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Grading & Performance

Spring 2020 Update: Typically, all courses taken for credit toward the Cognitive Science PhD course requirements must be taken for a Letter Grade, with the exception of specific courses (see list of courses below).  However, for SP20 the UCSD Academic Senate is allowing courses approved with the grading option of "Letter Grade Only" on a P/NP or S/U basis. This is a one-time exception for Spring 2020.  While the department will allow students in our majors to take courses for their requirements as P/NP in SP20, it is encouraged that students strongly consider taking required classes with a Letter Grade.


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.

Letter grade required:

  • Foundation Courses (COGS 201, 202, 203)
  • Elective Courses
  • Methods Courses
  • Second Year Project Courses (COGS 210ABC, COGS 211ABC).  Note: the first two quarters will be graded IP or "in progress".  A letter grade will be assigned when the last part of the sequence is completed and graded.

Letter grade or S/U courses:

  • COGS 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)
  • COGS 291
  • COGS 298 (Pre-candidacy research)
  • COGS 299 (Thesis Research)

S/U required:

  • COGS 205
  • COGS 241
  • COGS 290
  • COGS 500

Guidelines on PhD Student Annual Evaluations

The procedures and rules outlined below are based on the department’s ongoing practices over recent years. They are formulated with the intention of aiding students to make steady progress in their academic careers. The faculty consider the training of Ph.D. students to be one of the most significant, impactful, and lasting ways that we invest our time, energy, and resources. We are committed to working with students to help them reach their goals and ensure the success of our department’s scholarship.

The roles and responsibilities of advisors and students.

  • Advisors are responsible for guiding the intellectual and academic progress of their advisees. Advising relationships take many forms, which vary according to discipline, the nature of the research, as well as the personalities/learning style, needs, and strengths of both advisor and student. All students can expect that their advisor will be an advocate and mentor who will work with the student to ensure their progress. This relationship must include regular meetings (at least once per month), open communication, clear and constructive feedback, honesty, integrity, and professionalism.
  • Students in the Cognitive Science Ph.D. program are responsible for their progress through the stages of the program. Students must demonstrate increasing independence and leadership in their academic coursework, teaching, research, and professional development/community service throughout the program. The specific requirements for adequate progress begin with successful completion of and excellence in coursework in the first years, and they become more specialized and individual as students transition to focusing on research and dissertation writing. The primary advisor, with input from other committee members, will help students to define and continually update their Individual Development Plan (IDP), which will specify the expectations and goals for the student’s progress. Students are responsible for reporting changes to the advisor-advisee relationship to the department’s staff graduate advisor.

Requirement for a department advisor. Every graduate student in the Cognitive Science department is required to have a primary advisor in the department. The advisor and student must each report their agreement to the advising relationship to the Cognitive Science staff graduate advisor.  A primary advisor is responsible for the student’s intellectual and academic progress on a daily basis and throughout the program. Students may work with additional mentors outside of the Cognitive Science department, but they must have an advisor in the department who accepts primary responsibility for their academic program. If no faculty member in the department is willing or able to serve as primary advisor, the student will not be considered to be meeting the requirements of the program. If the student wishes to work primarily with a faculty member outside the department, the student may be encouraged to petition to change departments (see here).  It is the responsibility of both the advisor and student to notify the department of any changes to the advisor-advisee relationships.

Annual review of student progress. The annual review for each enrolled Ph.D. candidate will ensure that students are meeting the normative program requirements for progress (here). Annually, the primary advisor, with approval of the full faculty, will provide one of 3 ratings for the student, which correspond to the “Overall academic rating” on the official Graduate Division Student Evaluation:

(A) Excellent, Very good, or Good. Student is making satisfactory progress

(B) Fair. Student is making progress but with significant areas of concern

(C) Needs improvement. Student did not make adequate progress

Recommendations will be based on the following:

  1. Written self-evaluation and/or Individual Development Plan by the student
  2. Written evaluation by outside faculty advisor when that advisor has a significant advisory role.
  3. Discussion by the full faculty to evaluate progress and identify potential areas of concern.
  4. Written evaluation by the primary faculty advisor (Cognitive Science department faculty member).

Faculty evaluations should be submitted prior to the faculty meeting discussion in cases where a primary advisor cannot be present for the discussion.

An evaluation should be submitted prior to the faculty meeting discussion in cases where an advisor believes a B or C is warranted (see below)

Criteria for receiving a B or C evaluation may include: poor performance in courses, or failure to meet the course requirements; lack of sufficient progress in research; inadequate performance in teaching; or lack of a primary departmental advisor.

Follow-up and ongoing review

- Students receiving (A) will be re-evaluated every 12 months.

- Students receiving (B) will be given specific written feedback about faculty expectations for improvement. These improvements will be assessed, ideally within 6 months of the initial evaluation but no later than the next annual review in 12 months. The specific progress on items of concern should be directly addressed in the student’s self-evaluation and advisor-written evaluation at that time. The advisor may judge a second year of continuing concern sufficient to constitute inadequate progress (C) for the year.

- Students receiving (C) will be required to submit a plan with their faculty advisor to address the faculty’s concerns. The student’s plan must be signed by their academic advisor and the department’s graduate advisor, and must include both specific objectives and milestones as appropriate for the student as well as expectations about faculty involvement. Within 6 months of the evaluation, the student will be required to obtain certification from their faculty advisor and the department’s graduate advisor that they have made adequate progress, so that their recommendation is likely to be A or B at the next yearly evaluation.  If the faculty and graduate advisor do not provide this certification, the student is subject to dismissal.

– Students who receive two (C) evaluations are subject to academic disqualification and dismissal from the program.

Time Limits

Students must be advanced to candidacy by the end of spring quarter of their fourth year. Total university support cannot exceed seven years. Total registered time at UCSD cannot exceed eight years.

Acceptable Progress

Acceptable Progress

The following are normative expectations, and can be used as a guideline. Please discuss specific expectations with your faculty adviser(s).

1st Year

  • 2-3 quarters of Lab Rotations
  • 3 Foundation Courses
  • 1 Elective Course
  • 2 Methods Courses
  • 1 TA'ship
  • Up to speed on neuroscience, programming, math, and any other area needed for core competency

2nd Year

  • Complete all coursework except COGS 200
  • Satisfactory completion of 2nd year project

3rd Year

  • Course Work Completed
    • Foundations
    • Electives
    • Methods
    • Rotations
  • Draft Dissertation Proposal
  • Journal Submissions
  • Conference Presentations
  • Establish at least 3 members of thesis committee

4th Year

  • Advance to candidacy
  • Collect data for dissertation
  • Journal Submissions
  • Conference Presentations
  • Apply for Dissertation Grant

5th Year

  • COGS 200 requirement fulfilled
  • Dissertation completed
  • Dissertation defended
  • Conference Presentations
  • Journal Submissions
  • Apply for post-docs, industry jobs, and/or faculty positions

Unacceptable Progress

The following are intended to help identify students who are not making acceptable progress towards the PhD. Individual cases may vary however due to a variety of factors. Please discuss specific expectations with your faculty adviser(s).

1st Year

  • 0-1 quarters of Lab Rotations or > 4
  • 0-1 Foundation Courses
  • 0-1 Methods Courses
  • 0 TA'ships
  • Math, programming & language proficiency not addressed < 9 courses towards MS (not including TA)

2nd Year

  • Missing > 1 from lab rotations, foundations, methods
  • 2nd year project does not show research potential consistent with continuation in the PhD program
  • Missing > 3 issues

3rd Year

  • Any course requirements unfilled (except COGS 200)
  • Not having an advisor or one internal plus one external member who serve as co-advisors on dissertation research
  • Not having a plan for the dissertation

4th Year

  • Lose contact with advisor/committee