9 Career Settings for Human Factors Psychologists

Human Factors Psychologists May Work in These Job Settings

Human Factors Psychologists May Work in These Job Settings

Human factors psychology is the study of the relationship between humans and machines. Specifically, it looks at how people interact with technology. This kind of study helps designers and engineers understand how to improve the performance of technology and safety as well.

While you might think that human factors psychologists only work in labs or manufacturing plants, the truth of the matter is that they are employed in a wide variety of settings.

If you want to become a human factors psychologist, it’s important to know where you could be employed. This information could help you as you lay out your college plans. You might take specific courses, seek out an internship, or work with certain professors on research depending on your desired post-graduate location of employment.

Below is a list of nine career possibilities for someone with a degree in human factors psychology.

Government Offices

Human factors psychologists are often employed by governmental agencies. This typically means working in an office setting.

If you take this career path, you will likely have an office or cubicle for doing your work. Much of that work will probably involve sitting at a desk at a computer. You may spend some time in the field or traveling to and from meetings as well.

Research is usually a big part of working for government agencies. For example, if you work for the Federal Aviation Administration, you might be asked to research ways that pilots can more effectively interact with the computer systems on an aircraft. This kind of research might be something you spend months – if not years – conducting.

Human factors psychologists who work for state and federal government agencies are often responsible for instituting policies and procedures that ensure safety. For example, you might be in charge of writing new policies for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Industrial Headquarters

Industrial headquarters are one of the top career settings for human factors psychologists. Large corporations, especially those involved in production, manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution are likely to employ these specialists. As a human factors psychologist, you can help a company lower its rates of on-the-job injuries. Their input can also lead to improved efficiency and production.

If you become a human factors psychologist and are employed by these large corporations, you might split your time between sitting in an office and using a computer and visiting a production or manufacturing facility. When visiting these facilities, you will likely do a lot of observation.

For example, you might survey the manufacturing process to look for inefficiencies or potential hazards. These observations could lead you to develop new standards, policies, or procedures that make the manufacturing process one that is more streamlined and safe for workers.

Architecture & Design Firms

Human Factors Psychologist in Architecture & Design FirmsHuman factors psychologists are sometimes employed by architecture and design firms. This career path is a little less common than others on this list, yet it is still an important and valuable career.

In architecture settings, human factors psychologists might work with a team of architects to help inform them about how their building designs should operate. In other words, they provide input regarding how people can best interact with a building’s layout.

For example, a human factors psychologist might assist in the design of the manufacturing floor of a plant. Their input would help architects devise a schematic that allows workers to most freely and efficiently interact with the space.

As another example, human factors psychologists might recommend ways for high-rise developers to structure the lobby of the building for maximum flow.

In the design world, human factors psychology has wide applicability. You might help a medical design team devise a more efficient use of space for an operating theater. As another example, you could contribute to the design of fire evacuation routes so they are easy for people to understand and follow.

In these realms, you would typically work in an office setting. However, some travel to building sites would likely be necessary. These site visits would probably take place with the larger design team to ensure the plans for the building are being carried out as designed.

Research Centers

Occupational safety and health research centers often employ human factors psychologists. Likewise, healthcare research and psychology research facilities are common employers as well.

These facilities are usually office suites. They may also include research laboratories within the building. In the case of occupational health and safety research centers, these facilities may include mock-ups or representations of different types of work environments. These mock-ups are used by human factors psychologists to study things like: 

  • Improving ergonomics
  • Reducing frustration
  • Increasing safety
  • Making interactions with machines more intuitive

Human factors psychologists who work in these places may also travel. Traveling has the primary purpose of visiting different work environments in action. While mock-ups aid human factors psychologists in their work, seeing a real, work setting can prove invaluable as they strive to find ways to improve the human-machine dynamic.

The Military

Though the military might not be the first career setting that comes to mind for this field, it is certainly an option.

Human factors psychologists might work in any number of fields in the military. You could help design cockpits of future fighter jets to improve the pilot’s ability to do their job as they fly. You might also redesign tools that troops use in combat such that they are more effective in helping troops take on various tasks.

Safety is a top concern for all branches of the military as well, and human factors psychologists contribute to projects that improve safety. For example, you might conduct research on how to change operational guidelines for field service such that military members can carry out their duties with enhanced safety and security. 

Improving the effectiveness of service members is also a top priority of the military. Human factors psychologists are part of this endeavor. As a psychologist in this field, you can help inform military brass about ways to streamline procedures, redesign trainings, improve tools, and so forth, with the end goal being a more effective and purposeful military.

Like many other jobs on this list, human factors psychologists in the military will often work in an office setting. The difference, of course, is that your office would be in a government building or military base. This is not a combat position, though, so the likelihood of being on the front lines of a battle are slim to none.

Healthcare Facilities

Human factors psychologist might work in healthcareAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many human factors psychologists work in healthcare facilities. Hospitals employ about six percent of psychologists, including human factors psychologists. Ambulatory care settings, including rehab centers, physical therapy offices, and occupational therapy centers may also employ human actors psychologists.

These professionals might also work in the administrative headquarters of healthcare companies, health research centers, or healthcare consulting centers.

There are many benefits of working in the medical field as a human factors psychologist.

For example, the work you do can improve the safety of patients. Likewise, your work could help streamline medical processes so that patients receive care in a more timely fashion.

Human factors psychologists that work in this field also work to reduce clinician burnout. The medical field is a stressful one, so finding ways for clinicians to do their jobs more efficiently and safely can certainly improve their job satisfaction.

Other duties you might encounter in this field of work include:

  • Improving communication between medical staff
  • Optimizing training procedures for new staff members
  • Reduce the incidence of errors during medical processes or procedures
  • Design technological solutions that improve the patient experience

More generally, working in the medical field as a human factors psychologist is all about coming up with solutions to common problems. Those solutions have to be sustainable for the long-term, which can complicate things. However, your work can have a significant, long-lasting effect on the lives of patients and the medical workers that treat them.

The Automotive Industry

Carmakers pursue the input of human factors psychologists throughout the design and development of their vehicles. But what might you contribute to a vehicle design as a human factors psychologist?

You might assist in the design of dashboard components so they are within easy reach and easy to identify without moving one’s eyes off the road. You might also come up with improved designs that make the cabin of a vehicle more ergonomic and comfortable.

Many vehicles today have infotainment systems with touchscreens and pages and pages of menus. Human factors psychologists are involved in the development of those items as well.

In fact, every knob, button, and dial inside a car was likely developed with some level of input from a human factors psychologist. Not only does their advice help in creating a more effective cabin for doing the work of driving, but their input also helps carmakers create comfortable and easy-to-use environments for drivers and passengers alike.

Information Technology 

If you have a degree in human factors psychology, you might consider a career in the information technology field.

Since human factors psychologists focus on making human-machine interactions better, it stands to reason that information technology firms would want their advice.

In this field, you might make recommendations for website layouts and designs. You might also suggest placement of navigation menus and buttons on mobile sites to enhance the user’s experience on their mobile phone.

In fact, you might have a degree in human factors psychology yet work as a web designer, a user experience designer, a user interface designer, or a user experience researcher. The skills you gain in a human factors degree program will prove to be invaluable in any of these tech-related careers.

Private Practice

Human factors psychologists may also work in private practice. They may have their own consulting business or work in a group practice with other psychologists, such as an industrial-organizational psychologist.

They might have other professionals as a part of their private practice, as well. For example, as a human factors psychologist, you might work with an ergonomics or occupational health and safety specialist.

Those who work in private practice might have an office suite or work out of an office in a room in their house. They may also use the office facilities of their clients.

People who work in human factors psychology may also work for themselves or as consultants. In such cases, their job setting might be split between an office in their home or a shared workspace and traveling to the facilities of their clients.

Typically, people who are in private practice specialize in a certain type of human factors work. This might be the medical field or manufacturing. It could also be engineering or IT systems. There are many different possibilities for finding your specific niche within human factors psychology.

How to Become a Human Factors Psychologist

The first step in becoming a human factors psychologist is to get a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Usually, a bachelor’s program is general in scope. However, in some cases, you might find the ability to specialize in a human factors bachelor’s program or something closely related. Engineering psychology, aviation psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology are examples.

In some cases, a bachelor’s degree is all the formal education you need to enter this field. Many of the careers in the list above have a bachelor’s degree as the minimum level of education.

However, others require that you have a master’s degree or a doctorate. For example, to work in private practice, you’ll need a master’s degree at the least. Jobs in research will also typically require applicants to have a master’s degree or above.

By the time you finish your bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, you’ll have spent a good 6-7 years in college. You can add another 4-5 years on top of that for a doctorate. And while that is a long time to be in school, the potential rewards can make it worth it. Not only will you likely make more money with an advanced degree, but you will also gain advanced knowledge and skills that will make you more marketable for varied positions.

Awareness of the process of becoming a human factors psychologist and these career settings could help you decide which jobs are best suited to your personal preferences.

Sean Jackson

B.A. Social Studies Education | University of Wyoming

M.S. Counseling | University of Wyoming

B.S. Information Technology | University of Massachusetts

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