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Ph.D. Program Details

The Cognitive and Information Sciences (CIS) Ph.D. program emphasizes collaborative and interdisciplinary research training. Cognitive science is a growing interdisciplinary field that combines knowledge and techniques from the social, natural, and computational sciences and philosophy to address problems related to mind, brain, and behavior. Typically, CIS graduate students work closely with one or more faculty in pursuing scientific research, while taking a series of courses that can be tailored to the specific needs and specialization of the student. An outline of the program’s requirements is below.

Our program is always looking for talented people with the passion and drive necessary to solve tomorrow’s problems today. If you are ready to take the next step in your academic career  submit your application.

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Evaluation of applications will commence on December 15, 2020. Applications must be in before January 15, 2021 to be considered.


The CIS program has multiple means of supporting graduate students. Primarily, during the academic year, students serve as teaching assistants to faculty members. This position provides a full stipend and complete tuition waiver. In addition, some students spend a few semesters on a faculty member’s grant project, providing support through research specifically. Students almost always receive some form of summer stipend in order to support their research activities during the off-season. For more details aboutUC Merced’s internal awards and fellowships:


CIS students must satisfy the following course requirements. When necessary, students may consult with their advisors and advisory committee to identify particular courses that satisfy the requirements. All of the courses below must be at least 3 units.

  • Cognitive Science Foundations I & II courses (COGS 201 & 202)
  • During each semester in residence at UCM, enroll in Cogsci Graduate Seminar (COGS 250)
  • One graduate level course in statistics or data analysis
  • One graduate level course in computational modeling
  • Two elective graduate level courses

Research Projects in First and Second Years

Each student must give a talk on a research project they are working on at the end of their first year, and at the end of their second year. Unless otherwise arranged, first and second year talks will occur on the same day near the end of the semester, such as the 2nd Friday of May, in a mini-conference format attended by CIS members. Students must also write a research report each year (no less than 10 pages). All 1st year reports will be due shortly after the day of presentations (e.g. last Friday of May, to allow time for revision based on feedback), and all 2nd year reports will be due shortly beforehand (e.g. first Friday of May, to give faculty advisors time to review it before talks). Advisory committees will evaluate reports and presentations in terms of progress towards professional academic work in one or more areas of cognitive science. 1st year reports will be given a grade of Pass, Conditional Pass, or Fail, whereas 2nd year reports may be given Revise and Resubmit as a grade, allowing for rounds of revision. Faculty must provide the first round of feedback by one month from submission of their respective reports, and the final grade by three months from submission.

Open Technical Seminar

Students are required to give at least one oral presentation prior to graduation. The seminar may be given in any scholarly public venue that is approved by the student’s advisory committee (at the time the talk is given). At least one CIS faculty member must be present at the seminar.

Teaching Assistant Requirement

Students must serve as a teaching assistant in at least two semesters.  Each appointment must be a “full” TA appointment (50%). Twenty five percent appointments may also be used to fulfill this requirement.

Integrative Review Papers

Students must receive passing grades on two integrative review papers (no less than 20 pages each, about 30 references each) submitted to their advisory committee, normatively at the end of third year in residence. Each must cover three or more of six topics identified in the proposal sections included below, and all six topics must be covered across the two papers. The advisory committees use the same evaluation process as for second year projects:

  • Behavioral Science
  • Computational Modeling
  • Cognitive Engineering
  • Linguistic Analyses
  • Neuroscience
  • Philosophical Methods

Ph.D. Candidacy Examination

Students must pass a candidacy exam, typically in the third or fourth year, in order to begin work on their dissertation. The exam consists of a written dissertation proposal (about 30 pages in length) and an oral defense of the dissertation, which takes place privately with the student’s advisory committee. The oral defense may also include general questions about topics in cognitive science covered in the student’s integrative review papers.

Ph.D. Dissertation

Students must successfully complete a written doctoral dissertation containing an original contribution to scientific knowledge in some domain within cognitive and information sciences. The dissertation should contain material of a quality that is worthy of scholarly publication, and must be formatted according to campus guidelines for dissertation manuscripts. The student must also give an oral presentation of the dissertation that is open to the campus community, and the presentation is followed by a private session of questions and discussion with the advisory committee.

Program Learning Outcomes

  1. Understanding foundational concepts in cognitive and information sciences. 
  2. Skillful use of foundational methods in cognitive and information sciences.
  3. Scientific communication skills.
  4. Ability to integrate knowledge across the disciplines that compose cognitive and information sciences.
  5. Expertise in a specific scientific domain.


Earning your master's or Ph.D. from UC Merced means something. Follow in the footsteps of our alumni, many of whom now hold faculty appointments and meaningful positions in the public and private sectors.

Updated 2021