What is Human Factors?

Hello, all!

To give to a little bit of a taste of what I do at Gulfstream (and some tips on how to get your foot in the door here), I figured I need to explain what it is exactly that I do.

I’m a human factors engineering intern; I’ll try to explain the basics of what I do. Not a whole lot of people know what human factors is, but a simple explanation of what human factors is is the study of the interactions between humans and machines, creating a better overall experience for the human. There are endless opportunities within human factors, anything from ergonomically designing seats and controls (like a steering wheel in a car or a side-stick in an airplane) to developing checklists. Human Factors plays important roles in aviation and safety, which is why, thanks to the help of the FAA, there’s been a huge influx of human factors department growth within major aerospace companies. Some companies, like Gulfstream, have had human factors departments for a long time, but have tried to expand the influence that human factors has in the overall design and development of aircraft.

Human factors isn’t just touchy-feely, “how does this make you feel?” science. It’s more about “what can I do to make this easier for the user?”. Take your car for example. Every single button shape, the amount of force required to press the button, the symbology, color, and size all had input from a human factors professional. The seats in your car? A human factors and ergonomics specialist helped designing those. The brightness of the lights on a flight deck and how they affect night flying or the shape of the cockpit windows and how the light reflects off of the glass cockpit are both practical examples of human factors in aviation.

But physical systems such as cars and airplanes are not the limits of human factors. Operating procedures and training are also big parts of human factors. One example that I’ve become familiar with while working at Gulfstream is writing SOPs which are standard operating procedures. It’s basically a how-to guide for completing a task. For human factors, SOPs are great because we can design the SOPs to complete a task in the most effective and efficient manner. It is very often that what we design is not the common practice, but the changes made can make the job easier, decreasing workload, physical load, and other factors. ATC is a perfect example of human factors in a non-physical system. Another example would be rearranging an operating room so that the doctors and nurses have all of the pertinent equipment close by rather than having any issues with space and access to important people and equipment.

There’s a lot more to human factors than meets the eye. I’ll be perfectly honest and my HF friends and colleagues will agree that it’s not easy. Some people have the idea that HF majors have it easy, but until you experience what we do, you really have no idea how technical levels. Now, I’m not saying that it’s as hard as or harder than an engineering program. But they’re almost incomparable. Where there is an engineer, there’s a human factors specialist. One cannot exist without the other nowadays.

If you’re interested in pursuing human factors as either a major or a minor, I’d be more than happy to help you out and answer any questions!

I hope this helps explain what human factors is. I’ll be posting more about it further in the summer time. Now it’s time to focus on my human factors work at Gulfstream!

Until next time – blue skies.


Arriving in San Diego

Flying into downtown San Diego

Flying into downtown San Diego

I can remember my first day of school. My mother dressed me in a big, puffy skirt and styled my hair in the same trend as Pebbles Flintstone to make a good impression. After my parents took my picture, they left me with 25 other screaming, hyperactive children. I was a little alarmed and nervous being on my own for the first time. Back then, my biggest concern would have been: Who will feed me? What if I get sleepy and need to take a nap? What if I get in trouble for stealing Timmy’s lunch?

Well, 15 years later, I can honestly say I had the same fears in getting ready for my internship. Okay, okay, maybe the “stealing Timmy’s lunch” thing was a little silly. I don’t know anyone named Timmy, and besides I think Michael has been the one mad at me for stealing his lunch at work lately. I was still scared. Worried I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself, or wouldn’t be able to get to work, or scared my apartment wouldn’t be ready and I’d be living in a van down by the river with my newfound homeless friends. Not only was this not the case, but everything turned out better than I could have hoped for.

About 2 months ago, I found out I was accepted to the Office of Naval Research’s Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program under the American Society for Engineering Education. 3 HUGE names! I was hired for ten weeks in the summer as a human factors engineer/user-centered designer. A few weeks later I was asked if I would be interested in extending my internship. Do I want to stay in sunny San Diego a few extra weeks and make even more money? Is that even a real question? Well, it must be rhetorical because there really is only one answer to that.

My apartment very close to the end of the San Diego International runway. Riddle kids contain yourselves!

I got on the plane in Orlando at 11 am, flew to Dallas Fort-Worth, and arrived in San Diego at 6 pm. Seeing the glowing city with Naval battleships soaking in the bay as we came in for landing got me even more excited about the next few months of my life. As soon as I picked up my bags at the claim, I walked out into the summer heat and got a taxi. It was a 5-minute drive to my new apartment. The driver couldn’t find the apartment number, so I walked partly to the condo (and tipped him very low). Along the way, I found my landlord who met with me that night to give me my key for the next four months and to introduce me to my two roommates, Sharelle (25) and Laura (31). After the landlord left, Sharelle took me to Trader Joes, a small grocery store close by. We then got pizza at a restaurant in the same building. All the stores and restaurants were a 5-minute walk up the street surrounded by Spanish-style buildings and villas. We ate our food and brought our groceries back to the apartment. I finally got a chance to unpack and get settled in my room. The location is actually a 3-story condo owned by our landlord. It was brand new and very clean. I had a queen-size bed with new sheets waiting there for me. My room is the only one on the first floor. Growing up around 3 sisters and a brother, I wasn’t used to having so much privacy.

I woke up the next few days feeling as if I was on vacation. Since I was a week early, I had time to sleep in and visit the popular areas around San Diego. The first full day there, I walked around the city getting anything I needed to feel comfortable in my new apartment. The next day I went to the park, bathed in the radiant sun, and ended the relaxing day at a market on the beach. My roommates called it the hippie market, because it was run by, well, you know… “free-spirits.” Walking down the street I saw foods from almost every continent. There was hand-made jewelry, fresh, exotic fruits, and anything from bright scarves to leather halter-tops. The market ended at a band playing on the beach. This was my first time seeing the Pacific. I felt so small standing next to it, especially with the mile long boardwalk extending out above my head. The people lining the sand of the beach were the epitome of what I would expect to find in California. It was a very diverse crowd consisting of “free-spirits”, hula-hooping enthusiasts, motorcycle gangs, and the surfers out in the water.


Avid hula-hoopers

Avid hula-hoopers

Surfers and Swimmers

Finally got to step in a different ocean.

Finally got to step in a different ocean.

The next day was spent exploring historic San Diego. The entire day, my roommate and I walked through Old Town. Eating burritos, drinking a margarita or two, window-shopping the tourist trap shops. I know what you’re thinking, “How can anyone spend an entire day in an awful tourist trap?” Try finding the name “Carolyn,” on a souvenir. Any souvenir! Aside from the shops, there were beautifully restored buildings housing the many restaurants. Mexican culture was celebrated in a majority of them with colorful flags waving in the breeze, and performers Salsa dancing for the entertainment of others. It was hard to come home that night knowing work would start in just two days.

A good place to go on my breaks from work.

A good place to go on my breaks from work.

Great View!

Only 10 minutes from where I live!

Only 10 minutes from where I live!

Sunset Cliffs.. A little less flat than Florida. Watch your step

As my internship just officially started this past Monday, I will be posting about it in my next entry. Keep coming by…