Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors—MS, PhD

A Multidisciplinary Endeavor, A User-Friendly End

Influence the next generation of consumer products, technological systems, or other user environments.

The Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences at Michigan Tech offers MS and PhD degrees in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors. This research-intensive program unites the expertise of multiple disciplines toward optimizing performance, health, and safety at the interface of humans and technology. Participating scholars include both human experts and built-systems experts, including psychologists, engineers, computer scientists, and usability specialists.

Scholarship emphasizes human attention, perception, memory, cognition, and action in the following areas:

Current Research

Departmental research pursues practical solutions to real-world problems. The human factors component of the program is concerned with the design and evaluation of technological systems, products, and work processes from the perspective of human characteristics, needs, abilities, and limitations; and applied cognitive science focuses on understanding and enhancing information processing within both human cognition and machines.

Research is under way in the domains of driving, education, finance, health care, military, law enforcement, medicine, sports, surgery, and other complex sociotechnical areas.

Current Research Topics

  • Auditory Displays
  • Cognitive-Task Analysis
  • Decision-Support Technologies
  • Emotional Design
  • Expertise
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Human-Performance Modeling
  • Knowledge Elicitation
  • Next-Generation Technologies
  • Occupational Safety
  • Risky Decision Making and Risk Literacy
  • Stress and Performance
  • Situation Awareness
  • Simulation
  • Training
  • Usability
  • Virtual Reality
  • Workload and Fatigue

Curriculum

The program’s curriculum is designed to develop scholars and practitioners capable of improving sociotechnical systems through instructional and technological design, providing a strong scientific and technological basis in cognitive science and human factors. Master’s and doctoral students enrolled in this program gain core competency in understanding human behavior, conducting human-subject research, and employing the concepts, tools, and applications of human-factors psychology.

Job Market

There is a growing need for experts trained in human factors. Opportunities are expanding in all employment sectors, including industry, government, and academia. Nonprofits and consulting firms also employ human factors specialists. Common job titles in the area of human factors include

  • Cognitive engineer;
  • Customer-experience specialist;
  • Ergonomist;
  • Human-factors psychologist or engineer;
  • Knowledge engineer;
  • Usability specialist;
  • Usability engineer;
  • User-experience specialist; and
  • User-interface designer.

Departmental Degree Requirements

Refer to the Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors Program Graduate Handbook for a detailed explanation of departmental-specific MS and PhD degree requirements. The department’s independently established degree requirements include the following:

(i) Terminal master's students must do a thesis or report. (ii) Students in the PhD program without a master's degree must do a thesis. The report and thesis options require students to first write and orally present a proposal for their report or thesis. After successfully defending their proposal, they must then produce a written thesis or report and orally present their thesis or report to their committee for evaluation.

(iii) Students in the PhD program who already hold a master's degree and who wish to earn an MS in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors en route to the PhD must do a thesis. Per (i) and (ii), the thesis option requires students to first write and orally present a thesis proposal. After successfully defending the proposal, students must then produce a written thesis and orally present the thesis to their committee for evaluation.

(iv) Students in the PhD program who already hold a master's degree in human factors, cognitive science, or a highly relevant area and who do not wish to obtain an MS in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors en route to the PhD must complete a graduate research project, unless they have petitioned ACSHF Graduate Program Committee to be exempted from this requirement and have received approval. As per the thesis, the graduate research project must be first proposed, and then the final version of the project must be orally presented to and evaluated by the ACSHF Graduate Program Committee.

MS Options

In addition to the Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors Program Graduate Handbook, see also the Graduate School's Master of Science requirements page.

The Master’s program in ACSHF requires a minimum of 32 credit hours, including core courses and a Master’s-level thesis or report. Depending upon the background of individual students, some courses may be waived. For more information see the Graduate Program Director. Students wishing to enter the program to receive a terminal Master’s will be considered on a case by case basis (see Admission Requirements). The minimum of 32 hours of core graduate credit required for the Master’s degree are made up as follows:

Degree Components

Statistics and Methods Core

7 credits recommended (6 credits min):

PSY 5210 Advanced Statistical Analysis and Design I (4 hrs) or pre-approved graduate statistics course from another MTU department (≥3 hrs).

PSY 5220 Advanced Statistical Analysis and Design II (3 hrs) or pre-approved graduate statistics course from another MTU department (≥3 hrs).

Research Core

6 credits (min):

PSY 5999 Graduate Research (Minimum 6 hrs)

A thesis or report is required for all terminal Master’s students. Ph.D. students wishing to obtain a Master’s degree en route must complete a thesis (see Master’s Thesis & Report section). To be eligible to remain in the program students must be enrolled in at least 1 credit of 5910, 5999, or 6999 every Fall and Spring semester, unless pre-approved by the graduate director and the student’s advisor.

Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors Core

6 credits:

PSY 5100 Applied Cognitive Science 3 credits
PSY 5850 Human Factors I 3 credits

“Specialization” Core

6 credits (min):

Specialization courses provide students with a more comprehensive understanding of a research domain and prepare the student to engage in research and apply those findings. Students are required to take 6 credits selected from courses specified as specialization courses. Although the specialization courses offered change each year, courses designated as such in past have included:

PSY 5010 Cognitive Psychology 3 credits
PSY 5060 Cognitive Systems 3 credits
PSY 5160 Sensation and Perception 3 credits
PSY 5750 Judgment and Decision Making 3 credits
PSY 6990 Sp. Topics in Cognitive Science: Expertise and Skill Acquisition 3 credits
PSY 6990 Special Topics in Cognitive Science: Attention 3 credits
PSY 6991 Special Topics in Human Factors: Neuroergonomics 3 credits
PSY 6991 Special Topics in Cognitive Science: Memory and Learning 3 credits

Courses from the electives list that reflect the student’s area of specialization may be substituted for those specialization core credits above with approval from the primary advisor and the graduate director.

“Tools” Core

6 credits (min):

Tools courses focus on specific methodologies that may apply across research domains and have broad applications beyond the core statistical competency requirements. Tools course expose students to advanced methodological skills that should apply both within their chosen specialization and others. Tools classes provide training in topics such as advanced cognitive modeling, cognitive task analysis, usability analysis, advanced statistics, survey methods, performance assessment, physiological measurement, or other methods used in ACSHF.

Students are required to take 6 credits selected from courses specified as “tools” courses. Although the courses offered change each year, courses designated as such in the past have included:

PSY 5300 Human Performance 3 credits
PSY 5860 Human Factors II 3 credits
PSY 6990 Special Topics in Cognitive Science: Cognitive Modeling 3 credits
PSY 6991 Special Topics in Cognitive Science: Testing and Measurement 3 credits
PSY 6991 Special Topics in Human Factors: Applied Ergonomics 3 credits
PSY 6991 Special Topics in Human Factors: Psychometric & User Experience 3 credits
PSY 6991 Special Topics in Human Factors: Cognitive Task Analysis 3 credits
ToCS 5760 Human-Computer Interaction and Usability Testing 3 credits

Courses from the electives list that reflect the student’s area of specialization and equip students with additional tools, methods and/or practical skills may be substituted for those above with approval from the primary advisor and graduate director.

Advanced Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)

1 credit required:

Students are required to take an advanced RCR course within the first year of their enrollment. The university and department offer several courses that may satisfy the RCR requirements. A complete listing can be found at the Graduate School.

As part of required RCR training, students are required to complete human subjects training using the full social/behavioral research course offered by the CITI program.

University Degree Requirements

Thesis Option

This option requires a research thesis prepared under the supervision of the advisor.  The thesis describes a research investigation and its results. The scope of the research topic for the thesis should be defined in such a way that a full-time student could complete the requirements for a master’s degree in twelve months or three semesters following the completion of course work by regularly scheduling graduate research credits. The thesis must be prepared following the current procedures.  

At least two weeks prior to the oral examination, students must

The Degree schedule form (M4) must be approved before a defense is scheduled.

Students must also report the results of the oral examination and submit a final thesis to the Graduate School prior to completing their degrees.

The minimum requirements are as follows:

Course work (minimum)20 credits
Thesis research6–10 credits
Total (minimum)30 credits
Distribution of course work credit 
5000–6000 series (minimum)12 credits
3000–4000 level (maximum)12 credits

Report Option

This option requires a report describing the results of an independent study project. The scope of the research topic should be defined in such a way that a full-time student could complete the requirements for a master’s degree in twelve months or three semesters following the completion of course work by regularly scheduling graduate research credits. The report must be prepared following the current procedures.

At least two weeks prior to the oral examination, students must

  • Schedule their examination using the Pre-defense form
  • Distribute the report to the examining committee

The Degree schedule form (M4) must be approved before a defense is scheduled.

Students must also report the results of the oral examination and submit a single paper copy of the corrected and approved report in a sturdy binder including an original signature page to the Graduate School.

Of the minimum total of 30 credits, at least 24 must be earned in course work other than the project.

Course work24 credits
Report2–6 credits
Total (minimum)30 credits
Distribution of course work credit 
5000–6000 series (minimum)12 credits
3000–4000 level (maximum)12 credits

PhD Plan

In addition to the Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors Program Graduate Handbook, see also the Graduate School's Doctor of Philosophy requirements page.