PhD Requirements

The Department of Cognitive Science’s PhD requirements consist of coursework, foreign language competence, teaching experience, and research papers.

Please note that the Computational Cognitive Science Track requirements differ somewhat from the program requirements outlined below.

The general Cognitive Science PhD requirements are designed to meet the following goals:


Students become expert in their primary area of research interest and are prepared so that they will be competitive for academic positions in one of the traditional disciplines.

  • 8–10 courses selected in conjunction with the student’s advisory committee to achieve depth in a chosen research area and marketplace competitiveness: computer science, psychology/neuropsychology, or linguistics.


Students develop the ability to understand, appreciate, and critically evaluate work in the various sub-disciplines of cognitive science by taking a selection of courses, two each in the areas of cognitive psychology/neuropsychology, computation, and linguistics; and one each in philosophy and cognitive neuroscience. Students may place out of breadth courses based on undergraduate coursework and (for certain courses) based on examination. It is not uncommon for a student to place out of two breadth requirements.

  • Cognitive Neuroscience, one course
  • Philosophy, one course in philosophy of mind/language/science
  • Cognitive Psychology/Neuropsychology
    • 200.314 Advanced Statistical Methods (to be completed early in the program, preferably the first semester)
    • 050.639 Cognitive Development (or an approved courses/seminar on a topic outside the area of language) OR AS.050.315 Cognitive Neuropsychology of Visual Perception
  • Computation
    • 050.672 Foundations of Neural Network Theory
    • 050.671 Bayesian Inference (OR the equivalent, e.g., computational linguistics OR a programming course such as C++, Java, etc.)
  • Language
    • 050.670 Mathematical Models of Language (previously: Formal Methods in Cognitive Science: Language)
    • 050.625 Phonology I OR AS.050.620 Syntax I


Students learn to integrate theory and method across sub-disciplines through specially designed integrative courses and regular seminars involving the entire department.

  • 050.626 Foundations of Cognitive Science
  • 050.850 Department Seminar (Course topics vary. All students and faculty in the program attend these class meetings. Only during one semester do students write a paper and direct a topic for credit.)

Additional Required Coursework

  • 360.625 Responsible Conduct of Research (encouraged to complete in first year)
TA Assignments
  • 050.849 Teaching Practicum, 7 semesters. Students register for each term they are assigned to an instructor as a TA. Each instructor has a distinct Teaching Practicum section. Students are not expected to TA in their first semester or in the last two semesters of residency (5th year).

Research Papers and Dissertation

Emphasis is placed on producing two research papers prior to writing a dissertation. These two research papers are typically presented at conferences and often lead to separate journal publications. Students are encouraged to incorporate the two research papers into their dissertation.

Research Paper Deadlines

Nov. 1 (2nd year): First Research Paper*, completion of which marks achievement of an MA within the PhD program

May 1 (3rd year): Second Research Paper*, completion of which signals readiness to discuss a career path with an adviser

May 1 (4th year): Dissertation proposal detailing a significant research project and the methods to be used

Aug. 1 (5th year): Graduate Board Oral Exam defending a PhD dissertation that presents an original contribution to some areas of cognitive science in a format approaching publication standards.

*Together, the first two research papers must involve research employing two of the methods enumerated above, supervised by two appropriate faculty members.