Program Plan


The goals of the M.S. Training Program in Ergonomics are to provide an adequate foundation and practical experience in human biology, performance, and biomechanics so that a successful graduate can primarily become a competent resource for ergonomics issues within a company or agency, or develop an ergonomics consultation practice, as well as compete well in a Ph.D. training program Students enter the program from a variety of academic backgrounds (e.g., engineering, biology, etc.); therefore, the selection of courses is tailored to each student. Students must prepare a curriculum that meets their needs and the requirements of their Department in consultation with the Program Director, Dr. Rempel.

Most applicants interested in the M.S. degree will apply to the Department of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. A few students may be interested in obtaining the M.S. degree from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. No M.S. degree is currently being offered by the Department of Bioengineering. Applicants must meet the entrance requirements of the Department to which they are applying. Although the Ergonomics Program provides curricula guidance and may provide financial support, the student must meet the graduation requirements of the Department from which they are graduating. However, they must also complete additional courses required of the Ergonomics Training Program. All students are enrolled full-time and the M.S. degree takes 2 years to complete.

The core courses for ergonomics training include Ergonomics (PH269C; 4 units), Occupational Biomechanics (PH269D; 2 units), Clinical Ergonomics (PH298; 2 units), Ergonomics Internship (PH297; 3 units), and Ergonomics Seminar (PH295; 1 unit).

Below is a sample curriculum for the M.S. students. The core required courses for Ergonomics training identified with a (1). The required courses for the EHS program are identified with a (2). Course units are in parenthesis.

Typical Curriculum for the M.S. degree (2 years)

Year 1: FallYear 1: Spring

EHS MS Seminar PH292(1) 2Ergonomics PH269C(4) 1

Integrity in Science PH276(2) 2Statistics PH145(4)

Engineering Design E28(3)Human Physiology IB132(3)

Exposure Assessment PH270A(3)2Epidemiology II PH250B(4)2

Org Leadership IEOR171(2)1 

Ergonomics Seminar PH 295(1) 1 


Year 1: Summer 

Internship PH297(3) 1 


Year 2: Fall                                    Year 2: Spring

Occup Biomech PH 269D(2)1Clinical Ergonomics PH298(2)

Motor Control and Lab IB127(3)Industrial Design IEOR170(3) 1

Multivariable Statistics PH 245(4)Ergonomics Seminar PH 295(1)1

Occup Safety PH 299A(2)1Research PH 299(4)

Risk Assessment PH220C(4) 2Human & Organizational Factors CE 268K(3)1

1 required core ergonomics courses
2 required for EHS degree

CE Civil Engineering
E Engineering (College of Engineering)
IB Integrative Biology
IE Industrial Engineering and Operations Research (College of Engineering)
ME Mechanical Engineering (College of Engineering)
BioE Bioengineering (College of Engineering)
PH School of Public Health

Students are also required to complete one course in ethics and two semesters of statistics (e.g., PH144 and PH245 or equivalent). Students are encouraged to consider these courses: Ethics in Science and Engineering BioE 100 (3), Biomechanics BioE 102 (4), Orthopaedic Biomechanics ME176 (4), Tissue Mechanics ME 214 (3), Product Development ME 290 H or P (3), Environmental Design 1 (3), Survey of Human Physiology IB 132 (4), General Human Anatomy IB 131 (3), Categorical Statistical Analysis PH241, Traffic Safety and Injury Control CE C265 (3), and Biological Psychology Psych110 (3).

There are three innovative aspects of the curricula. One, the field report required of students in the Ergonomics course (PH269C) presents prioritized ergonomic risks and engineering solutions that are invited by the participating companies that students evaluate. Few other programs provide real-world opportunities for students to have a direct impact on workplace safety. Two, students have an opportunity to experience the health care system as workers do in the Clinical Ergonomics class (PH298). Through this exposure students begin to understand the different perspectives of health care providers and the importance of coordinating the health care message to patients. Three, the Ergonomics Seminar (PH295) was recently modified to add two laboratory modules. These modules expose students to the more complex laboratory exposure assessment tools used in ergonomics.



The program is administered similarly to the masters program. The Ergonomics Research Training is designed for students interested in a career in academia, government agencies or industry performing original research and possibly teaching. The program is small, with one to five doctoral students at any time. However, the quality of its students is high; six of the program graduates have filled faculty posts at other universities.


Students in the doctoral training program normally complete course work in two years and submit a dissertation on a research project in a total of five years. Again, students interested in this program must be admitted through either Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health (UCB), the Joint UCSF/UCB Bioengineering Graduate Program, or the Department of Mechanical Engineering (UCB).

The Ph.D. program for students entering immediately after receiving a baccalaureate degree provides an academic program that includes preparation in a major field of study and two minor fields. Although there are no formal unit requirements, generally 16 semester units of predominantly graduate level course work in the major field and 8 units of upper division and graduate courses in each of the minors is a minimum (exclusive of seminars and research).

Students entering the Ph.D. program who already hold a master's degree follow an academic program with one major, consisting of at least 14 semester units of graduate level course work in the major area and 9 units of upper division or graduate course work in one minor, exclusive of seminars and research. The details of each student's program are developed in consultation with his/her Graduate Advisor. For the first 2 years of course work there is much overlap with the typical curriculum proposed in the masters pathway with the exception of a greater emphasis on research methods (Doctoral Seminar PH293, Tissue Mechanics ME214, Ergonomics Seminar PH295) and statistics (e.g., Multivariate Analysis PH245). To increase exposure to experimental methods, students are now required to take the EHS Doctoral Seminar (PH293) at UC Berkeley and the Occupational Medicine Research Seminar (PH 296) (Professor Michael Bates) at UC San Francisco.

The dissertation focus is determined by the doctoral student in consultation with faculty advisors. Students are encouraged to select topics which are a component of, or parallel to, currently funded studies. Research areas have focused on understanding pathophysiologic mechanisms of musculoskeletal disorders, developing new methods of measuring musculoskeletal tissue loads and effects associated with external loading (e.g., muscle fatigue, tissue oxygenation, tissue pressure, electromyography), epidemiologic methods and upper extremity disorders and ergonomics intervention research. Students can also develop their own research projects – a path taken by three of our current Ph.D. students.

Students must pass an oral qualifying examination which tests the student's broad knowledge of areas related to the engineering, public health, and biological aspects of ergonomics. The examination is conducted by a committee of no fewer than four members of the faculty approved by the Graduate Dean. The student consults with his or her Graduate Advisor (and dissertation supervisor) to nominate faculty to serve on this committee. The purpose of the exam is to test the ability of the student to carry out an independent research project. The student prepares a short summary of a proposed research project to distribute to faculty members prior to the exam.

In consultation with the dissertation supervisor, the student will nominate a dissertation committee consisting of the thesis advisor and three other faculty members (who may or may not have been part of the qualifying examination committee) for the Graduate Division's approval. The student, in consultation with the dissertation advisor, submits a research proposal to the full dissertation committee for approval prior to formally commencing with the research. In general, all courses except seminars and research or directed reading should be taken on a graded basis.



Acute and chronic musculoskeletal disorders related to work continue, by all measures, to be the major contributor to workers' compensation costs, time lost from work, and permanent disability. NIOSH has recognized the seriousness of these disorders as indicated by the appearance of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders and low back disorders as NORA priority research areas. In 1998 California became the first State with an OSHA standard specifically targeting ergonomics. The standard, which is brief and performance based, will require implementation by persons with solid training in ergonomics. There were not enough professionals in California with experience and training in ergonomics to meet the demands from industry that existed prior to this standard and those demands are now increased. As evidence of this demand, students in this program are hired within weeks of graduation. In addition, the lack of trained professionals has forced ergonomics consulting firms in California to recruit graduates of ergonomics programs from other states.



Students from the Ergonomics Program interact with students from other core programs through research projects and courses. Students from industrial hygiene, occupational medicine, occupational health nursing, ergonomics, and engineering are required, in Ergonomics (PH276A), to carry out a detailed job analysis and intervention design in the workplace with a student from one of the other disciplines. The project provides in-depth, practical training, and the findings are presented to the class. Ergonomics students are also required to take Psychosocial Factors in Injury (Nursing 248) with Occupational Health Nursing students and they interact with occupational medicine fellows, physical therapists, and attending physicians in Clinical Ergonomics (PH 298).

Research advising by affiliated faculty also provides an opportunity for students to work across disciplines. Collaborative research projects are active with Dr. Lehman (UCB, Bioengineering) in developing new tools for measuring muscle fatigue, with Dr. Diao (UCSF, Hand Surgery) to develop an animal model of carpal tunnel syndrome and to conduct in vivo studies of tendon force in humans, with Dr. Hargens (Bioengineering, NASA-AMES) to develop non-invasive measures of muscle oxygenation, with Dr. Jeff Lotz (UCSF, Orthopaedics) to develop an animal model for repeated vertebral loading, and with Dr. Faucett (UCSF, Nursing) and Dr. Miles (Agricultural Engineering, UCD) to design and evaluate ergonomic interventions in the agricultural sector. These collaborations provide access for ergonomics students to faculty, students, and laboratories from these other disciplines.



Applicants to the Ergonomics Training Program must first meet the admission requirements of the School to which they apply.  The quality of those admitted to the graduate training programs in Mechanical Engineering, Bioengineering and Environmental Health Sciences remains very high.  For example, of the approximately 400 applicants to the Bioengineering Ph.D. Program who meet the eligibility criteria, only 20 to 25 students are accepted per year.  Bioengineering students have the highest mean GPA and GRE scores of any of the participating departments.  Approximately one to four students per year indicate an interest in ergonomics.



The teaching and laboratory facilities include fully equipped classrooms at UC Berkeley and the Ergonomics Program laboratory which occupies a 6,500 square foot building at the Richmond Field Station.  The Field Station is an Engineering Research Annex to UC Berkeley and is located on the Bay in Richmond approximately six miles from the campus.  A shuttle bus travels every hour from the campus to the Field Station.  The Ergonomics Program laboratory includes a library/conference room, student offices, two machine shops and five laboratory rooms (1600 square feet).  A full-time engineer, Mr. Alan Barr, is available to assist students with research projects and data acquisition.  Equipment at the laboratory includes four electromyography systems, inclinometers, vibrometer, two force plates, two video analysis systems, 3D CAD engineering software (SolidWorks), eight computers with 16 channel analog-digital converters (LabView), statistical software (SAS, STATA), and a 3D motion capture system (Optotrack).