Ergonomics, often also known as human engineering or human factors, is the scientific discipline of designing according to human needs. Ergonomics also refers to the professional practice that applies the theory and methods to design to achieve the optimum human welfare. As such an ergonomist's primary task is to observe and collate information about people's interactions with both social environments and the technology within them which they will then use to create solutions which take into full account people's needs, limitations and preferences.
Ergonomists' focus on user centred design plays a part in almost every aspect of our lives from the shape of the your tooth brush through to the design of a fighter pilots seat; ergonomists are responsible for asking questions as diverse as how can we make aeroplanes more safe? to how do we even out the difference in decibel level between HD-TV and regular TV? to how can we design a more efficient office? The study of ergonomics therefore has a strong focus on understanding oneself in order to enable improvements to the equipment, services and systems which we use.
Courses offered in ergonomics have a strong practical element which often focuses on real life issues such designing theme park rides, improving office equipment and improving vehicle safety. Courses provide a broad understanding of human structure anatomically as well as developing understanding of function and behaviour and therefore balance the high practical portion with in depth lectures and seminars. Students are also often encouraged to take ergonomics as a sandwich course with an industrial placement in the third year, this is more often than not the student's responsibility to arrange however most institutions will offer support and suggestions as well as contacts where needed. An additional bonus of taking the year industrial placement over and above the key insight into the ergonomic industry in practice is that many institutions will then recognise this year by awarding a Diploma in Professional Studies in addition to the final degree.
Assessment of ergonomics courses is often by a mixture of coursework, examination and project work with some modules being assessed exclusively on projects or coursework; although rarely by examination alone.
Example areas of study
The modules you may have the opportunity to study as part of your ergonomics course will vary from institution to institution but the list below will give you an idea. Make sure that you find out for certain that the course you are intending to apply to has the focus that is right for you.
- Ergonomics and design
- Psychology practice
- Anatomy and physiology
- Diversity of human behaviour
- Basic cognitive psychology
- Introduction to environmental ergonomics
- Communication and study skills
- Experimental design and analysis
- Thermal environment
- Ergonomics and design
- Issues in occupational psychology
- Professional practice in ergonomics
- Organisational behaviour
- Qualitative research methods in human science
- Science and functional anatomy
- Transport ergonomics
- Applied vision
- Climatic ergonomics
- Ergonomics and manufacturing systems
- Human factors and product design
- Psychology and human computer integration
- Ergonomics of disability and ageing
- Industrial Placement
- Compulsory project
Some career possibilities
Graduates from ergonomics courses can expect to find employment in a range of areas; there are a growing number of ergonomics consultancies, areas within IT, manufacturing industries, service industries and public service industries. As well the wide range of commercial opportunities graduates will have options to continue in research capacities at universities or other research institutions. Ergonomics graduates are also of high interest to those employers offering management training options or in industries where a high level of analysis and application is required. If utilising the opportunity to opt for an industrial placement ergonomics graduates are also well placed to demand excellent starting salaries in some of the most forward facing companies graduates have previously gain employment with the likes of BAE Systems, British Telecom, Health and Safety executive, IBM, Michelin and Aston Martin to name only a few.
What do I need to get on a course?
Entry requirements will vary from course to course so you will need to check with the institutions themselves about the grades and qualifications that are expected of you. The list below will give you an idea, but some foundation degrees will have lower entry requirements than undergraduate degrees
- UCAS Tariff: 280-320 points
- A-Level: BBC-ABB
- SQA Advanced Highers: BC-AB
- International Baccalaureate: 30-34 points
- BTEC: MMM in a relevant subject
For your application or interview, the following may be useful:
- A strong interest in human interaction with equipment and services
- An ability to critically think about the ways in which we conduct our daily lives
- A keenness for practical applications of high level ideas
- Further information on Ergonomics is available from The Ergonomics Society
To find out more about the typical subjects you will study, potential career paths and further information useful for your application log-on to Course Discover at www.coursediscoveronline.co.uk*
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