George Mason University

Location:   Fairfax, Virginia

Department:   Psychology


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Directory of Graduate Programs


Title of program:

Human Factors and Applied Cognition Program (HFAC) (PhD, MA, Certificate)

Year human factors/ergonomics
program was established:

MA 1972
PhD 1990
Certificate 2006

Accredited by HFES?


Contact person for more information, including applications:

William “Deak” Helton
George Mason University
4400 University Drive, MSN 3F5
Fairfax, VA 22030


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Human factors/ergonomics graduate degrees offered:

MA, PhD, and Certificate

Goals, objectives, and emphasis of the programs:

The graduate program in Human Factors and Applied Cognition (HFAC) provides instruction and research training (MA and PhD) for students wishing to pursue careers in the academic, public, and private sectors. Certificate programs in usability and transportation human factors are also offered. Across all areas, a strong emphasis is placed on students developing a good understanding of cognitive theory, acquiring advanced methodological and statistical skills, and learning how to apply these tools to real-world human factors problems. The program emphasizes several areas, including general topics in human factors and applied cognition, neuroergonomics, human-machine teaming, and robotics.

Human factors involves the design of technologies and work environments to be compatible with human capabilities and limitations. Applied cognition involves the study of the characteristics of basic human perception and cognitive processes relevant to human performance at work. The methods used in this research include behavioral performance testing, eye tracking, computational modeling, and neural measures. Neuroergonomics is the study of the human brain in relation to performance at work, transportation, and other everyday settings. The Human Factors and Applied Cognition graduate program is one of the few in the country that provides training in this new area of research. Human-machine teaming refers to the coupling of humans with computing to complete joint tasks. Robotics emphasizes topics related to the social integration of robotics into our society.

Number of degrees granted during last 3 years:

PhD 6
MA 30
Certificate 4

Can students attend part-time?

PhD no
MA yes
Certificate yes

Are classes offered at night?


Does the university have an HFES student chapter?



Application deadlines:

January 15 for PhD
February 1 for MA
March 15 for Certificate

Application Fees:

$75, separate applications required for university and department


Minimum requirements

  • GPA: PhD 3.0, MA 3.0, Certificate 3.0
  • No GRE required.
  • Other: In keeping with the eclectic nature of the field, candidates with eclectic backgrounds are preferred. We try to evaluate the candidate as a whole to find trade-offs among undergraduate degree, work experience, research experience, and other factors. Some of the skills we value in a candidate include knowledge of human information processing (recommended); experimental design (rec.); statistics (rec.); computer programming (rec.); and/or evidence of an interest in applying cognitive theory to real-world problems (rec.). Special consideration is given to those with engineering or computer science bachelor's degrees.

Importance of other criteria as admission factors:

  • PhD high, MA low, Certificate low
  • Work experience: medium
  • Letters: PhD high, MA medium, Certificate medium

Tuition and fees

Residents: $572/credit (about 9 credits/semester for full-time students)
Nonresidents: $1,486.50 /credit


Number of students applying to the human factors/ergonomics program last year:

PhD: 22
MA: 25
Certificate: 5

Number of students accepted into the program last year:

PhD: 6
MA: 12
Certificate: 1

Anticipated number of openings per year for the next two years:

PhD 6-10, MA 30-40, Certificate 6–10


Percentage of students in program receiving financial assistance:

PhD 100%
MA 25%

Historically, almost all of our PhD students have had tuition coverage and a stipend for every academic year of the program. For our MA students, tuition coverage and stipends are not guaranteed, but some students are able to find some support from grants or internships after they have entered the program.

Amount received per year:

PhD $14,000–$25,000 + tuition
MA $9,000–$14,000 with partial support for tuition

Types of assistance available:

Fellowships, teaching assistantships, research assistantships, scholarships, presidential scholar award (PhD only), and government and industry internships

When should students apply for financial assistance?

With application


Graduate degree offered:

MA, PhD, and Certificate

Number of units required:

MA: 30
PhD: 72

Exams required Graduate degree offered:

PhD: comprehensive exam to advance to candidacy and oral defense of dissertation required
Certificate: None

Language requirements:


Research required:

MA: no
PhD: yes
Certificate: no

Practical experience required:

MA: no
PhD: no
Certificate: no

Typical number of years required to obtain degree:

PhD: 4-6
Certificate: 1

Is there a non-thesis option?



Required Courses (units):

Number of courses outside department that are required:


Number of courses outside department that are recommended:

Up to 9 hours of elective courses, from within or outside the department, may be taken with adviser's approval

Based on current graduate students in the program, the mean score on admission tests and undergraduate GPA by degree being sought are:

no GRE currently required

Average or typical class size in a required course:



Research and support facilities available to students in the program:

The Human Factors and Applied Cognition Department research facilities include 6,000 sq. ft. of dedicated laboratory space housing computer equipment, advanced simulators, neuroergonomic recording systems, and extensive software for data collection and analysis. Facilities include office space for faculty, post-doctoral researchers, and students, as well as research labs, data collection rooms, a seminar room, and a sound-attenuated room for audiometric assessment. Several types of specialized research equipment are available, including a high-fidelity motion-based driving simulator, low-fidelity desktop driving simulators, humanoid robot head, an fMRI, eye trackers, 2 oculus rifts, EEG, eye trackers, ECG, EMG, TMS, tDCS, fNIRS, portable fNIRS, EDR, TCD, and Google glasses.

Labs include:

Hemodynamics, Automation, Resilience, and Trust (HeART lab): vigilance, cognitive neuroscience, mental workload, trust calibration, human-machine teaming

Applied Performance Research Lab: interruptions, multi-tasking performance, and VE/VR training

Mason Transportation Institute: driver-vehicle interface, collision warnings, vibrotactile signals for navigation guidance

MRES Lab: research methodology application

Neuroergonomics Lab: molecular genetics, brain stimulation, and cognitive training

Visual Attention and Cognition Lab: the interaction between attention, perception, and working memory on human performance

The Applied Psychology and Autonomous Systems (ALPHAS) Lab: human interactions with robots, autonomous systems, and related technologies like augmented and virtual reality

Human-Agent Collaboration (HAC) Lab: collaboration between humans and novel (embodied) agents like AI-decision support systems and robots

Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) Lab: human-robot interaction

Cyber, Autonomy, Trust, and Stress (CATS) Lab: cyber security, human-machine teaming, individual differences, stress measurement

Teaching opportunities available to students in the program:
All doctoral students are encouraged to work one or two semesters as a teaching assistant. Courses typically available to HFAC students include undergraduate statistics, memory and cognition, and perception and sensation (lab course). In addition, advanced doctoral students may teach one of these courses as the instructor.


Current number of active students in program, by gender:

32 men, 27 women

Current number of first-year students in program:

6 PhD, 12 MA, 1 Certificate


Patrick E. McKnight, PhD 1997, U. of Arizona; measurement, data analysis, decision-making, health services research

Matt Peterson, PhD 1997, U. of Kansas; attention, working memory, task-switching, visual perception, cognitive neuroscience

Tyler Shaw, PhD 2008, U. of Cincinnati; vigilance or sustained performance, stress, automation and team performance, Transcranial Doppler Sonography

Greg Trafton, PhD 1994, Princeton U.; theoretical models to predict and prevent errors, interruptions and resumptions, human-robot interaction

William “Deak” Helton, PhD 2002, U. of Cincinnati; vigilance, response inhibition, disaster and emergency response, interaction of cognitive and physical performance, wearable interfaces, working dogs

Yi-Ching Lee, PhD, 2006 U. of Urbana Champagne; human factors in transportation and medical systems; social interactions; intelligent systems; intelligent virtual agents; multimodal interface

Elizabeth Phillips, PhD 2016, U. of Central Florida; human-robot interaction, human-like robots, autonomous and adaptive systems, human-human teams, applications for augmented and virtual reality, diversity in robotics

Gerald Matthews, PhD 1984, U. of Cambridge; human-machine teaming; assessment of task stress, workload and fatigue; cognition and emotion; driver behavior; individual differences in human performance

Eileen Roesler, PhD 2023, Berlin Institute of Technology; robotics, artificial intelligence, human-machine teaming,