Program Description


The Interdisciplinary Ph.D. program is distinct from the Cognitive Science Ph.D. program, both in admissions and graduation requirements. There are five aspects to graduate study in the Interdisciplinary program:

  1. primary specialization in one of the established disciplines of cognitive science.
  2. secondary specialization in a second field of study.
  3. Familiarity with general issues in the field and the various approaches taken to these issues by scholars in different disciplines.
  4. Qualifying Examinations.
  5. dissertation possessing an interdisciplinary character.

The degree itself reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the program, being awarded jointly to the student for studies in cognitive science and the home department. Thus, students in linguistics or psychology will have degrees that read "Ph.D. in Linguistics and Cognitive Science" or "Ph.D. in Psychology and Cognitive Science."

Primary Specialization

Primary specialization is accomplished through the home department. Students are expected to maintain good standing within their home departments and to complete all requirements of their home departments through qualification for candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Some departments have chosen to allow Program Students to use a different set of department requirements than other Ph.D. students in the same department, but this perogative rests with the home department.

Secondary Specialization

The power of an interdisciplinary graduate training program liesin large measure in its ability to provide the student the tools of inquiry of more than one discipline. Students in the cognitivescience interdisciplinary program are expected to gain significant expertise in areas of study outside of those covered by their homedepartments. Such expertise can be defined in several ways. The second area might coincide with that of an established discipline,and study within that discipline would be appropriate. Alternatively, the area could be based upon a substantive issue ofcognitive science that spans several of the existing disciplines, and study within several departments would be involved. In eithercase, students work with their adviser and the Instructional Advisory Committee to develop an individual study plan designed togive them this secondary specialization. This requirement takes the equivalent of a full year of study, possibly spread out overseveral years. Often, it is valuable to perform an individualresearch project sponsored by a faculty member in a departmentother than the student's home department.

The following list demonstrates some ways to fulfill the secondary specialization requirement. It should be emphasized that these programs are only examples. Students will devise individual plans by working with their advisers and the Instructional Advisory Committee. Ideally, students who elect to do research in their areas of secondary interest will be able to accomplish a substantive piece of work, either of publishable quality or that will be of significant assistance in their dissertation projects.

Cognitive Psychology

Get a basic introduction to cognitive psychology through the Cognitive Psychology Seminar (Psych 218A-B) and acquire or demonstrate knowledge of statistical tools and experimental design (this can be done either by taking the graduate sequence in statistics (Psych 201A-B) or through the standard "testing out" option offered to all psychology graduate students). Finally, and, perhaps of most importance, the student should do a year-long project of empirical research in psychology with the guidance of a member of the Department of Psychology.

Cognitive Social Sciences

A course sequence from sociology and anthropology, including one or two courses in field methods and a research project under the direction of a cognitive social sciences faculty member. The course sequence and project should be worked out with the advisory committee to reflect the interests and background of the student. Examples of courses include Distributed Cognition (Cogs 234) and Text and Discourse Analysis (Soci 204). In addition, both the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Sociology offer courses on field methods.

Computer Science and Artificial Language

This specialization requires a thorough background in computer science. For those who enter the program without much formal training in this area, the secondary specialization in computer science includes some upper-division undergraduate courses (CSE 100, 103, 105) and a minimum of two graduate courses (CSE 250A-B). (Note that these courses require basic knowledge of programming and discrete mathematics that may require some additional undergraduate courses for those who lack these skills.) Students with stronger backgrounds in computer science may go straight to graduate courses. For all students interested in this specialization, the course sequences and any projects should be worked out on an individual basis with the student's adviser.

Discourse Structure and Processing

This specialization is highly interdisciplinary, spanning linguistics, computer science, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and anthropology. Research within this specialization depends upon which discipline is given emphasis. Therefore, the specialization will have to be developed according to the interests of the student. All students will have to demonstrate awareness and knowledge of relevant studies and the approaches of the various disciplines.


Students who elect a secondary specialization in linguistics should specialize either in the general area of syntax/semantics or in the general area of phonetics/phonology. Those who specialize in syntax/semantics should plan to take three courses in this area and one course in phonetics/phonology. Conversely, those who specialize in phonetics/phonology should plan to take three courses in this area and one course in syntax/semantics. The specific courses recommended will depend on the individual student’s interests and should be arranged in conjunction with the Department of Linguistics faculty liaison to the Cognitive Science Interdisciplinary Program.  

In addition, students will prepare a research paper (preferably originating in one of the above courses) that demonstrates control of the methodology and knowledge of important issues in their area of specialization.


A student specializing in neurosciences would take a program of courses emphasizing brain-behavior relationships, including behavioral neuroscience (Neuro 264) and the physiological basis of human information processing (Neuro 243). In addition, depending upon the student's individual interests, one or more of the neurosciences core courses would be taken in the areas of neurophysiology, mammalian neuroanatomy (Neuro 256), development of the nervous system, neuropsychopharmacology (Neuro 277), and/or neurochemistry (Neuro 234). In most cases, the student would also take a research rotation in the laboratory of a member of the neurosciences faculty.


Students who elect a secondary specialization in philosophy will focus on philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, philosophy of neuroscience, or philosophy of language, depending on their area of primary specialization. Courses suitable for this program include Philosophy of Language (Philosophy 234), Philosophy of Mind (Philosophy 236), Philosophy of the Cognitive Sciences (Philosophy 250A), and Seminar on Special Topics (Philosophy 285), which will frequently focus on issues relevant to cognitive science. The course sequence should be worked out with the student’s adviser.

The Temporal Dynamics of Learning

This specialization reflects an involvement in the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC).  TDLC, headquartered at UCSD, studies the role of time and timing in learing, from the 10ms scale (the scale of spike-timing-dependent plasticity at the synapse) to the year-long scale (the scale of spacing effects in fact learning) in animals, children, adults, and computation models.  Students who choose a secondary specialty in this area could choose from a braod range of courses in Computer Science, Cognitive Science, Psychology and Neuroscience.  Students who choose to focus on computational modeling of learning, for example, would take courses such as Cognitive modeling (CSE258A), Neural Netwoks (CSE 253), Cognitive Science Foundations: Computational Modeling of Cognition (COGS 202), Computational Neurobiology (BGGN 246A), Probabilistic Models of Cognition (Psych 232).  Students focusing on brain/behavior relationships in learning might take Learning and Motivation (Psych 233), Cognitive Neuroscience (Psych 252), Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (Psych 271), Systems Neuroscience (COGS 201), or Basic Neuroscience: Systems Neurobiology (NEU 200B), as well as a variety of other relevant courses in Cognitive Science, Psychology, and Neuroscience.  Students focusing on brain imaging in learning would take courses such as Electrophysiology of Cognition (COGS 279), the two fMRI courses in the Medical School, (SOMI 276A,B), and do a rotation with a faculty member in Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, or Psychology doing brain imaging research.  Students focusing on animal models of learning might do rotations in the various labs at UCSD doing behavioral neurophysiology.

How to Meet the Secondary Area Requirement

The student submits a plan and the plan is reviewed by the Instructional Advisory Committee. The committee approves, disapproves, or modifies the plan. (In reality it is only reviewed carefully by two advisors and the director. In routine cases, the remainder of the advisors are simply given a chance to object if they think there is any serious problem with the plan.)

The Secondary Area need not be, and typically is not, a second department, but is a more focused area and one that typically includes work in more than one department. Typically all the work in the Secondary Area will be outside of the student's home department. However, neither this guideline nor any other guideline on the Secondary Areas is any more than a guideline. The only firm requirement is that the plan for the Secondary Area be approved by the Instructional Advisory Committee. The goal is to allow students as much flexibility as possible in setting up a secondary plan.

If a secondary area consists entirely of courses, then the guidelines are that it will typically consists of 6 or more quarter graduate courses. There is no policy on whether the courses should be taken for a grade or not, but it will be assumed that the courses are taken for a grade unless the plan says otherwise and gives some justification for taking the course S/U.

Cognitive Science 200

Students in the Program are required to enroll for credit in six quarters of Cognitive Science 200. This need not be for a grade; in fact, Cognitive Science 200 usually is offered S/U only. In some case other courses may be substituted for up to two quarters of Cognitive Science 200. Check with the Cognitive Science Office for details.

Qualifying Examinations

Students must complete any prequalifying and field requirements of their home department. A Ph.D. student in the Program must do a thesis that is interdisciplinary in nature. It is expected that the thesis will draw upon both theprimary and secondary areas of study. The responsibility to check that the thesis is indeed interdisciplinary lies with the thesis committee. For this reason, there are rules requiring that Program faculty participate prominently on the student's thesis committee:

  1. At least three members from the student's home department, including the student's adviser.
  2. At least three members of the Interdisciplinary Cognitive Science Program, at least two of whom are not members of the student's home department.

University regulations require that at least one of the faculty members of the committee from outside the Home department must be tenured. The committee must be approved by the interdisciplinary program, the home department, and by the Dean of Graduate Studies. The dissertation committee is expected to play an active role in supervising the student and to meet with the student at regular intervals to review progress and plans. In the qualifying examination, the student must demonstrate familiarity with the approaches and findings from several disciplines relevant to the proposed dissertation research and must satisfy the committee of the quality, soundness, originality and interdisciplinary character of the proposed research.

Interdisciplinary Dissertation

It is expected that the dissertation will draw on both the primary and secondary areas of expertise, combining methodologies and viewpoints from two or more perspectives, and that the dissertation will make a substantive contribution to the field of cognitive science.


The program can be summarized in this way:

  1. In the first years, their home department provides basic training within the student's primary specialization.
  2. In the middle years, acquisition of secondary specialization and participation in the Cognitive Science Seminar (Cog Sci 200).
  3. In the final years, dissertation research on a topic in cognitive science, supervised by faculty from the program.

Time Limits

Normative time and time limits for pre-candidacy, financial support, and registration are those established for the home department.