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FAQs & Resources

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This page contains a collection of FAQs you might have about the Cognitive & Information Sciences master's and Ph.D. programs. If you cannot find the answer to your question on this FAQ page, take some time to look through the other pages on this website to see if your question has been answered elsewhere. Your advisor, labmates, and other CIS graduate students are always indispensible resources, but when the time comes that even they don’t have the answers you seek, you can always email the CIS Graduate Program Chair, Paul Smaldino: psmaldino@ucmerced.edu. For many concerns (e.g., graduate division requirements, questions concerning course registration, California residency requirements, and a plethora of other University level questions), feel free to contact our Graduate Coordinator Mitch Ylarregui at mylarregui@ucmerced.edu.


Funding

Is the masters program funded? No, terminal M.S. students are not expected to be funded by either teaching assistantships or research grants. That said, graduate students are encouraged to seek out grant funding and employment opportunities on campus to support their research.

Is the Ph.D. program funded? Yes, Ph.D. students who receive a funding offer with their admissions offer will have their in-state tuition, fees, and salary paid according to the terms of the funding offer. Funding will come through a combination of Teaching Assistantships, Graduate Research Assistantships, and/or Fellowships. Typically, PhD students admitted to the CIS program are guaranteed funding via teaching assistantships for 10 semesters (5 years).


Masters Thesis (degree plan I) and Capstone (degree plan II)

What should I include in my thesis? The thesis should consist of original research projects, and may be empirical or computational, and it will include data collection and/or analysis to produce and interpret results. The thesis will report on the research project and be formatted as a short journal article submission. The advisory committee will evaluate the thesis as if it were submitted for publication and a passing thesis will be equivalent to a review of “revise and resubmit” or better. The thesis doesn’t need to be submitted for publication in order to earn the M.S. degree.

Can I look at masters theses from previous UCM CIS alumni? Currently, no. Fall 2021 is the first cohort of Masters students in CIS department at UC Merced. However, all masters theses from all UC students are stored on the UC Libraries collection. The website is a bit tricky to navigate, however. So we recommend typing the name of a specific CIS alumn into the search bar to find their thesis. You can find CIS alumni by visiting the “alumni” page of the CIS website.

What paperwork do I have to fill out for an M.S. degree? There is a substantial amount of paperwork to fill out in order to submit your masters thesis/capstone. It is highly recommended to familiarize yourself with the Dissertation/Thesis Submission page on the UC Merced Graduate Division website. Among other resources, this page also includes a “Masters Degree Completion Checklist” detailing all forms that must be filled out, and a link to the UC Merced Thesis and Dissertation Guidelines Manual for formatting. The Graduate Division also recommends scheduling an exit interview to ensure you have filed all appropriate paperwork and met all requirements for graduation. More information, and all forms, can be found on the Forms and Publications page located on the Current Students Section of the Graduate Division Website.

Is there a master's thesis or capstone defense? No. The masters thesis and capstone are submitted in writing to the students' Faculty Committee and to UC Merced Graduate Division by the posted deadline found on the Graduate Division Website.


MTS

What is MTS? Our MTS talk series is hosted by a different volunteer faculty member each semester. This faculty member invites researchers and industry professionals from across the globe to present a variety of interdisciplinary work in Cognitive Science. See our UCMerced CogSci youtube channel for videos of past MTS talks!

 

Who can attend? CIS graduate students, faculty, and staff, and all who are interested! Members of other departments at UC Merced as well as the general public are encouraged to attend. (Current CIS PhD students are required to attend MTS each semester in residence, to fulfill their COGS 250 course requirement)

Who hosts? A different professor from the CIS Graduate Group hosts each semester. This professor organizes all of the invited speakers, and also arranges meetings between graduate students and the invited speakers. 

Is MTS a class? Do I have to enroll/can I enroll? MTS is a required course for CIS PhD students. PhD students must enroll in COGS 250 each semester they are a student. Masters students cannot enroll in COGS 250, but they are certainly invited and welcome to attend the MTS seminars. 


Annual Progress Report

When do I have to complete this? The annual progress report is sent out by the CIS Graduate Program Chair after the start of each fall semester. You should complete the report and submit it according to the Chair’s instructions (usually via email) by the date specified by the Chair.

What content is evaluated on the annual report? This annual report generally asks for information on course work completed in the past year (July 1 to June 30th): presentations given, publications submitted or accepted, journal reviews, internships or other industry partnerships taken on, and other general information related to the progress of your research each year. The annual report will also ask if you have fulfilled relevant program milestones (1st/2nd year project; IR paper; advancement to candidacy etc).

What is the evaluation criteria? In general, satisfactory progress is defined relative to meeting the requirements outlined above in the normative time frame outlined in the Policies & Procedures: CIS Ph.D. and M.S. Degree Requirements document, also listed here.

Who will read the annual report? Your faculty committee reviews the report, in consultation with all core CIS faculty. Occasionally, a committee may ask to meet with you to discuss your written report.

How/when will I receive feedback? Your advisor will provide a written Annual Review Memo summarizing your committee and CIS faulty feedback. This should be sent to you within six weeks after the Annual Progress Report was submitted.

What feedback will I receive? The Annual Review Memo should clearly communicate whether student progress is or is not satisfactory relative to these requirements and normative time frame expectations. If a student does not demonstrate satisfactory progress, the memo should clearly state the actions that the student must take to achieve satisfactory progress. The following year’s Annual Progress Report and Annual Review Memo should, then, address whether the prescribed actions were or were not taken, and whether they resulted in satisfactory progress.


First Year Project

How do I choose my topic? The topic you choose is based on your research interests and conversations with your faculty advisor. It is common to choose a topic that will naturally lead into future work that you plan to do during your Ph.D., and that will help you to build your Research Agenda.

What should I include in my report? You should consult with your advisor about the content of the presentations/reports. Typically the report is structured in the form of an article of suitable quality to submit for publication. (In fact, many students go on to publish the paper written from their first year projects). However, more industry focused projects may take on the form of a technical report detailing a tool or platform that the student built/is building. A resource particularly recommended by CIS students is 10 Simple Rules for Structuring Papers (Mensh & Kording, 2017).

What should I include in my presentation? The presentation should focus on the research that the student has been conducting in the CIS program, and that was written up in the first year project report. A resource particularly recommended by CIS students is How to Give a Great Scientific Talk (Flemming, 2018)

When is the presentation/report due? All first and second year presentations are scheduled on one day at the end of the Spring semester and reports are typically due two weeks after the presentations. The graduate chair typically sends an email with the specific schedule and due dates.

What if my experiment/project isn’t done by the time I’m supposed to present/report? You are welcome and encouraged to present preliminary results!

What paperwork do I have to fill out? There is no paperwork that needs to be filled out. However, the graduate group chair will email you with instructions on when to submit your written report to the chair and your committee. You submit your report by email.


Second Year Project

How do I choose my topic? The topic you choose is based on your research interests and conversations with your faculty advisor. It is common to choose a topic that is a natural extension of your first year work.

What should I include in my presentation/report? You should consult with your advisor about the content of the presentations/reports. Typically the report is structured in the form of an article of suitable quality to submit for publication. (In fact, many students go on to publish the paper written from their first year projects). However, more industry focused projects may take on the form of a technical report detailing a tool or platform that the student built/is building. The presentation should focus on the research that the student has been conducting in the CIS program, and that was written up in the first year project report.

When is the presentation/report due? All first and second year presentations are scheduled on one day at the end of the Spring semester and reports are typically due two weeks after the presentations. The graduate chair typically sends an email with the specific schedule and due dates.

What if my experiment/project isn’t done by the time I’m supposed to present/report? You are welcome and encouraged to present preliminary results! You may also discuss how your second year project expands or builds upon work you previously presented in your first year.

What paperwork do I have to fill out? There is no paperwork that needs to be filled out. However, the graduate group chair will email you with instructions on when to submit your written report to the chair and your committee. You submit your report by email.


IR Papers

How do I choose my topic(s)? The topic you choose is based on your research interests and conversations with your faculty advisor. It is common to expand upon the theoretical foundations and connections between work completed for your first and second year project, as well as other experimental or computational work you have done at UC Merced. However, it is just as common for students to use the IR paper as an opportunity to more deeply research a phenomena that they haven’t yet explored through their first and second year projects.

How can I cover all the required approaches? Careful time management and planning are key. By this point in the PhD program, you have been exposed to research from the multiple perspectives that make up Cognitive & Information Sciences research and have been diving into your own philosophical, experimental, computational (etc) work in your topic of study. Now is the time to integrate and synthesize all of this experience. You might create a document with headings for each of the five required approaches of the IR, and a list of relevant papers you might discuss under each heading. Or you might have a general idea of the phenomena you want to investigate, and may want to just start writing while inserting sources or a short discussion relevant to each approach as you go along. The optimal IR strategy is largely a personal choice, but discussing your work with your labmates and other CIS colleagues who have already gone through the IR process is a great way to forage for possible strategies that will work for you.

When is the IR paper due? It is recommended that the IR paper is submitted by the end of the 5th semester in residence. At the latest the IR must be submitted by the end of the 6th semester in residence.

Do I have to give an oral presentation? Typically, no. Although your committee could request an oral presentation to accompany your IR.

What paperwork do I have to fill out? There is no additional paperwork to fill out for the IR paper. The paper itself should be submitted to your Advising Committee and the CIS Graduate Program Chair.


Qualification Exam/ Advancement to Candidacy

Do I have to take a test? There is no written text, but you will have an “oral defense” of your Dissertation Proposal. This means you’ll give a presentation covering the substantial review of literature relevant to your project, you’ll cover important aspects of your dissertation project, and then your committee will ask you questions about your presentation and overall knowledge of Cognitive and Information Sciences as it relates to your project.

Are Advancement to Candidacy, the Qualifying Exam, the Candidacy Exam, and the Dissertation Proposal the same thing? The process of Advancing to Candidacy in the CIS program involves passing a Qualifying Exam. This Qualifying Exam involves writing a Dissertation Proposal, and defending that proposal in an Oral Candidacy Exam. So these aren’t exactly the same thing, but you may hear individuals in the CIS department use all of these terms interchangeably.

What paperwork do I have to fill out? There are three forms: 1) Application for Qualifying Exam; 2) Qualifying Examination Report; 3) Advancement to Candidacy — online DBS form with $90 fee. You must fill out the Application for Qualfying Exam and turn it in to Graduate Division at least 30 days before your oral defense. This application formalizes your Examination Committee and establishes the date of your defense. After the Graduate Dean approves the application, you are ready to defend. You must bring the Qualifying Examination Report to your defense. The committee will sign and confirm that you passed, failed, or must retake the exam. You then submit this form to Graduate Division. They stamp it for approval and inform the graduate chair and your program administrator that the form has been processed. Finally, you must complete the online DBS form, Advancement to Candidacy within 30 days after passing the defense. This form includes confirmation of payment of the $90 fee to advance to candidacy and also establishes your Dissertation Committee. Each member of the committee receives notification of a request to be on the committee and can accept or decline. If someone declines, there is a process for replacing them. After the committee is established, the Graduate Dean approves your advancement to candidacy and you officially become a Ph.D. candidate. (answer adapted and updated from UCM CIS Alumn Dr Brandon Batzloff) More information, and all forms, can be found on the Forms and Publications page of the Graduate Division Website.

Do I have to reserve a room to defend my proposal? Yes, you should reserve a room using the university’s EMS Room Reservation system.

Can I invite friends/family to attend the Candidacy Exam? The Candidacy exam is typically closed, meaning only you and the members of your Examination Committee are present.

Is there a fee to advance to candidacy? There is a $90 fee to advance to candidacy (as of summer 2021). This fee is paid on the completion of your candidacy exam. Info is found [add where this info is found]

What does candidacy mean? Advancing to Candidacy means a few things. First off, it means you are ready to begin completing your dissertation work. It also means that you are eligible to be an Instructor of Record as a Teaching Fellow (aka you can teach an undergraduate course on your own!) And finally, it means that the next major step in your Ph.D. journey is the Dissertation Defense itself. You’re nearly a doctor! It also means you can change your email signature from reading “Ph.D. Student” to “Ph.D. Candidate”, which kind of makes this whole “you’re nearly a doctor” thing feel a bit more real. Congrats!


Ph.D. Thesis & Dissertation Defense

What should I include in my dissertation? Aside from following general UC Merced guidelines for the formatting of the dissertation document, each dissertation may differ substantially between different PhD Candidates within the interdisciplinary Cognitive & Information Sciences Program. As with each previous milestone, you should remain in close contact with your advisor regarding the structure and content of your dissertation document.

Is a Ph.D. Thesis Defense the same as a Dissertation Defense? Yes!

Can I look at dissertations from previous UCM alumni? Yes! All previous dissertations from all UC students are stored on the UC Libraries collection. The website is a bit tricky to navigate, however. So we recommend typing the name of a specific CIS alumn into the search bar to find their dissertation. You can find CIS alumni by visiting the “alumni” page of the CIS website.

What paperwork do I have to fill out? There is a substantial amount of paperwork to fill out in order to submit and defend your dissertation. It is highly recommended to familiarize yourself with the Dissertation/Thesis Submission page on the UC Merced Graduate Division website. Among other resources, this page also includes a “Doctoral Degree Completion Checklist” detailing all forms that must be filled out, and a link to the UC Merced Thesis and Dissertation Guidelines Manual for formatting. The Graduate Division also recommends scheduling an exit interview to ensure you have filed all appropriate paperwork and met all requirements for graduation. More information, and all forms, can be found on the Forms and Publications page located on the Current Students section of the Graduate Division Website.

Do I have to book a room to defend my dissertation? Yes, you should reserve a room using the university’s EMS Room Reservation system. Your reservation should be for a block of 3 hours.

Can I invite friends/family to attend my Dissertation Defense? The Dissertation Defense is typically an open seminar followed by a closed examination. Members of the CIS program and UC Merced communitee are invited to the open seminar, as well as friends and family of the Ph.D. Candidate who will be defending their dissertation. After a Q&A period, the public audience are asked to leave, and you and your dissertation committee will commence with the thesis defense. Finally, your committee will ask you to leave the room, upon which time they will deliberate on the quality of your written dissertation and oral defense and the awarding of your Ph.D. degree.


Moving to California

Where can I find on-campus housing? UC Merced provides some resources for finding housing as a graduate student. On campus housing for graduate students (at time of writing) will be open in Fall 2022. More info about UC Merced Graduate Student Housing, including cost and your rights and responsibilities as a resident can be found here: https://housing.ucmerced.edu/graduate

Where can I find off-campus housing? UC Merced also has a resource for off-campus housing. A portal for finding a roommate, property listings, and information about how to avoid scams and fraud can be found here: https://och.ucmerced.edu/

Are there other housing resources? UC Merced students also often list housing availability on various facebook pages, including the UC Merced Classifieds page, the UC Merced Students and Alumni page, and the UC Merced Off-Campus Housing page, and the UC Merced Social Graduate Students page


Residency Requirement

I am a US citizen from out of state. Do I have to become a California resident? Typically, yes. Failure to become a California resident means you will be responsible for paying Nonresident Supplemental Tuition (NRST). Information on becoming a California Resident (including exemptions) can be found on the University of California, Office of the President page “Understanding Residency”. As this is quite an involved process, it is recommended to familiarize yourself with these guidelines and begin fulfilling your residency requirement as soon as possible upon arrival in California. (A Temporary Amendment was made for students beginning their graduate degree education during the 2020-2021 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Details on the NRST can be found in the Graduate Policies and Procedures document from the Graduate Division Website.

I am not a US citizen. Do I have to become a California/US resident? Typically, no. International students on most visas do not have the option of becoming California Residents, and are required to pay Nonresident Supplemental Tuition. However, after advancement to candidacy, Ph.D Candidates may have the NRST waived for up to 3 consecutive calendar years. Details on the NRST can be found in the Graduate Policies and Procedures document from the Graduate Division Website.

Where can I find more information?

Graduate Division Policies and Procedures

Understanding Residency


Teaching Fellow FAQs

At what stage in the program am I able to teach in the summer? After you have advanced to candidacy.

Can I teach a new course that I’ve come up with? Graduate students can teach COGS180 which is the topics course, and propose a topic. This is kind of like running a new course, but with the caveat that it must be “topics in cognitive science”.

Can graduate students only teach some of the possible courses? In principle, graduate students (who have advanced to candidacy) can teach any lower division (course codes in the range of 0-99) or upper division courses (course codes in the range of 100-199). There are sometimes further conditions that apply, so it’s generally worth asking.

Does the list of possible courses that are available for graduate students to teach in the summer change each year? Yes [kind of]. Here are some things that can influence what courses are available. A class must get a certain number of enrollments to be offered in the summer. This is a reason to be strategic in thinking about what you might offer – COGS001 or COGS005 are popular. If a lot of people are trying to offer COGS180 (the above mentioned topics course), then it’s possible some of these will get low enrollment (possibly enough to cancel, but be reassured efforts are made on our side to help with this). Other popular courses are ones that undergraduate students need to graduate, e.g., COGS 101, 105, or 110, so that’s worth keeping in mind too. In addition there are multiple summer sessions, which can help reduce competition between COGS courses.

Jeff Yoshimi is our course offerings guru, so we recommend trying to chat with him if you have further questions, but we hope that this will help you with the immediate need to get your summer teaching requests in. I’ll let Jeff have the final (paraphrased) word here: Start with proposing the teaching that you really want, and make use of the comments box on the spreadsheet to note other options if your top choice doesn’t pan out.


Resources


Employment Information


Various Forms and Resources


Recent Summer Schools


Presentation Tools and Tips


Programming Tools and Sites

Other useful information may be found on the Graduate Division website, where you can also find the Graduate Policies and Procedures Handbook, and the Graduate Advisors Mentoring Guidelines.

Updated August 2021