People ask me all the time what Tom does for a living. My first answer is always, "he's a professor". If they ask what he teaches, I answer, "engineering", they nod their heads in a way that indicates they don't need/want any additional information, and our conversations end there.
On occasion, someone to whom engineering is not a foreign language (as it is to me) will ask an additional question, usually something like, "in what department does he teach?" I answer, "Industrial and Systems Engineering".
On an even rarer occasion, the person asking all these questions knows what Industrial and Systems Engineering means and inquires about the area in which Tom's research falls. I answer, "Human Factors" or "Cognitive Ergonomics", depending on how I feel that day.
"Oh." And that's ALWAYS the end of the conversation. And sometimes the friendship. (Just kidding about the friendship. But not the conversation.)
When it comes down to it, I'm not very good at explaining what Tom does, why it's important, and the potential impact it has on our world. The man who wrote this article, however, IS very good explaining all these things, so if you'd like to know more about how Tom's making a difference, check it out.
Tom makes me proud.