Current Students

Incoming PhD Handbook

Welcome to Human Centered Design & Engineering! The sixteen of you have the distinction of being the largest cohort admitted into our doctoral program since the program’s inception in 2009. 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

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 Student 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

Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect advisor. If they have not offended you yet, they will soon. Remember they are human and learn how to think from their perspective.

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. If they are good communicators, take notes on what works for them and try things out.

Find the working rhythms of your advisor. Some people teach on certain days or write in the mornings or prefer regularly-scheduled meetings vs. spontaneous walk-ins. Know these patterns and respond accordingly.

Be proactive and respectful. Do not wait for your advisor to draw up a program of study or wait for him/her to suggest writing a paper. Do listen to their concerns and suggestions. Know what you need and ask for it!

Initiate meetings and be prepared. Meet with your advisor regularly. Remember that your advisor may be juggling several projects, classes, travel and other things in life. Therefore, staying in touch with your advisor is your responsibility – not theirs. An advisor who does not initiate meetings is still looking for productivity. Even ‘hands off’ advisors are deeply invested in the productivity of their group. Remember that time is precious. Follow that up with emails.

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, ad DUB. Promote and contribute to HCDE.

Moving to the lab-based model requires higher levels of obligation between students and labs. It means moving from the individual contractor model to a team model. There will be more of a service-type obligation than previously, along with more collective feedback and assistance from lab mates and your advisor.

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
  • 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.

Pancake/waffle breakfasts

Every year the HCDE administrator, Erin Baker, arranges pancake and waffle breakfasts in fall and spring quarters to celebrate the start and end of the academic year. The hallway smells wonderfully homey for a few hours, and everyone gets a chance to talk with people they may not often see.


Year 1 Coursework




HCDE 541 Grant Writing – 2 cr

HCDE 542 Theoretical Foundations – 4 cr

HCDE 546 Design Thinking – 4 cr

HCDE 543 Empirical Traditions – 4 cr

HCDE 544 Methods I (Experimental) – 4 cr

HCDE 545 Methods II (Naturalistic Observation) – 4 cr

Option: 4 cr free elective

HCDE 523 (DUB)  (0-1 cr)

HCDE 523  (0-1 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.
  • 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 Hall & on campus

  • HCDE VR Lab: Sieg 129A
  • HCDE MakeLab: Sieg 313 (book through Brock Craft or Andy Davidson)
  • Student Lounge: Sieg 422 (refrigerator, hot water, cold water, microwave, printer)
  • HCDE Small Conference Rooms: 427 & 314
  • Larger conference room: Sieg 129
  • Faculty Labs: Sieg 4th floor; multiple labs in 420, 423, 424, 425, & 429
  • Other campus study areas (libraries and other spaces)
  • 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. 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.


Graduate students are eligible to apply for HCDE Conference Travel Assistance if:

  1. the student is in good academic standing in HCDE (not on probation),
  2. the student is in their first six years of enrollment in the program,
  3. all conference travel and reimbursement will be completed prior to graduation or completion of the HCDE program,
  4. the student has not received their maximum amount of HCDE Student Conference Travel Assistance in the current academic year (September 16 - September 15),
  5. the student has submitted reimbursement requests for any previous travel supported through this program, and
  6. the student has submitted all Conference Experience Reports from prior conference travel.

Funding Priority

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. Currently, HCDE Masters and Bachelors students are not supported by this program.


Ongoing. Complete applications, including the email of support from adviser, must be received at least one month prior to the start of the conference. Please submit your request as early as you can. Note that receiving HCDE Student Conference Travel Assistance is separate from travel support from the Graduate School Student Conference Travel Awards (GSTA). For information about GSTA funding, see here.

Award Stipulations

This funding may be applied to a single conference or distributed across multiple conferences. Funding does not rollover from year to year. The faculty advisor or doctoral program director must be consulted and must provide an email agreeing to award the funding. Reimbursement requests should be sent to Allen Lee within 45 days of completion of travel. Reimbursement requests should include copies of receipts for travel, lodging, conference registration and any incidentals greater than $75. HCDE Student Conference Travel Assistance will be handled as reimbursement and does not provide travel advance.

Within two weeks after the conference, students who receive funding must submit a short, two–three paragraph Conference Experience Report describing their experience at the conference for the News section of the HCDE website to the Assistant to the Chair, Stacia Green. Photos from the conference would also be appreciated. Students who do not submit the write-up will not be eligible for further travel funding from the department.

Application Procedure

Students should submit the Student Travel Request Form to Stacia Green, Assistant to the Chair, at least one month prior to travel. Additionally, a short, informal email from the faculty advisor or doctoral program director supporting the student’s use of travel assistance funds to participate in the conference should be included.

Student Travel Funding Resources

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

Writing and Presentation Centers

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.

Hall Health

  • Directly across from HUB
  • One free acute care visit per quarter

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.


GO-MAP (Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program) 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)