Cognitive Neuroscience PhD Programs: Degree Overviews
Doctoral programs in cognitive neuroscience are available as standard degree programs or a concentration within a broader doctoral degree in neuroscience. These advanced degree programs focus on the effect of the brain on a wide variety of human cognitive processes, such as perception, emotion and memory. Earning a doctoral degree is necessary for conducting independent cognitive neuroscience research and working in postsecondary academia.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Cognitive Neuroscience
Students of a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience degree program examine human cognition through a variety of neural and behavioral methods. Emphasis is placed on perception, attention, visual information processing, emotion, decision-making, learning, memory and many other cognitive processes.
The influence that the brain and its component parts have on these human cognitive processes is analyzed in detail as well as the magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion tensor imaging and other advanced imaging technologies used to determine brain dysfunctions. Sometimes, cognitive neuroscience is formatted as a concentration or track within a broader doctoral program in neuroscience containing other concentrations, such as behavioral, clinical, molecular or developmental neuroscience.
Candidates for a doctoral program in cognitive neuroscience should have first completed undergraduate study in biology, psychology, philosophy or another area related to cognitive neuroscience. Many schools also require letters of recommendation, a personal statement and resume detailing academic or professional experience. Applicants are also required to take entrance exams by many schools, such as the GRE, GMAT and the subject test in psychology.
The Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience degree program is highly interdisciplinary, containing courses from the departments of neurobiology, psychology, medicine, philosophy and many others. Certain schools allow their students to select which department they'd like to focus on in order to provide flexibility to direct their research towards their own personal areas of interest. Other schools have a set core of neuroscience courses and a proseminar sequence to emphasize an integrative cognitive neuroscience approach. Doctoral students conduct dissertation research, serve as teaching assistants and undertake courses or proseminars in areas such as:
- Survey of neuroscience
- Advances in neuroscience research
- Higher-level cognition
- Sensation and lower level perception
- Attention and higher-level perception
- Psychopathology in adults
- Social behavior and personality
- Research methods in cognitive neuroscience
Career Outlook and Salary Information
Most graduates of a doctoral program go on to careers in research or academic settings. Positions are available in universities and neuroscience laboratories. A Ph.D. degree is required in order to conduct independent research. Some specific positions held by graduates of a doctoral program in neuroscience include:
- Postdoctoral fellow
- Research director
- Cognitive neuroscience professor
- Associate research scholar
The number of positions for medical scientists was projected to grow 36% from 2010-2020, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is a faster-than-average rate compared to other occupations. As of 2012, the median salary for medical scientists, excluding epidemiologists, was $76,980, per the BLS.
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