Finding her passion
Theatre arts and human factors may appear to be worlds apart, but if you listen to S. Camille Peres, PhD, the two disciplines overlap more than you might think.
Peres, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, who earned her undergraduate degree in technical theatre, says that techniques learned in the theatre have helped her in many aspects of her career, particularly when sharing findings from her research with others.
“When I am communicating what I am finding, people have to want to listen to me,” Peres said. “Theatre really taught me how to prepare for an audience and how to project my voice. I always tell my students when you are in a presentation you are not comfortable with, dig your heels in the ground, shoulders back and chin up. This projects confidence whether you are currently feeling it or not. That way people are focusing on what you’re saying, not that you look nervous.”
It was a somewhat winding route for Peres to get into the field of human factors. After earning her undergraduate degree in theatre, Peres took time off before setting out to earn her master’s in psychology.
“I swore on every holy book I could find when I finished my undergraduate degree that I was never going back to school,” Peres joked.
However, she discovered that she had more to learn.
Immediately after getting her master’s degree, Peres became a research associate with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, and was teaching and doing research in her spare time. It soon became apparent to her, as well as those around her, that she should be an academic and obtain her doctorate. Although that was obvious to her, what wasn’t quite so clear was what her doctoral topic should be.
Peres knew she loved technology and research and was fascinated by psychology and people, but she says she didn’t have a specific topic that was particularly compelling for her. Nevertheless, Peres knew she wanted to be a professor, so she started researching doctoral programs in the Houston area hoping to find a way to combine her passions.
She found what she felt was the perfect match in the Department of Psychology at Rice University, which offered a program in human factors and human-computer interaction.
Human factors (HF) and human-computer interaction (HCI) are scientific disciplines concerned with the application of what we know about people, their abilities, capabilities, and limitations to the design of equipment they use, environments in which they function, and jobs they perform.
HF and HCI often focus on the design of computer technology and the interaction between humans and computers.
“It was like a marriage of all my favorite things,” Peres said. “I went and visited with an advisor, I got in, and I never looked back.”
Peres does collaborative research on human factors in high-risk processing industry such as the oil and gas industry, chemical processing, and emergency response. She works with these industries on reducing human error to improve worker safety and efficiency.
Having grown up in Houston, safety within the oil and gas industry is extremely important to Peres. Her husband is part of the industry, and her family has been involved with the industry since she was a child.
“This industry has done so much for my family, and this felt like a really special opportunity to actually get to contribute to that,” Peres said. “It is a risky industry, and it just goes against my ethics to have people and the environment exposed to these risks without trying to do something to make it better.”
Though it took some time for Peres to find her passion, she said that the is right where she belongs and that she loves what she does.
She also makes sure she shares her story with her students, many of whom, like her at their age, aren’t quite sure what path they are going to take.
“I like being able to tell my students my story because sometimes I think it relieves the pressure of their needing to have it all figured out right now,” Peres said. “Particularly undergraduate students. I tell them you may very well go to graduate school, but if you’re not sure right now, that’s okay. You haven’t found your passion yet. Keep exploring and don’t settle.”