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Requirements for the PhD in Cognitive Science

Program requirements are subject to change. The Graduate Division 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.

To see course requirements prior to FA19, click here.


Be sure to review the department's grading policy.


Each student completes a plan of study recommended by their advisor. The normal plan includes:

3 Foundations Courses

COGS 201, 202, 203

  • Students complete three foundation courses, one in each area 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.

4 Elective Courses

  • A minimum of four elective courses are required.  
  • At least two of the courses should be taken within the department.
  • Department recommends completion by the end of the second year.
  • Courses taken outside the department require the approval of the adviser.  Petitions can be found on the Resources Page.
  • All courses must be taken for a letter grade.

2 Methods Courses

  • Two methods courses are required: 1 approved statistics or statistics learning course and 1 approved programming course.
  • An approved list of courses can be found online.
  • Upper-division undergraduate courses and courses not on the approval list are acceptable by petition.  Petitions can be found on the Resources Page.


3-4 Quarters of Laboratory Rotations

COGS 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.
    • 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 COGS 290.

  • All rotations should be completed by the end of fall quarter of the second year.

Second-Year Research Project

COGS 210A-B-C and 211 A-B-C

  • In the summer between the first and second year, students work with their advisor 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 COGS 210A-B-C and COGS 211A-B-C is required as part of the Second-Year Project.
  • For full project details and timeline, see our Second-Year Project page
  • Upon completion of Second-Year Projects, students may be eligible for a Master's degree.

Third-Year Research Project

COGS 205

  • This requirement is met by satisfactorily completing a talk to the entire department on their thesis topic by the end of the third year.
  • Enrollment in COGS 205 during Winter and Spring quarters is required as part of the Third-Year Project.
  • For full project details and timeline, see our Third-Year Project page

2 Cognitive Science Seminars

COGS 200

  • Students must enroll in this seminar for two quarters while in residence; frequent participation is encouraged.

Important: COGS 200 Grading Option

This course can be taken for P/NP or for a letter grade, however, the letter grade option may result in additional course workload.

Sample Course Plan

Students are responsible for enrolling in classes via WebReg.  For full-time status and for university employment and funding eligibility, students must enroll in at least 12 units during the Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters. 

Review the Sample Course Plan and refer to the following pages for additional details:

Department Policies

2nd Year Project Guidelines

3rd Year Guidelines



Teaching Requirement

Teaching Assistants enroll in COGS 500 during Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters.

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. The department works closely with the Teaching and Learning Commons to design effective training and development programs for its Teaching Assistants.

All graduate students must serve as a Teaching Assistant for at least one quarter of each academic year in residence (students must TA for two quarters per academic year in years 1-4 for guaranteed funding).

Teaching assistantships performed in other departments must be approved by petition to the graduate committee to count toward the requirement (petitions can be found on the Resources page). At the end of each quarter, instructors prepare evaluations of all teaching assistants.

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.

Departmental Service

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. 

Spring Evaluations

A formal evaluation of performance and progress for all students takes place at the end of Spring quarter every year, with special attention given to the first and second years of study and at the time of qualification. The first-year evaluation is based in large part on the performance in foundations and issues courses. The second-year evaluation is based on the student's total performance, with heavy weight given to the student's second-year research project. The third-year evaluation focuses on the competency and depth requirements, and the fourth year on the progress made toward completion of the dissertation.

Advancement to Candidacy

Students must meet the department requirements for advancement to candidacy.

Students assemble a doctoral committee to oversee their advancement and doctoral research.

  • Minimum of 4 members with UC San Diego faculty appointments
  • At least 1 member must have a primary appointment in a different department than the chair's primary department
  • At least 2 members must be from the student's home department or program
  • At least 1 member must be tenured or emeritus
  • Proposed members from other UC campuses, other universities, or industry are exceptions and must be requested in writing

Refer to information about Appointing a Doctoral Committee.

Students who are ready to advance to candidacy should contact the Graduate Coordinator and provide the following information at least one month before the meeting date:

  • Names, departments, and emails of all committee members and indicate the chair/co-chairs.
  • Date of advancement meeting.

This information will be used to submit the Committee Constitution Request to Graduate Division for approval.  The advancement meeting may not take place until after the Graduate Division approves the committee membership.

After the Graduate Division approves the committee membership, the Graduate Coordinator will initiate the Report of the Qualifying Examination and Advancement to Candidacy for the Doctoral Degree form in the DocuSign system.  This is routed to all committee members for signatures prior to the meeting.

After the exam is completed, signatures from each committee member, the program chair, and the student are obtained through DocuSign. The form is then routed electronically to the Graduate Division.

For additional details, refer to Graduate Division's page on advancing to candidacy.



Ph.D Dissertation & Defense

Candidates prepare a written dissertation demonstrating a substantive contribution to our understanding of cognition. An oral defense follows. For full details and timeline, see our Dissertation & Defense guidelines

Additional info is also available from Graduate Division about Preparing to Graduate.