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Alumni Spotlight: Auður Anna Jónsdóttir

"My name is Auður Anna Jónsdóttir, I was born and raised in Iceland and graduated with a M.S. degree in ISE from UW in 2020. After graduation, my commitment to advancing in the field of ISE led me to further pursue my education and I am now a dedicated UW ISE Ph.D. candidate. Along with my education, I have also had the privilege of partnering with the Center for Dialysis Innovation working as a human factors engineer conducting user research on a wearable medical technology that aims to improve the lives of people with kidney disease."


Auður Anna Jónsdóttir, Ph.D.

How did you first become interested in Industrial & Systems Engineering (ISE)?

Earlier in my career, I worked as a flight attendant for Icelandair on international flights inside Boeing 757 aircraft. While working there, I was fascinated by the designs of the aircraft and the operational logistics of this mode of transportation. This experience motivated me to pursue a degree in engineering with the aspiration of contributing to the development of high-tech systems that have a positive impact on people’s lives. I graduated with a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Iceland where electives in design and optimization of systems caught my interest. Learning about the boundless problem-solving opportunities within various industries and environments involving people, systems, and businesses influenced my choice to pursue a degree in the field.

Why did you choose the University of Washington's ISE program?

My decision to apply to UW’s ISE program was driven primarily by the accomplished faculty, the impressive research initiatives, and the opportunities to collaborate with well-established local businesses. As I explored the research carried out within the Human Factors Labs, I realized my passion for developing systems that accommodate the diversity in human interactions with technology aligned well with the program’s objectives. Plus, the campus is undeniably beautiful!

Were there any courses or projects at UW that you found particularly influential for your career?

Foundational courses such as Inferential Data Analysis, Linear Optimization Models in Engineering, and Analyzing Qualitative Data have helped me build a good understanding of both quantitative and qualitative research and analysis techniques. These courses have been particularly useful for creating data collection instruments, data analysis, and data reporting.

I have also had the privilege of working in the Human and Systems Lab under the guidance of Professor Ji-Eun Kim conducting human factors research as well as writing and preparing research articles for publication. In one of my projects, I conducted a controlled lab-based experiment using eye-tracking technologies to investigate the effects of language use and time pressure on eye movement and learning performance. This experience provided me with skills to measure both behavioral and physiological responses enabling me to conduct more conclusive assessments of user behavior. Such insights are instrumental in guiding system design that meets users’ diverse needs.

Did you pursue any internships or co-ops during your time at UW? How did those experiences shape your career path?

Throughout my master’s and Ph.D. journey, I worked as a human factors engineer for the Center for Dialysis Innovation (CDI) at the University of Washington. CDI is currently in the process of developing a mobile and wearable medical device called the Ambulatory Kidney to Improve Vitality (AKTIV). The AKTIV is designed to imitate the functions of a healthy kidney by efficiently filtering and cleaning the blood of patients with impaired kidney function. This technology holds promise to significantly improve the quality of life for these patients, eliminating the need for them to be tethered to a fixed device during treatment providing them with greater mobility and treatment flexibility.

My time at CDI was a real eye-opener for me because it gave me exposure to the actual challenges some people are facing. I learned how to interview people, gather people’s perspectives, and the information needed to find solutions that can address their challenges. This experience has helped strengthen my passion for working on innovative systems that prioritize diverse user needs, ultimately leading to positive impacts on people’s lives.

Tell us about a project or accomplishment in your current job that you’re particularly proud of.

I take pride in my role in contributing to shaping the development of the AKTIV in accordance with users’ needs, building the foundational user research for their product development process. My contributions to the project have facilitated a better understanding of user preferences regarding ideal features of the device, use contexts, and potential challenges. This has provided a more distinct vision for potential prototype designs. I hope this effort will help ease the emotional and physical challenges kidney patients experience and enable them to live fuller and more productive lives.

What is something about your work that may surprise students?

Something that might surprise students is the close collaboration with interdisciplinary team members. Many may picture engineers working solely within their specific field, but my role largely involves collaborating with experts with diverse backgrounds. For the AKTIV project, I frequently teamed up with industrial, mechanical, electrical, and bioengineers, chemists, medical doctors, nurses, and designers. A truly dynamic environment where different perspectives come together to create innovative solutions.

How do you continue to learn and grow in the field of ISE after graduation?

No matter where you are in your learning journey it is important to keep an open and curious mindset. I remain committed to continuous learning and growth by engaging with engineering organizations, such as the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), and attending and presenting at conferences. Attending engineering conferences is a great way to stay updated on the latest developments and emerging trends. I also read academic papers and industry publications that help me stay informed about current best practices and cutting-edge research.

What message would you like to send to potential students considering the ISE program at UW?

The ISE program, including the accomplished and welcoming faculty and staff, offers students the flexibility to customize their education to align with their specific area of interest. In many of the courses, students are tasked with semi-structured projects allowing students to combine the course material with their interest domain.

For prospective students, I recommend taking the time to familiarize yourself with the research being conducted within the department of ISE. It is valuable to reach out to faculty members and express your interest in the field. Within the network of faculty, staff, and students you may find numerous opportunities to gain research experiences and boost your personal and professional growth.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Go Huskies!

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