Deputy Director for Research and Technology
Dr. Stephen Popkin, Volpe's deputy director for Research and Technology, has been serving and leading the transportation human factors profession for more than 20 years.
While earning his doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology from the University of Connecticut, he worked on projects for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, the U.S. Submarine Force based in Groton, and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health under a Ministry of Education grant in Vantaa, Finland.
During this period, his work involved understanding the performance and health issues related to irregular and unpredictable work schedules, recovery from night work, and exploring theoretical concepts for developing next generation submarine sonar systems.
Also during this period, he implemented the first U.S. Navy submarine watchkeeping fatigue management program, which still exists at the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory, and was involved in the initial implementation of Human Systems Integration principles under the Navy's DD(X) program.
Dr. Popkin leveraged this background when he went to work for the technology innovation consulting firm Foster-Miller, and then for the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT). He continued his work in human fatigue for the Federal Railroad Administration and NASA, and upon coming to Volpe, established its Fatigue Monitoring and Countermeasures Research Team. This team performs work for all operating administrations under U.S. DOT and comprises talent from across Volpe as well as academia.
Dr. Popkin is the co-chair of the Operator Fatigue Management program for U.S. DOT while concurrently serving as the executive agent for the Human Factors Coordinating Committee (HFCC). This committee is a cross-modal community of interest that includes human factors program managers from the U.S. DOT modal administrations as well as from other U.S. government agencies, such as NTSB, DHS (TSA and Coast Guard), CDC, and NRC.
As a recognized authority in transportation fatigue and human factors, Dr. Popkin has been asked to serve on the National Occupational Research Agenda assembled by the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health, was elected to the International Commission on Occupational Health's Working Time Society (Scientific Committee on Shiftwork and Working Time), and was appointed both vice-chair to the Transportation Research Board's Committee on Railroad Operational Safety and chair to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) Membership Committee. He has been invited to speak in front of the Swedish Road Traffic Inspectorate at the Nobel Forum and partnered with the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety in a thought leadership activity along with 25 other international authorities in fatigue management.
Actively engaged in the human factors profession, Dr. Popkin works at capacity building, initially by restarting the local Human Factors chapter, and later by working with the HFCC and HR to promote human factors events and outreach to universities whose human factors graduates may be well suited to a career in transportation.
Going back to his initial work experience, he is working with several organizations within and outside of U.S. DOT, along with the HFES, to develop a strategy for introducing a sustainable approach to human systems integration within the Department. Ensuring that the human—whether it is the operator, maintainer, manager, regulator, or user—is considered in the Department's R&D plans and acquisitions is a top priority, as the greatest challenge to transportation human factors is designing and implementing technology and procedures for humans.