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Ph.D. in Human Factors Psychology

Image of a driving simulator

The human factors program at Clemson University is accredited by the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society (HFES). Students in our program will benefit from research training in Clemson’s psychology laboratories funded by state, federal and industry sources, including Google, Microsoft, the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health.

Human factors psychology, also known as engineering psychology, is the study of human interaction with technological systems, ranging from simple hand tools to complex technology such as nuclear power plants, transportation systems, and consumer technology such as smartphones. This discipline applies basic research to existing technological problems. The goal of Human Factors Psychology is the design of technological systems that are safe, productive, comfortable, and error-free. This is achieved by studying the capabilities and limitations of humans and by applying this knowledge in the design process.

  • Program Overview

    The Clemson University Department of Psychology recently developed a comprehensive set of laboratories to study human performance in multiple work environments. A full-sized, high-fidelity driving simulator enables study of driver decision-making, distraction and situational awareness in a programmable virtual roadway “world.” A shipboard motion simulator coupled with a flight simulator permits study of performance in naval aviators before, during and after shipboard mission training.

    An occupational stress simulation laboratory enables investigation of worker performance and physiological response in stressful work environments. Unmanned aircraft simulators allow study of remote navigation in predator-type drone aircraft. A sustained operations research facility permits the study of the effects of stress, workload, and fatigue on job-related performance. In addition to using our extensive set of laboratories, our students will also conduct research in the real world, including studies of visibility problems on roadways at night, the ability of operators to control robotic systems, and workplace ergonomics. Students will work closely with Clemson psychology faculty to develop skills in research design for assessment of human operation of new technological systems.

    The field of human factors psychology is one example of the critical importance of human capabilities and limitations when interfacing with technology. The safety, effectiveness and ease of operation of new technologies are dependent on a highly trained workforce and informed system design. As a result, there is an increasing workforce demand for human factors professionals in industry, government, and higher education. Clemson’s human factors psychology Ph.D. and M.S. students will be at the forefront of designing and assessing our new technological systems in the 21st century.

    The psychology department does not offer graduate training in clinical or counseling psychology, nor does it offer graduate courses part time, online or via distance learning. You will be expected to be in residence for the duration of your graduate career.

  • Prospective Students

    Prospective students are encouraged to contact relevant faculty about their level of interest in taking a new student prior to applying. You are also encouraged to visit our Psychology Department YouTube page to meet our faculty and learn more about their research.

    Not every faculty member who supervises graduate students admits a new student in any given year. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact faculty directly about whether they are likely to admit a new student. For a Ph.D. in Human Factors psychology, contact Chris Pagano.

    Documents such as the graduate handbook and other important information can be found on the student resources page. 

    The Department of Psychology does not offer graduate training in clinical or counseling psychology, nor does it prepare students for licensed professional practice in clinical settings. Additionally, the program does not offer graduate courses part time, online or via distance learning. You will be expected to be in residence for the duration of your graduate career.

  • Before Applying

    Applicants to the human factors Ph.D. or M.S. program are strongly encouraged to have coursework covering cognition, perception, statistics and research methods prior to entering the human factors program. Prospective applicants who have not completed this background coursework may still apply to the human factors program. Then, if you are admitted, the human factors program will work with you to develop a plan for completing the background coursework. Please note that the human factors program does not make such recommendations until after you have been admitted.

    Prior to applying, applicants are encouraged to look over the research interests of departmental faculty members, find those who seem to have similar research interests to yours, and contact those faculty to discuss potential mutual research interests.

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    Where is the Department of Psychology located?

    On the third and fourth floors of Brackett Hall. The main department office is in Room 418.

    Who can I contact for additional information about the graduate programs in psychology at Clemson?

    Please contact Dr. Bob Sinclair, our Graduate Programs Coordinator for questions about the industrial-organizational psychology programs, and Dr. Chris Pagano for questions about the human factors psychology programs.

    When is the deadline for applying to the graduate programs?

    January 15 (this is for admission for the following fall semester). The January 15 deadline is the correct deadline; it supersedes any deadline you posted to the university's website.

    Can I apply to begin the program in January?

    In general, no. Students who are admitted to start in any particular fall term may defer their admission until the following spring. While the program occasionally has admitted Clemson undergraduates to start in the spring semester, in most cases applicants are evaluated to start in the upcoming fall term.

    What materials are required in an application?

    • The electronic application, available through the Graduate Admissions website, which includes basic background information and a personal statement addressing the reasons why you are applying to the psychology department's graduate program and, where relevant, indicating which faculty member(s) you would most like to work with.
    • The General GRE exam (Verbal, Quantitative, & Analytical) is optional for the Human Factors PhD program and not required for the Applied Psychology MS or Industrial-Organizational Psychology PhD programs. The GRE Psychology Subject test is NOT required for any of our programs. The institution code for sending official GRE scores to Clemson University is 5111.
    • Transcripts from your undergraduate (and any graduate) institutions. Unofficial transcripts are acceptable for the application process. Students who are admitted to the program will be required to submit official transcripts as part of the admissions process.
    • Three (3) letters of recommendation. These do not have to be from college professors. As part of the online application you will be required to fill in the name and contact information for the individuals who will submit recommendations on your behalf. A message will be sent to them automatically via email and they will be able to submit their recommendation online. You will not need to obtain or distribute recommendation forms.
    • A resume (or academic-style vita).
    • TOEFL scores are required for applicants whose native language is not English. However, if you completed a prior degree program where the primary language of instruction was English, you do not need to submit TOEFL scores.
    • Students may submit a writing sample along with the rest of the application materials. This is optional but encouraged, especially for PhD applicants.
    • Please note that the application instructions ask applicants to indicate which faculty they prefer to work with. This is important information in the application review process as different faculty members may be admitting a student each year. Applicants are encouraged to check with individual faculty or with either graduate program coordinator to see which faculty are admitting students in any particular application cycle. Applicants are also expected to explain why they chose the particular mentors they selected as part of their personal statement.
    • Please note that applicants to the MS program can choose either thesis or non-thesis options. Students who choose the thesis option would be considered based on their match with a particular mentor. Students who choose the non-thesis option may attend without necessarily having a particular research mentor assigned at the outset of the program.
    • PhD applicants do not have to complete a separate application to be considered for the MS program. Once the application deadline has passed, we will check with all PhD applicants to see if they want to be considered for the MS program (which usually admits students without assistantship funding).

    Where should application materials be sent?

    Send supporting materials to the admissions office:

    Graduate Admissions Office
    E-209 Martin Hall
    Clemson, SC 29634

    What are the minimum cut-off scores for the GRE and GPA?

    We do not have an official minimum cut-off score for the GRE and GPA. The admissions process is competitive enough that most successful applicants have strong GREs and GPAs. However, in general, a low GRE in our program would be around the 50th percentile and a low GPA would be around 3.0. Although the acceptance criteria vary slightly among our different graduate programs, acceptance into all of our programs is competitive. Both GRE and GPA are considered in the application process.

    What are some typical GRE and GPA scores for your students?

    Our PhD students typically have GRE scores above the 50th percentile, typically with at least one score above the 70th percentile, and with an average overall GPA higher than 3.5.

    How many students do you accept each year?

    The number of students accepted varies according to our department funding levels and faculty grant activity, but we typically seek to enroll four new assistantship funded IO PhD students and four new assistantship funded Human Factors PhD students each year.

    How many applications do you get each year?

    The IO PhD program typically receives 90-120 applications each year. The HF PhD program typically receives 30-50 applications each year. The MS program typically receives 40-60 applicants each year.

    Do I have to have a degree in psychology to be admitted into the graduate programs?

    No. All applicants to the human factors (HF) and industrial-organizational (IO) Ph.D. and M.S. programs are expected to be able to demonstrate knowledge of behavioral research methods and statistical analysis, most commonly through relevant undergraduate coursework.

    Applicants to the human factors program (Ph.D. or M.S.) are expected to have 18 credits of psychology prior to entering the HF program and are expected to have completed a college-level course in calculus. If you do not meet one of these requirements, you may still apply to the HF program and, if you are admitted, the HF program will work with you to develop a plan for meeting the requirement. Please note that the HF program does not make such recommendations until after the student has been admitted.

    Applicants to the industrial-organizational (IO) Ph.D. or M.S. program are strongly encouraged to obtain some background in applied psychology prior to applying, and are expected to have basic knowledge of psychological theories and methods, but the I-O program does not have a specific psychology course credit expectation for either the M.S. or the Ph.D. level.

    How can I check the status of my application?

    You can check the status of your application online.

    Is financial aid available?

    Yes, but the specific amounts may vary according to our funding levels. Typically, we offer most of our PhD students the following funding package: 20-Hour/Week Teaching or Research Assistantship (TA / RA) that pays $15,000 - $19,000 for each academic year (9 months) plus a full tuition waiver (you pay no tuition, in-state or out-of-state; you do, however, pay about $1500 per semester in various fees). Also, many students find paid summer internships that supplement their financial aid. Some types of aid are also available online through Clemson’s Financial Aid Office. Although most PhD students are offered funding, there may be instances where we offer students admission to the PhD program without funding. In these cases, students may be able to find assistantship work on campus, but nothing is guaranteed. Master's students generally are admitted without department funding. Some of these students may be hired by department faculty on research grants or through other departments, but unless otherwise notified, MS students should not plan to receive funding from the university, other than regular financial aid.

    When are admissions decisions and decisions about assistantships made?

    The admissions committee makes decisions and communicates the results to applicants throughout the months of February, March and April.

    How long does the program take?

    The completion of a master's degree in psychology requires at least two years of full-time study while in residence. The completion of a PhD requires five years of full-time study in residence, assuming that the student enters the program with a bachelor's degree and earns the master's degree along the way. The completion of a PhD by a student entering Clemson with a master's degree from another institution typically requires three to four years of full-time study in residence, depending on how much of the student’s prior course work transfers to count toward the PhD degree. All graduate students are expected to be involved in both class work and research on a full-time basis. We do not offer graduate courses part time, online or via distance learning. With the exception of approved internships, students are expected to remain full-time students in residence for the duration of their graduate career.

    Does the Department of Psychology offer graduate courses part time, online or via distance learning programs?


    What is the orientation of the program?

    The master’s programs are oriented toward applications and research. To correctly apply psychological research (and to stay current as the field advances) you must be a trained evaluator and informed consumer of psychological research. To that end, we require substantial training in research methods. A written master’s thesis is required for our PhD programs and is one of three options for the MS program (i.e., thesis, research hours, non-thesis). Our two PhD programs (human factors and IO psychology) are based on the scientist-practitioner model.

    Does the master’s degree require a written thesis?

    A written master’s thesis is required for our PhD programs and is one of three options for the MS program (i.e., thesis, research hours, non-thesis).

    Can I transfer credits earned at another graduate program to count toward my Clemson graduate degree?

    In general, yes. The credits must be relevant to the Clemson degree and are either applied as electives or to count toward a specific degree requirement. After a student has been admitted to the program, the IO or HF program coordinator will work with the student to develop an agreement about whether and how the credits will be transferred. Please note that the program does not evaluate transfer credits for applicants prior to admission or as a condition of admission to the program.

    What is Clemson like?

    Our beautiful college campus sits on 1,400 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the shores of Hartwell Lake. We also have research facilities and economic development hubs throughout the state of South Carolina — in Greenville, Greenwood, Columbia and Charleston.

    One of the country’s most selective public research universities, Clemson University serves a uniquely driven and highly accomplished student body. Ranked as the 21st best national public university by U.S. News & World Report, Clemson is a science- and engineering-oriented college dedicated to teaching, research and service. Founded in 1889, it remains committed both to world-class research and a high quality of life. Ninety-two percent of Clemson seniors say they’d pick the university again if they had it to do over. 

    What is the housing situation at Clemson?

    Clemson University offers single or roommate-oriented housing, and Clemson and surrounding cities offer off-campus apartment housing options. For more information visit the University Housing Office.

  • Application Process

    Apply Now

    Your application should be received by January 15 for the following fall semester (please check with the graduate school for the current application fee schedule). The January 15 deadline is the correct deadline; it supersedes any deadline you might find on the Clemson website or academic calendar.

    Every required item in support of your application must be on file by that date. January admissions are not permitted. In addition to the standard graduate application, you will need to provide the following materials as part of your application packet:

    • Verbal, quantitative and analytical GRE scores are optional for the Human Factors PhD and not required for other programs. (the GRE Psychology Subject test is not required for any of our programs).
    • Transcripts from your undergraduate (and any graduate) institutions.
    • Three letters of recommendation (these do not have to be from college professors, and they don’t have to be on Clemson’s recommendation form; a letter describing your academic potential and characteristics will be fine).
    • A “statement of interest,” i.e., a one- to two-page letter describing why you want to go to graduate school in human factors or I-O. It is recommended that as part of the statement of interest you discuss your research interests and how those fit with the research interests of the department faculty.
    • A resume (or academic-style vita) is also recommended, but is not required.
Department of Psychology
Department of Psychology | 418 Brackett Hall