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Graduate Education

Our program provides broad training in neurological processes and phenomena; the experimental methods, results, and theories from the study of psychology, language, and social and cultural issues; and the studies of computational mechanisms. We offer three graduate programs in Cognitive Science: 

Cognitive Science PhD Program

Interdisciplinary PhD Program in Cognitive Science

Specialization in Anthropogeny

transdisciplinary graduate specialization in anthropogeny with the aim of providing graduate students the opportunity to specialize in research and education on explaining the origins of the human phenomenon. This specialization is not a stand-alone program but aims at providing graduate students who have just embarked on their graduate careers with the opportunity to interact and communicate with peers in radically different disciplines throughout the duration of their PhD projects. Such communication across disciplines from the outset is key to fostering a capacity for interdisciplinary “language” skills and conceptual flexibility.

Specialization in Human-Centered Design

The Graduate Program

The graduate specialization is a set of courses students can choose to take that fits into their home degree program requirements. It is analogous to receiving a minor, but at the graduate level. As such, the specialization does not alter home program requirements. Instead, the courses fit into their home program as either electives or as courses that were already part of their core requirements. The graduate specialization is created so that it can be integrated into a one- or two-year master’s program or PhD program.

The program is only available to graduate students in computer science and engineering (excluding the MAS programs), cognitive science, and public health.

Programs that offer a specialization in human-centered design:

  • PhD Programs
    • Cognitive Science
    • Computer Science
    • Computer Engineering
    • UC San Diego/SDSU Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health: Epidemiology
    • UC San Diego/SDSU Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health: Health Behavior
    • UC San Diego/SDSU Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health: Global Health
  • Master’s Programs
    • MS in Computer Science
    • Master of Public Health

Graduate Specialization in Human-Centered Design

The Design Lab offers a specialization in human-centered design in collaboration with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) and the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute (HDSI). This specialization, like the Design Lab itself, is an interdisciplinary team applying human-centered design (HCD) as a way of thinking that is appropriate to many departments at the university and applicable to major societal issues. The goal of the program is to train students from multiple disciplines in how HCD can be applied to study within their own discipline by working with interdisciplinary teams on project-based real-world problems, many of which will be in the San Diego region. This specialization fits with the aspirations of the university to offer cross-cutting training and opportunities for cross-pollination across the many disciplines of the campus. It also enhances the employment prospects for UC San Diego graduate students, both in industry and academia.

HCD is a way of thinking applicable to almost any issue, involving physical projects as well as virtual ones, to procedures, services, and organizational structures. HCD provides powerful tools that focus on the needs and capabilities of people to ensure that the work aims at the root causes of the issues being addressed and not just at the symptoms, that it is recognized that all major problems are part of large, complex systems, and because these issues apply to people, organizations, societies, and many different cultures, they must be thoroughly tested through an iterative course of rapid prototyping, testing, and refinement. Because HCD is a tool, the content areas stem from societal needs while the expert knowledge required comes from disciplines that are relevant to the issue under study. This means that students learn to work collaboratively with experts in the multiple disciplines that are relevant to the issues under study, as well as with representatives of the communities for which the results will be applied.

A classic distinction in education has long been the conflicts between in-depth training within a discipline versus breadth of training across disciplines. Human-centered design is explicitly focused on both: breadth to understand the strengths of each discipline and depth from the experts within a discipline. All large, practical problems require a mix of breadth and depth. Although there are numerous groups that must follow this philosophy, HCD is unique in its in-depth focus on the needs and capabilities of the people for whom the solutions are being developed. Many large projects fail, and even projects that succeed in principle are often rejected by their communities, because there is not sufficient integration of people’s needs in a process.

HCD methods, sometimes called “design thinking,” include: a) learning how to be conversant in different disciplinary thoughts, lexicons, and goals; b) building humble confidence, such that one can be aware of one’s perspective (both the positive and negative things one may bring to an activity or pursuit) and simultaneously open-minded to the contributions of others; and c) using iteration, prototyping, and feedback as a concrete data-driven approach to constantly move toward better articulated and enacted values, goals, and actions that are shared across the full range of relevant stakeholders to a given issue.

HCD has four key principles:

  1. Focus on people
  2. Take a systems point of view, realizing that most complications result from the interdependencies of the multiple parts
  3. Strive to solve core, root issues. Quite often the problem that is presented is about the symptoms, and although it is essential to treat the symptoms, unless the root causes are addressed, the symptoms will recur
  4. Continually test and refine suggested interventions to increase the likelihood that they truly meet the needs of the people for whom they are intended

There are a wide range of these skills, methods, and tools commonly used by human-centered designers, e.g., rapid, applied ethnography; rapid prototyping; iterative experimentation; codesign workshops; assets mapping; and community building to name a few.

Human-centered design not only honors but, indeed, is founded in the fundamental importance of diversity in all its forms. Another way of thinking about design thinking is to view it as an approach that builds each person’s capacity to work more equitably and inclusively with others, particularly those with differing perspectives, worldviews, and aspirations. Principles of human- centered processes provide referent values one can use within processes that, ideally, facilitate more equitable practices and solutions. Since human-centered design draws skills, methods, and tools from across disciplines, it thrives on diversity of thought and epistemologies, while simultaneously advancing processes that cultivate robust, trustworthy consilience and consensus.

Admissions to the Program

The steering committee reviews written applications for admission to the proposed degree specialization from students already admitted to one of the participating home degree programs. 

Summary of Requirements

The graduate specialization is a set of courses students can choose to take that fits into their home degree program requirements. The specialization does not alter home program requirements. Instead, the courses fit into their home program as either electives or as courses that were already part of their core requirements. The graduate specialization is created so that it can be integrated into a one- or two-year master’s program or a PhD program.

The specialization requires four courses (sixteen credits) plus attendance at our visiting lecture series course (one credit) for a total of seventeen credit hours. The Design Lab faculty already teach numerous courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level in their home departments.

  • DSGN 201. Human-Centered Design and Complex Sociotechnical Systems. An introductory, project-based course on principles of HCD and their application to complex sociotechnical systems. DSGN 201 is a course that provides grounding in human-centered design, particularly as applied to complex sociotechnical systems. The course objective is to teach the fundamentals of design thinking and HCD together with projects that develop an understanding of how the principles are applied in practice. In this class, foundations on power, privilege, and ethics within human-centered design will be emphasized. In addition, there will be a strong emphasis on teaching fundamentals in defining the needs and concerns of the target population for the application of the projects. Finally, a range of design strategies, from a classic professional-led approach to codesign and community-driven variations of design will be reviewed.
  • DSGN 219. Design@Large Speaker Series. A weekly lecture series course (one credit). Design@Large is a weekly seminar sponsored by the Design Lab that brings in outside and local experts in design to discuss their work. It introduces a broad range of applications and approaches. Students are required to attend the lectures, lead discussion sections with undergraduate students, and/or review and provide feedback on undergraduate end-of-quarter reports.
  • Three courses from the approved list of design courses (see below). Two of these must be from the student’s home department. The third can be any course on the list of approved courses, with a recommendation that the third course be chosen from outside of their home department.
    Among the courses chosen to meet this requirement, one must include instruction on power, privilege, and ethical response. All students will be required to take at least one course that provides instruction and learning opportunities related to understanding issues of power, privilege, equity, marginalization, and ethical responses to these issues. The approved classes that meet this requirement are listed at the end of the full list below.

The approved list of graduate courses for the specialization for the academic year 2020–2021 are listed below. Note that permission of the instructor is required when students seek to take courses outside of their home department. The approved courses come from a list prepared by the Design Lab specialization steering committee that:

  1. Teach basic or advanced principles and/or practice of human-centered design
  2. Strive to equitably improve peoples’ lives in complex sociotechnical settings
  3. Offer substantial training in experiential, empirical, design research, or implementing prototypes and final products (services, procedures, organizations, or physical products)
  4. Train students to apply HCD in real-world contexts (e.g., community partnerships, diverse cultures, and global applications)
Cognitive Science

COGS 220. Information Visualization

COGS 230. Topics in Human-Computer Interaction

COGS 231. Design Seminar on Human-Centered Programming

COGS 260. Crowdsourcing


COGR 275. Design and Politics

COGR 275. Mediated Ability: Media, Technology, and [Dis]ability

COGR 275. Ability/Cultures of Care

COMM 106I. Internet Industries

COMM 201D. Methods in Media Archaeology

COMM 201D. Methods in Material Culture

COMM 243. Media Technologies

COMM 275. Advanced Topics in Communication: Histories of the Senses

COMM 275. Advanced Topics in Communication: Designing for Access

COMM 275. Advanced Topics in Communication: Disabling Modernism

Computer Science and Engineering

CSE 210. Principles of Software Engineering

CSE 216. Interaction Design Research (Cross-listed with COGS 230)

CSE 218. Advanced Topics in Software Engineering—Ubiquitous Computing

CSE 276B. Human-Robot Interaction

CSE 276D. Healthcare Robotics (will cross-list as DSGN)

Design (including cross-listed classes)

DSGN 100. Prototyping (two or three sections)

DSGN 160. Civic Design

DSGN 260. Human-Centered Design and Complex Sociotechnical Systems

MGT 452. New Product Development (will cross-list as DSGN)

ECE 284. Mobile Health Device Design (will cross-list as DSGN)

Public Health

FMPH 258G. Ethics in Public Health Research and Practice

FMPH 460. Design and Public Health

Sublist of Courses for the Power, Privilege, and Ethical Response Requirement

FMPH 258C. Ethics in Public Health Research and Practice

FMPH 460. Design and Public Health

FMPH 270. Cultural Perceptions about Health and Disease

COGR 245. Science and Technology Studies & Communication: Infrastructures and the Political

COGR 275. Design and Politics

COGR 275. Mediated Ability: Media, Technology, and [Dis]ability

COGR 275. Ability/Cultures of Care

COMM 275. Advanced Topics in Communication: Designing for Access

COMM 275. Advanced Topics in Communication: Disabling Modernism

Capstone, Thesis, or Dissertation

There is no capstone, thesis, or dissertation (henceforth, labeled project) requirement for the specialization. Instead, project requirements conform with home degree requirements on projects and advising, including no project requirement when applicable for a given home program. If a home program requires a project of some kind, students are encouraged but not required to incorporate human-centered design.

Teaching and Residency Requirement

There is no teaching requirement as it relates to the specialization but teaching requirements for a student’s home program must be honored in accordance with home program policies. In line with master’s and PhD programs, residency is a requirement for this offering.

Time Limits

It is expected that students will follow the time to degree limits established by their home departments.

SDSU-UCSD LCD Joint Doctoral Program

San Diego State University (SDSU) and the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego), offer jointly a doctoral program in Language and Communicative Disorders. The program’s focus is the interdisciplinary study of language and communicative disorders. A major emphasis of the program is to apply techniques developed in cognitive science and neuroscience to the study of language and language disorders. The program involves study and research in normal language (including sign languages of the deaf and language impairments), and in the neural bases of language use and language loss.

Cognitive Science or Interdisciplinary PhD?

There are two Ph.D. Programs in Cognitive Science at UCSD: The Cognitive Science PhD Program, and the Interdisciplinary PhD Program in Cognitive Science (for graduate students enrolled in affiliated departments). The two programs are cooperative rather than competitive. In fact, both programs are administered out of the same offices and share staff.

There is no easy rule for which program a student should enroll. A thesis topic appropriate for one program may also be appropriate for the other. Please explore the unique requirements and courses of study for each program to determine the path that best suits your needs.