineer from outside the U.S. will need a J-1 or other visa for any extended stay. Generally this is handled by the visitor or their employer (for an engineer), though UMTRI will provide any supporting information requested.

Even though Ann Arbor is in the middle of the U.S., there are a significant number of non-Americans who live here. Of the 35,000 students at Michigan, about 10% are from outside the U.S. Many of them are graduate students who come with their families. In addition, several non-U.S. based companies (Toyota, Hyundai-Kia) have significant operations nearby, adding to the population of non-U.S. nationals. Ann Arbor has a well established tradition of hosting non-U.S. nationals. Additional information can be obtained from the International Center (email:; URL:

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