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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Cognitive Science?

Cognitive Sciences is an interdisciplinary major program centered around the quest to understand how the nature of human cognition. Most academic disciplines are organized around a methodology. For example, linguists study language and psychologists conduct experiments using human subjects—but what questions they ask can vary widely. Cognitive Sciences is organized around a question rather than a methodology, the question of how the human mind works. The Cognitive Sciences major is thus designed to expose students to multiple disciplines that all attempt to answer this question, each with their own methodology and perspective. Majors thus learn about multiple approaches to the same domain—human cognition—and learn both about those approaches as well as what multiple disciplines can tell us about how we think.

How does the major work?

There are three parts to the major: core classes, a concentration, and additional courses. Majors must take one course in each of 8 core areas (computing, advanced computing, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, advanced psychology, and statistics). Each major also selects one of four concentration areas (psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, or philosophy). Majors take 6 additional courses beyond the core, 3 or 4 of which are in their concentration area and the remainder which are not. Thus, the major requires 14 total courses.

How is Cognitive Sciences different from Psychology? Linguistics? Neuroscience? Philosophy?

Cognitive Sciences is an interdisciplinary major that combines methods from multiple disciplines. It overlaps with all of these areas, but combines them to provide a more varied perspective.

Can I be pre-med and major in Cognitive Sciences?

Yes. In fact, you can major in just about anything—from English to Electrical Engineering—and be pre-med. Cognitive Sciences is no exception, and roughly one third of CogSci majors are pre-meds.

What courses should I take to get started in the major?

Because the major is interdisciplinary, there is no single course that introduces the full range of the subject. However, students who are interested in majoring in cognitive sciences should take one or more of the following courses during their first and second years:

  • LING 200 Introduction to the Scientific Study of Language 
  • PHIL 103 Philosophical Aspects of Cognitive Science 
  • PSYC 203 Introduction to Cognitive Psychology

Are there research opportunities?

Yes! The best way to get involved in research is to find a faculty member who is doing research that interests you, and contact that faculty member directly and ask how you can get involved. Most Rice faculty are thrilled to involve undergraduates in their research.

What kind of jobs are there for CogSci majors?

As an interdisciplinary major, there is no single career path for CogSci graduates. Postgraduate studies, including both medicine and law, but also research-oriented paths, are fairly common, as are corporate and non-profit organizations. The opportunities for CogSci grads are highly varied!

Does Rice have a department of cognitive science?

No. The program brings together faculty and courses from a number of other departments, but is not a department itself. Technically, it is an "interdisciplinary program," not a department.

Does the program offer a graduate degree (e.g., a Ph.D.)?

No. However, the departments that contribute to the program do offer their own graduate degrees. For more information, contact the relevant department(s) directly.

Is there a Cognitive Sciences minor?


What degree is granted? 

Only a B.A.; there is no B.S. option at this time.

Is there a particular order in which I should take the required courses?

Apart from the courses that have prerequisites, there is no recommended order. However, in planning which courses to take in a given term, you should bear in mind that most of our courses are offered (at best) once a year and that course conflicts are unavoidable. So don't assume that it is OK to postpone taking a required course on the grounds that you can take it later.

Is it possible for cognitive sciences majors to receive credit for doing research?

Yes. You may receive credit for taking  CSCI 390 Supervised Research in Cognitive Science. This will require you to locate a faculty supervisor and to complete the research contract prior to starting the course. Majors may apply up to 6 credits of independent research towards the major.

How do the CSCI research courses factor into the "additional courses" requirement of the major?

They count towards the area in which the research occurs. For instance, if the course is a project in linguistics and taken under the supervision of a linguistics professor, then it counts as linguistics course.

What kind of paper do I need to write for CSCI 390?

The final paper is expected to be a substantial work, though the exact requirement will vary depending on the field of research. (An example: for research in philosophy, a typical paper would be apx. 20-30 pages long.) Students and their advisors should speak to the program director for guidance regarding the requirement.

How does transfer credit work?

Because CogSci is not a department, transfer credit is a little different. To receive transfer credit for a class, you need to first determine the specific course(s) at Rice for which you expect to receive transfer credit. For each class, you need to then go the department that teaches that class and talk to the advisor in that department who is in charge of transfers. If the course you're transferring in counts toward the CogSci major, then once it has transferred through the appropriate department, it will now automatically count for CogSci. This should be the primary mechanism for transferring courses. However, sometimes there are courses at other institutions that do not have good Rice equivalents, and they will have to first be transferred in through the appropriate department as a "3XX" course. Once such a class has been transferred in, then you may request that it be counted toward CogSci. 

Note that a maximum of 7 transfer courses may be counted toward the major and at least 4 of the Core courses must be non-transfers as well.