University of Waterloo



Title of program

Human Systems Concentration in Systems Design Engineering

Year human factors/ergonomics program was established


Accredited by HFES?


Contact person for more information, including applications

Catherine Burns, University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave. West, Waterloo, ON Canada N2L 3G1, 519/888-4567 ext. 33903;



Academic calendar


Human factors/ergonomics graduate degrees offered

MASc and PhD

Goals, objectives, and emphasis of the program

The emphasis of the program is a human factors engineering approach to improving the performance of humans in complex systems through engineering design. Cognitive engineering and user centered approaches to requirements specification are supplemented with techniques from human-computer interaction, visualization, and cognitive ergonomics to reach design solutions. Solutions are then evaluated with human factors methods such as experimentation and human performance modeling to assess viability in a systems environment. Domains of interest are usually complex systems such as aviation, air traffic control, transportation, military, power systems, education, or healthcare. Solution technologies may include the design of displays, collaborative systems, novel input devices, adaptive interfaces, and novel display environments large or small, and augmented reality systems.

Number of degrees granted during last 3 years

MASc 13, PhD 5

Can students attend part-time?


Are required courses offered through distance learning?


Are required courses offered at night?


Are required courses offered during summer?


Does the university have an HFES student chapter?




Application deadlines

February 1 deadline to start in the Fall term (September), June 1 deadline to start in the Winter (January), and October 1 deadline to start in the Spring term (May)

Application fee

$100 (Cdn); one application with specific departmental requirements for Systems Design



Minimum requirements

GPA: 75% minimum average from an honors bachelor's program 

GRE: n/a 

Other: English language requirements 

Importance of other criteria as admission factors

Previous research activity: high

Work experience: high

Extracurricular activities: medium

Letters of recommendation: high

Interview: medium

Tuition and fees

Per term: $2,785.04 (Cdn, domestic), $6,665.04 (Cdn, international)



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


Number of students accepted into the program last year


Number of students entering the program last year


Anticipated number of openings per year for the next two years




Percentage of students in program receiving financial assistance


Amount received per term

$5,666.66 (Cdn) MASc, $7,075.00 (Cdn) PhD, minimum

Types of assistance available

Teaching assistantship, research assistantship 

When should students apply for financial assistance?

Before or concurrent with application for admission



Graduate degrees offered

MASc and PhD

Number of units required

MASc: 4 

PhD: 3

Exams required

MASc: thesis, no comprehensive exams

PhD: dissertation with oral defense, comprehensive exams

Language requirements


Research required

MASc: thesis 

PhD: dissertation

Practical experience required


Typical number of years required to obtain degree

MASc: 2 typically

PhD: 3 typically

Is there a non-thesis option?




Required courses (units)

Determined by supervisor

Electives (units)

User Centered Design (1), Interface Design (1), Cognitive Ergonomics (1), Collaborative Systems Design (1), Cognitive Engineering Methods (1), Human Factors Testing (1), Selected Topics in Human Systems (1)

Number of courses outside department that are required


Number of courses outside department that are recommended

Human Computer Interaction (1), User Interface Tools (1), Advanced Topics in Human Computer Interaction (1)

Average or typical class size in a required course




Research and support facilities available to students in the program: 

A comprehensive R&D space shared by the 5 research lab groups. Lab equipment includes EEG/GSR sensors, a variety of simulators (UAV, flying, driving, military, financial), Oculus Rift, Google Glass, multi-touch tabletops, interactive large wall displays, ICU and other medical equipment, etc.

Teaching opportunities available to students in the program:
Teaching assistantships are regularly available including opportunities in undergraduate human factors courses, TA application required

Current research activities and projects being carried out by program faculty and/or students:

Cognitive engineering, virtual and augmented reality, collaborative systems, interface design, interaction design, human performance modeling, complexity on human performance, human factors in driving, situation awareness design


Current number of active students in program, by gender

73% men, 27% women

Current number of first-year students in program


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


Of the number of those graduating in the past year, what percentage gained employment in

50% academia


50% industry



Catherine Burns, PhD 1998, U. of Toronto; HFES member; cognitive engineering, ecological interface design, cognitive work analysis, graphical interface design and visualization

Shi Cao, PhD 2013, U. of Michigan; HFES member; human performance and mental workload modeling, decision making, skill learning, fatigue, computational modeling, artificial intelligence, discrete event simulation, cognitive engineering, ACT-R, QN-ACTR 

Stacey Scott, PhD 2005, U. of Calgary; collaboration, human-computer interaction, interactive large wall displays, multi-display environments, interaction design 

Carolyn MacGregor, PhD 1993, U. of Toronto; HFES member; virtual reality, input devices, user centered design, usability 

Jonathan Histon (adjunct), PhD 2008, MIT; complexity, human performance, air traffic control, simulation, training

[Updated January 2015]