University of Wisconsin-Madison



Title of program

Human Factors and Ergonomics Graduate Program

Year human factors/ergonomics program was established


Accredited by HFES?


Contact person for more information, including applications

Stati Rubenzer, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 3182 Mechanical Engineering, 1513 University Ave., Madison, WI 53706;


Academic calendar


Human factors/ergonomics graduate degrees offered

MS and PhD

Goals, objectives, and emphasis of the program

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Human Factors and Ergonomics Graduate Program is based in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, one of the top-ranked graduate degree programs of its kind in the nation.  Graduate students have the opportunity to study alongside twelve full-time faculty members who are engaged in advancing human factors and ergonomics research ranging from cognitive, physical, to socio-technical.  They are recognized leaders in the field specializing in contemporary topics such as accessible design for disabilities and aging, cognitive systems engineering, human-computer interaction, macro ergonomics and safety, naturalistic decision making, occupational ergonomics and biomechanics, and quality and performance of organizations.  These scientific and engineering advances are addressing important challenges facing our world today to provide improved performance, better quality and safer health care, ground and air transportation, manufacturing and service industries, and information and transaction systems.

Can students attend part-time?


Are required courses offered through distance learning?


Does the university have an HFES student chapter?




Application deadlines

February 1 (fall), October 1 (spring)

Application fee




Minimum requirements

GPA: 3.0

GRE: v + q + a required for all except UW engineering graduates

Other: Bachelor's in industrial engineering or equivalent required; computer programming; introductory statistics, IE course outside of human factors (equivalent coursework is acceptable on a case-by-case basis)

Importance of other criteria as admission factors

Research: medium

Work experience: medium

Letters: medium

Interview: low

Tuition and fees

Resident: $6,474/semester

Nonresident: $15,505/semester



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

Financial assistance is very limited.

When should students apply for financial assistance?

With application



Graduate degrees offered

MS and PhD

Number of units required

MS: 30 

PhD: 30 beyond master's

Exams required

MS: no 

PhD: qualifying and preliminary exams, oral thesis defense

Language requirements


Research required

MS: project research

PhD: dissertation, 6 seminar/special topics courses

Typical number of years required to obtain degree

MS: 2 

PhD: 3

Is there a non-thesis option?




Required courses (units)

At least one Physical Ergonomics, Cognitive Ergonomics, and Macroergonomics (9); Tools and Methods (6); Some type of Master's Project (3–6)

Electives (units)

See Web site

Number of courses outside department that are required


Average or typical class size in a required course




Research and support facilities available to students in the program: 


Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement (Carayon): 
It is widely recognized that quality is fundamental to achieving long-term success. A renewed focus on customers and processes sets the stage for continuous improvement for industry, government, educational institutions, healthcare, and businesses. All have benefited from higher quality and productivity as well as reduced time and cost to develop, produce and deliver products and services, and improved safety. Data-based total quality methods are the catalyst to help people achieve these benefits. 

To rise to the challenge of the international quality revolution, the CQPI was founded in October of 1985 by Professor George E.P. Box and the late Professor William G. Hunter. Since its inception, CQPI has been at the forefront in the development of new techniques for improving the quality of products and processes. Today, the Center is also at the forefront of methods aimed at improving the quality of work processes, working life, healthcare. 

The mission of the Center is to create, integrate, and transfer knowledge to improve the quality and performance of industrial, service, governmental, healthcare, educational, social, and other organizations. 

The vision of the Center is to excel in the creation, development, and integration of knowledge through research on theories, concepts, and methodologies of quality and productivity measurement, management and improvement, innovation and organizational change. 

Areas of expertise in quality engineering are, quality management, quality improvement in healthcare, safety applications and research, and quality of working life, human factors and ergonomics. 

Major research support has come from the National Science Foundation, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the UW Graduate School, the State of Wisconsin, and private industry.

Cognitive Systems Laboratory (Lee): 
The Cognitive Systems Laboratory (CSL) focuses on cognitive engineering, where the challenge is to understand and improve the capacity of joint human-technology systems. This research has considered technology insertion in the maritime industry, ground transportation, tele-operation, and process control. A specific example is the distraction potential of in-vehicle information systems, such as cellular telephones and e-mail. Another example is the role of trust and appropriate reliance in the supervisory control of automation, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In each of these examples, the ultimate goal is to develop computational models of human performance and design principles that can support effective and humane use of technology. 

The common theme of understanding how technology mediates peoples' attention integrates CSL's research across the varied research domains of maritime navigation, process control, and driving. Technology-mediated attention builds upon the basic psychological concepts of attention to understand how technology must be shaped so that people attend to the right thing at the right time and respond appropriately. An understanding of how technology can mediate attention is used to create display and control systems that enable people to work effectively with increasingly sophisticated technology. 

Students in the CSL learn how to conduct experiments in microworld and simulator environments. They also learn techniques of computational cognitive engineering to model joint human-technology behavior, estimate the state of the operator, and to enhance data interpretation.

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Laboratory (Montague): 
Research in the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory (HCI) focuses on understanding human capabilities and limitations and applying these findings to the design so technologies, processes, and environments where humans interact with technological systems. Our research laboratory has received over $1 million in funding to explore these topics. 

In the HCI Lab we explore how technology influences social interactions between individuals, groups and systems. We also develop strategies for designing for positive social interactions and outcomes. The research conducted in the laboratory builds from a variety of disciplines, including cognitive and social psychology, neuroscience, computer science, science and technology studies and industrial and systems engineering.

We have studied technology interactions in domains such as education, consumer products and virtual communication systems, though the majority of our research explores technology interaction in health care systems. 

Some of our research goals are to: 1) Understand how systems, technologies, designs, and work practices influence social behavior. 2) Use macroergonomic and user-centered frameworks to understand systems. 3) Engineer solutions to facilitate positive social interactions and mitigate negative interactions. 4) Create designs and design recommendations that positively influence social behavior at the individual, system, and environmental levels. 

MacroErgonomics Safety and Health Laboratory (Karsh): 
The MESH Lab is focused on using industrial and human factor engineering theories, design principle and methodologies to improve patient safety and health care employee safety. Our research laboratory has received over $1 million in funding from organizations such as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the United Kingdom's Department of Health, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, and the University of Wisconsin. 

The studies we undertake seek to determine how the design characteristics of work systems impact both patient safety (e.g., medical errors) and employee health and safety (e.g., occupational injuries, stress and job satisfaction) in health care. We collect data in health care settings on the structures and flow of work, organizational culture, environmental characteristics, technology design, health care provider perceptions of work, medical errors, and quality of care.

Naturalistic Decision Making and Simulation Laboratory (Wiegmann): 
The Naturalistic Decision Making & Simulation Lab covers a broad spectrum of research interests, primarily within the aviation and health care industries. Some recent areas of study include interruptions and distractions during surgery, simulated flight training, and cognitive ergonomics for universal design.

Occupational Ergonomics and Biomechanics Laboratory (Radwin): 
Research in the Occupational Ergonomics and Biomechanics Laboratory focuses on health aspects of physical stress in the workplace. This work includes prevention and detection of work related musculoskeletal disorders; developing measurement and analytical methods for assessing exposure to physical stress in the workplace; understanding ergonomic aspects of the design, selection, installation and use of manually operated equipment; and quantifying functional deficits associated with musculoskeletal disorders and peripheral neuropathies. 

The lab is equipped with a variety of transducers and instruments for measuring human kinetics and kinematics, optical motion analysis, physiological indices and biopotentials. In addition to an electromagnetic vibration generation and measurement system, occupational activities are simulated for conducting research to better understand how to design jobs and equipment in which people play a significant role, so that human capabilities are maximized, physical stress is minimized, and workload is optimized.

Trace Research and Development Center (Vanderheiden): 
The Trace Research and Development Center is part of the UW-Madison College of Engineering. Founded in 1971, Trace has been a pioneer in the field of technology and disability. The Trace Center is currently working on ways to make standard information technologies and telecommunications systems more accessible and usable by people with disabilities.

Teaching opportunities available to students in the program:
Grad students may serve as TAs for introductory and advanced HF courses and labs. PhD students can instruct undergrad courses.

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

Technological and organizational change; macroergonomics; trust in technology, naturalistic decision making in driving, aviation, construction and health care; computer supported cooperative work; organizational and human factors in quality and productivity improvement; computer technologies for people with disabilities or age-related functional limitations; effects of advanced office conditions on stress levels; patient safety; causes and prevention of CTDs.


Current number of active students in program, by gender


Current number of first-year students in program




Patricia Flatley Brennan, PhD 1986, U. Wisconsin-Madison; health informatics, community health, information systems, computer-mediated clinical practice, health services research

Pascale Carayon, PhD 1988, U. Wisconsin-Madison; sociotechnical systems, job and organizational design, management of technological and organizational change, quality improvement

Ben-Tzion Karsh, PhD 1999, U. Wisconsin-Madison; patient safety, technology implementation, health care quality improvement, musculoskeletal disorders

John D. Lee, PhD 1992, U. of Illinois; cognitive engineering, interface design automation reliance, telemedicine, driver distraction and technology-mediated attention

Enid Montague, PhD 2008, Virginia Tech; human-computer interaction, trust, computer supported cooperative work, macroergonomics, design research, cultural ergonomics, health systems, construction safety

Bilge Mutlu, PhD 2009, Carnegie Mellon; design of robotic technologies that improve how people learn, communicate, and work

David Noyce, PhD 1984, U. of Wisconsin; transportation safety, vehicle crash analysis, traffic operations, driving simulation

Robert G. Radwin, PhD 1986, U. Michigan; CTD, industrial ergonomics, biomedical engineering

Mary E. Sesto, PhD 2003, U. Wisconsin-Madison; industrial ergonomics, work disability, rehabilitation, macroergonomics

Michael J. Smith, emeritus, PhD 1973, U. Wisconsin-Madison; occupational safety, job-related stress, systems engineering

Gregg C. Vanderheiden, PhD 1984, U. Wisconsin-Madison; HCI, design for disability and aging

Douglas A. Wiegmann, PhD 1992, Texas Christian U.; system safety, human error analysis, aviation, health care

David R. Zimmerman, emeritus, PhD 1975, U. Wisconsin-Madison; health systems

[Updated May 2012]