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Current Students

Incoming PhD Handbook

Welcome to Human Centered Design & Engineering! Faculty and staff are excited for your arrival and look forward to getting to know you throughout your time here.

Over the years we’ve developed a list of resources and helpful tips for our incoming doctoral students. We hope you will find this beneficial as you start your new adventure.

General Advice for a Successful PhD Experience

Being a PhD student is a creative endeavor. Requirements and milestones are merely structures. Readings, talks, and conversations provide raw materials for scholarship. Analysis and research methods provide techniques and ways of learning and knowing. New knowledge results as you combine know-about with know-how.

Ingredients of a Successful Scholar

  • Mastering research literature
  • Being practical (assessing and using what is close at hand)
  • Being entrepreneurial (reaching out for new knowledge and opportunities)
  • Participating in local (department and UW) community efforts and professional community efforts such as conferences and projects
  • Being passionately curious
  • Sharing the results of your research

Anyone with above average determination and intelligence can get a PhD – being a scholar is a higher calling. What is your goal?

General Advice

  • Involve advisors early and often – both faculty advisors and Director of Academic Services
  • Seek advice from lots of people
  • Be strategic on who you seek out as advice givers and advisors
  • Have a clear idea of your goal(s)
  • Give clear instructions to people from whom you need things
  • Procrastination is the enemy
  • Start somewhere, start now
  • Editing is easier than writing
  • Take your own advice
  • Remember to take time for yourself – work out, relax, have fun

Your Faculty Advisor(s)

Your relationship with your faculty advisors is the cornerstone of a good PhD experience. Like all relationships and collaborations, this takes work. There is no single model for a strong advising relationship. Some advisors and students collaborate on every project, while others are more of a resource for students who pursue independent projects. Advisors also adapt their style to each student's needs at that time.

We offer the following suggestions for finding the right advising relationship for you:

  • Talk about your goals and what support you need. Because there are many different ways advising can work, an advisor working very hard to support a student's development may still make mistakes. Are you looking for space to explore a topic? Are you looking for more hands-on guidance? Are there particular methods which which you want to gain experience? For what career paths do you want the PhD to prepare you?
  • Discuss working rhythms with your advisor. Some people teach on certain days or write in the mornings or prefer regularly-scheduled meetings vs. spontaneous walk-ins; others prefer some off-campus time while others like to be in the office. You may have different rhythms than your advisors(s), and communicating about what works for each of you can help avoid misunderstandings and build a productive working and mentoring relationship.
  • Learn from your advisor’s research and other career experiences. Remember that they too went through graduate school and passed through similar hurdles and stress factors. They have a wealth of research experience and a proven pattern for success. Learn all you can from both research and non-research perspectives. Ask questions. If they are good at multi-tasking and managing time, observe and emulate. Take notes on what works for them and try things out. At the same time, your advisers when through their graduate program, possibly decades ago – so what worked for them may not be what works for you or the present moment.
  • Be proactive! Initiate meetings. It's often better to have a regular meeting schedule and then cancel as needed than to rely on ad-hoc meetings.
  • Your needs may change over time, and so you should take time to check in about them periodically.

Finally, no advisor or mentor can meet all of your needs as a scholar. Actively seek out a network of mentors. You can also engage your advisors and peers in discussing your mentorship needs and who might be good to connect with about them.

Your Academic Advisor

Why do you need two advisors? Well, they serve very different roles. Kathleen Rascon serves as the liaison between doctoral students and the Graduate School, which has several policies related to doctoral education. She will help you navigate through the various PhD milestones, and provide course registration advice to ensure satisfactory degree progress. She can also be a great resource in determining how to manage those times when life may intervene with academic progress. Research-focused questions are better addressed by your faculty advisor.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Promote and contribute to the work of your advisor, your lab mates, your fellow students, your department, the College of Engineering, and DUB or other research centers in which you participate. Our culture is collaborative rather than competitive, and one person or team's success often brings even more resources and opportunities to your research area, the department, and campus.

Our culture also takes effort to develop and nurture. That happens through small acts like pausing in the hallway to hear about and give feedback on someone's great new research idea, larger commitments like joining the PhD Program Committee or a faculty committee, and everything in between - like contributing to Visit Days or reviewing some doctoral applicants. Give back to the communities that you care about and that nourish you, but also set boundaries to make sure to protect time for your scholarship and the other parts of your life.

Defining Your Goals

Where do I want to be? What are your short and long-term career objectives? What are you looking for in an initial post-graduation job? In 5 years? 10 years?

Where am I now? What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (i.e., those things outside your control that might keep you from pursuing your career plans and succeeding in graduate school)?

How am I going to get there?

  • Outline a course of action to help you obtain your goals in light of your current situation
  • Focus on one or two areas that you want to develop
  • Consider ways to leverage your strengths in order to exploit your opportunities
  • Consider ways to address your weaknesses and to help you overcome them
  • Make a plan with specific action steps you can take to help you attain your goals

Find Your Intellectual Home

To be a successful scholar, you need to be supported by a community of scholars. Find your community ASAP. Do you like the people? Does the research excite you?

The communities through which ideas, papers, and ultimately a job, flow are centered around conferences and journals. What conference(s) are you going to participate in every year so that you are known by the time you are ready to graduate? What journal(s) are you going to read every month?

To become part of the community you need to both participate and contribute.

Stress is Corrosive

  • Be proactive about your mental and physical health
  • Exercise
  • Practice healthy eating habits
  • Take care of your sleep schedule. Avoid all-nighters.
  • Find allies
  • Participate in mindfulness-based stress reduction and related programs
  • Consider therapy (individual and/or group)

Departmental Traditions

Tea time

The idea for a regular tea time came from conversations among faculty and staff about how to find time for intentional, informal interactions with each other and our students. Despite how busy everyone is, a 30-minute break in the 4th floor hallway one afternoon a week seemed feasible. The tradition is now entering its third year. The department sets out tea, coffee and light snacks, and the hall fills with faculty, staff and students. It’s an excellent way to get to know others in the department.


For details, our PhD curriculum page.

Year 1 Coursework




HCDE 541 Grant Writing – 2 cr

HCDE 542 Theoretical Foundations – 4 cr

HCDE 548 or other elective

HCDE 543 Empirical Traditions – 4 cr

HCDE 544 Experimental & Quasi-experimental Research Methods – 4 cr

HCDE 545 Qualitative Research Methods – 4 cr

Option: 4 cr free elective

HCDE 523 (DUB)  (0-1 cr)

HCDE 523  (0-1 cr)

HCDE 547 Research Seminar (1 cr)

HCDE 547 Research Seminar (1 cr)

HCDE 547 Research Seminar (1 cr)

Option: HCDE 596 (0-3 cr)
Option: HCDE 523 (DUB) (1 cr)

HCDE 596 (0-3 cr)

HCDE 596 (0-3)

10+ Credits

10+ Credits 10+ Credits

Directed Research Groups (DRGs)

DRGs provide unique opportunities to collaborate with faculty, undergraduates, master’s students and fellow PhDs on a wide variety of research-related topics.

Here is a representative sample of Autumn 2018 offerings (more information can be found in the link above):

  • Cultural Differences in Data Privacy Perspectives on Social Media
  • Distributed Mentoring and Fanfiction Data Analytics
  • Human-Robotic Interaction DRG Team
  • HCD Charrette for K-12 Outreach
  • Virtual Relaxation Environment for Teens
  • Research Advances in Ubiquitous Computing and Accessibility
  • Developing a Trajectory for Collaborative Cyberinfrastructure for Ocean Science
  • Troubled Worlds: Rethinking Computing in the Age of Climate Change
  • Dance and STEM Education

Variable Credit Coursework

The department offers five variable credit courses each quarter:

  • HCDE 596 Research in HCDE: Used for enrolling in DRGs
  • HCDE 599 Special Projects: Typically used for individual projects supervised by a faculty member. The end result must be a paper. A maximum of 10 credits of 599 can count toward your PhD.
  • HCDE 600 Independent Study or Research: This is intended to be a placeholder for those preparing for the general exam. It does NOT count toward the PhD degree.
  • HCDE 601 Internship: Primarily for international students who must enroll in 2 credits of internship during summer quarter in order to comply with visa policies.
  • HCDE 800 Doctoral Dissertation

You must follow the Variable Credit Registration Policy in order to enroll in these courses.

PhD Program Milestones

As you progress through the program, you will complete various milestones. You will be supported by faculty, peers who have been through the milestones, and the PhD academic advisor (Pat). 

Departmental Resources

Departmental Communications

The University of Washington considers the email as the official communication channel, and departments are required to send messages only to accounts. You may arrange to have your account forwarded to your preferred email.

Labs/Lounges/Conference Rooms/Research Spaces in Sieg Building & on campus

Note that we are in the middle of expanding space in Sieg Building, and these details will change extensively by Fall 2021.

Meeting rooms

  • HCDE MakeLab: Sieg 129
  • Student Lounge: Sieg 422 (refrigerator, hot water, cold water, microwave, printer)
  • HCDE Small Conference Rooms: 215, 314, and 427
  • Larger conference room: Sieg 420
  • Faculty Labs: Sieg 3rd and 4th floors; multiple labs in 323, 327, 424, 425, & 429
  • The department has an intranet page for resources, MyHCDE. Information on how to reserve any of those listed above can be found in the Meeting Room and Equipment Resources tab.
  • Scout: Campus options for food, study spaces, and tech items

Technical Resources and Software

  • Links to free courses, workshops and online tutorials
  • Information on campus computer labs
  • Inexpensive or free software, along with student discounted software and hardware)

Miscellaneous Resources

  • Mailboxes
    • Faculty/staff mailboxes located in Sieg 428
    • RA/TA mailboxes located in student lounge
  • Business cards

HCDE PhD Student Conference Travel Assistance

Policy approved 1/21/2015, updated August 2018

The HCDE Student Conference Travel Assistance program is intended to provide opportunities for HCDE PhD students to become familiar with, and participate in the life of, their academic field. All PhD students who meet the eligibility requirements can receive up to $1000 of HCDE Conference Travel Assistance per academic year (16 September - 15 September) based on the start date of the conference, contingent upon availability of funding. You must submit your applications at least one month before start of the conference. If eligible, this will allow us to apply for additional funding from the Graduate School Student Conference Travel Awards (GSTA). Applications will not be considered for retroactive funding.

Miscellaneous Campus Resources

HUB (student union)

  • Numerous dining choices
  • HUB Games (bowling, ping pong, pool, video games)
  • Student organization offices
  • HUB Partners:
    • FIUTS
    • Office of the Ombud
    • Student Legal Services
  • Games
  • Events throughout year


  • Pool
  • Weights/machines
  • Indoor track
  • Basketball/racquetball courts
  • Classes
  • Free with Husky Card!

University Bookstore 

  • Original (largest) located on The Ave
  • Smaller one in HUB

Health & Wellness Resources

Student Counseling Center 

The Counseling Center is staffed by psychologists and mental health counselors who understand the potential challenges students face. They provide developmentally-based counseling, assessment, and crisis intervention services to currently-enrolled UW students.

Health & Wellness

Health & Wellness provides support, advocacy, consultation and education to the UW campus community. Programs include alcohol and other drug consultations; suicide intervention; sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking and harassment advocacy; and student care.

Q Center

The Q Center is a trans/formational space for advising and gender discussion. The center offers social areas and one-one-one advising for any member of the university community in need of an open, empathetic, confidential and non-judgmental space.


The SafeCampus team is here for you. Tell us what's going on and we'll figure out how to best address your concerns. We work with campus partners to keep our community safe. If you're scared or unsure what to do, call us.

Graduate School Resources

U501: Graduate School Orientation

You may have already gone through some of the first modules in this online orientation. There is a lot of great information, and you may want to access it again during your first quarters on campus.

Core Programs

Core Programs offers online resources, workshops and other events for all graduate students on campus. They have a regular newsletter with upcoming lectures, workshops, mentoring and other information of interest including resources for first-generation and international students. Be sure to at least skim their e-newsletter to keep remain aware of opportunities.


Graduate Student Equity & Excellence supports the commitment of the Graduate School to increase awareness of graduate education among underrepresented minority communities. They do this through activities such as outreach and recruitment; scholarship and research; advocacy, consulting and advising; and social network events.

Miscellaneous Online Grad School Resources

  • UW Grad School Facebook group: free events, lectures, campus news
  • Grad School Digest (email): Lots of excellent information on funding, guides and resources for TAs, career and academic development (workshops, career coaching appointments and more)