What led you to choose to major in psychology, specifically human factors and applied cognition?
It’s when I found out that human factors and applied cognition (HFAC) is the field of making things more usable and understandable. It’s about designing systems with the user in mind and making the world more intuitive, and I’ve realized I’ve been doing this my whole life: asking myself questions like “why is this door handle designed to be pushed when it should be pulled?” Studying human factors and how to better design these interfaces is a perfect match for me.
What have you enjoyed so far about studying your program in psychology?
I really enjoy the diversity in terms of classes--if you’re really interested in usability, social robotics, driving/transportation human factors, etc. I’m personally interested in User Experience (UX) and human-computer interaction (HCI), so I’ve tailored my coursework to what I want my outcome to be. This program is very versatile in allowing you to do that. Some other grad programs are heavy on the basic research or primarily applied research, but our program is a really good mix. And the D.C. area is a gold mine for Human Factors and UX jobs--I got an internship the first week that classes started thanks to a referral from one of my professors.
What kind of research are you currently working on?
At my internship I do a lot of work with government clients. They’ll hire us to conduct user experience research on digital products to explore and identify usability, comprehension, impressions, and cultural factors that might influence how users interact with their products. We have tested advertisement exposure so that advertisers can have an understanding of “how quickly can users process visual information?” For instance, on Facebook you’re scrolling through your news feed and you only see an ad for a fraction of a second, so we did a study to understand if an ad can make an impression in that short duration.
What extracurricular or other exciting activities are you involved in?
I’ve been on the executive board for our Human Factors and Ergonomics Society student chapter for two years now, so I help organize a lot of events for students, including networking and professional development events. Our HFES chapter is pretty awesome.
We also throw the annual Usabilathon, started by alumnus Dr. Eric Blumberg. It’s a hackathon-style usability experience where student teams spend an entire day going through the iterative design cycle to solve a usability problem proposed at the beginning of the day. At the end of the day we present to the judges and they choose a winner. It’s really cool because you get people from all experience levels, from novice to expert, and anyone can participate. You get real UX experience to put it in your portfolio and can also network with companies that might be hiring.
What are your career goals after graduation?
I’d like to get a job as a user experience researcher at a product-based tech company. I really like technology and innovation, so hopefully something in that space.
What advice do you have for prospective students to your program?
My advice would be to ask questions to older students and faculty, especially if you’re not sure what you want to do career-wise. Line up a campus tour if you can. Everyone in our program is very down-to-Earth and approachable. When I first came into the program I would pick the brains of third- or fourth-year students with questions such as “I see you did this internship one summer, how was that? How did you get it? What did you learn from it?” We have some incredibly bright people here at Mason, but the cool thing is that they are equally willing to share their knowledge and experience with newcomers.