Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Does He Do Again?

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.

At this point, anyone still listening to me (most people's eyes have glazed over and I can tell by looking at them that they're thinking about what they're going to have for dinner that night) will say, "Oh! Ergonomics! Like comfortable chairs and computer keyboards that don't make my wrists hurt!" And I will reply, "actually, no. That's physical ergonomics. Cognitive ergonomics is more like ergonomics for the brain. Tom designs systems - in operating rooms, intensive care units, cockpits, etc. - that allow humans to use them more effectively, especially in high-stress situations".

"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.

1 comment:

  1. cool article...I think this is so interesting. Can I please get a couple of shirts for my second graders? I know that it would help with some behaviors. I would love to simply give a physical signal to sit, stop talking, raise a hand, etc. rather than continue to say it 900 times.