Ph.D. Requirements


  • Foundations courses
  • Approved study plan, which includes issues courses, methods courses, and laboratory rotations
  • Having a primary advisor within the department
  • Second-year project
  • Language requirement
  • Advancement to candidacy
  • Teaching
  • Cognitive Science 200 seminar
  • Participation in departmental events and committees
  • Ph.D. dissertation and defense

2nd Year Project Guidelines

3rd Year Guidelines


Note: Some program requirements may change. The Office of Graduate Studies requires students to enroll as full-time graduate students, to carry a minimum enrollment of 12 units of graduate-level courses each quarter, and to maintain a grade point average of 3.0.


Description of Requirements

The expectation is that graduate students in the program will maintain a 3.4 GPA and falling below this expectation may lead to the student being put on departmental probation. No course in which the student is assigned a grade below B- will be allowed to fulfill department requirements.

  1. Foundations Courses (Cognitive Science 201, 202, 203) Students complete foundation courses in the areas of brain, behavior, and computation by the end of the second year. The department may waive some or all courses for students who already have the required knowledge.

  2. Study Plan. Students complete a study plan recommended by their adviser. The normal plan includes:
    1. Issues Courses. A minimum of six issues courses are required, at least one in each of the areas of brain, behavior, and computation. At least four of the issues courses should be taken within the department. Department recommends completion by the end of the second year. Issues courses taken outside the department require the approval of the adviser in conjunction with the graduate committee. Five of the six issues courses must be taken for a letter grade. 

    2. Methods Courses. Three methods courses are required, one of which must be an approved statistics course. Students should obtain approval for all 3 courses from their advisor. An approved list of coursesis on file with the department to assist students in selecting courses. Students may petition courses not on the approval list. Such petitions must be approved by the student's adviser and graduate committee. All three courses must be taken for a letter grade.

    3. Laboratory Rotations (Cognitive Science 290). A total of three quarters of laboratory rotations in at least two different faculty laboratories are required. Each rotation is for one to two full quarters as required by the faculty laboratory. All rotations should be completed by the end of fall quarter of the second year. 

      If you wish to fulfill this requirement in a lab outside of the department, you must fill out a Lab Rotation Petition and submit it to the graduate coordinator.
      • Three one-quarter rotations in three different laboratories, or
      • One one-quarter rotation and one two-quarter rotation in two different laboratories, or
      • Two two-quarter rotations in two different laboratories for a total of four quarters enrolled in COG 290.

    4. Students can meet this requirement in the following ways: Department recommends that student and adviser negotiate a topic and activity, then put the agreement in writing, sign and give to the graduate coordinator.
  3. Advisor. All students must have a primary advisor in the department. A co-advisor may be adjunct faculty or outside of the department but each student must have a primary advisor who is a full time faculty member.

  4. Second-Year Research Project (Cognitive Science 210A-B-C and 211 A-B-C). In the summer between the first and second year, students work with their adviser and a faculty committee to develop a prospectus for a research project. The year-long research project culminates with written and oral presentations to the faculty at the end of spring quarter. Concurrent enrollment in Cognitive Science 210A-B-C and Cognitive Science 211A-B-C is required as part of the second year project.

  5. Language Requirement. The main goal of the language requirement is to give all students firsthand experience with some of the differences in structure and usage of languages and the several issues involved in the learning of second languages. This requirement can be satisfied by demonstrating satisfactory proficiency, by prior study in a language (e.g., two years of high school study), or by satisfactory completion of one quarter of study in a language course approved by the department.

  6. Advancement to Candidacy/Qualifying Paper and Oral Exam. There are four components to advancement to candidacy: 
    1. Competency. This requirement is met by satisfactorily completing items 1-4 above.

    2. Depth. This requirement is met by satisfactorily completing a talk to the entire department on their thesis topic by the end of the third year. A first draft of the thesis proposal must be submitted to the student's advisor by the end of the third year. Students enroll in COGS 205 during winter and spring quarter of the third year. (3rd year guidelines)

    3. Dissertation Topic/Advancement Exam. The student prepares a proposal of the dissertation topic that must be approved by the student's doctoral committee. A written proposal is submitted to the committee at least two weeks prior to an oral defense of the proposal. The doctoral committee consists of at least five faculty members: three from the department and two from outside the department; one of the outside members must be tenured. Student must advance to candidacy by the end of the fourth year.

    4. All students must have a primary advisor. A co-advisor may be from another department, but the primary advisor must reside in the Cognitive Science Department.

  7. Teaching (Cognitive Science 500). All graduate students must serve as a teaching assistant at least one quarter of each academic year in residence. The undergraduate program offers a special challenge to instructor and student alike, and experience with the teaching of that program can provide a valuable part of the education of a cognitive scientist. Teaching assistantships performed in other departments must be approved by formal petition to the graduate committee to count toward the requirement. The department works closely with the Center for Teaching Development to design effective training and development programs for its teaching assistants. At the end of each quarter, instructors prepare written evaluations of all teaching assistants.

  8. Cognitive Science 200 Seminar. Students must enroll in this seminar for at least three quarters while in residence; frequent participation is encouraged.

  9. Participation in Departmental Events and Committees. Students participate in departmental special events and committees and serve as student representatives for faculty meetings, and the campus-wide Graduate Student Association. Students present their research in the undergraduate SCANS series.

  10. Completion of PhD Dissertation and Defense. Candidates prepare a written dissertation demonstrating a substantive contribution to our understanding of cognition. An oral defense follows.

Master's Degree

The Department of Cognitive Science does not offer admissions to a master's program. However, candidates for the Ph.D. who do not hold a master's degree from another institution may be granted the M.S. degree after fulfilling the first four requirements listed above. This is usually at the end of the second year. Duplication of advanced academic degrees, e.g., one at the same level, is not permitted at UCSD. Likewise, a professional degree at the master's or doctoral level, e.g., M.Ed., M.P.I.A., MD., or Pharm.D., is not regarded as a duplicate of an academic degree.


Grading Summary

Letter grade required:

  • Foundations (Cog Sci 201, 202, 203)
  • Methods
  • Second Year Project (Cog Sci 210ABC, Cog Sci 211ABC. Note: the first two quarters of the second year project will be graded IP, in progress)

Letter grade or S/U courses:

  • Issues courses (five of the six issues courses must be taken for a letter grade)
  • Cog Sci 200 (Whether Cog Sci 200 is available for a letter grade in any particular quarter may depend on the faculty member who is leading it)
  • Cog Sci 291
  • Cog Sci 298 (Pre-candidacy research)
  • Cog Sci 299 (Thesis Research)

S/U required:

  • Cog Sci 205
  • Cog Sci 241
  • Cog Sci 290
  • Cog Sci 500