Cognitive Neuroscience PhD Programs: Degree Overviews

Attaining a doctoral degree in cognitive neuroscience can open up opportunities for employment in research and academia. Keep reading to learn about program options, coursework, education prerequisites, career paths and salaries for graduates with this degree.

Essential Information

Doctoral programs in cognitive neuroscience are available as standard degree programs or as a concentration within a broader doctoral degree in neuroscience. Ph.D. candidates 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. Students learn about and participate in research concerning the influence that the brain and its component parts have on these human cognitive processes. They also learn about advanced imaging technologies used to determine brain dysfunctions, such as magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging.

Education Prerequisites

Prospective Ph.D. candidates should have 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. Many schools also require applicants to take entrance exams, such as the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and the subject test in psychology.

Program Coursework

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
  • Language
  • Memory
  • 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

A Ph.D. is required in order to conduct independent research or teach in a university, and most graduates opt for one of these two career tracks. Positions are available in universities and neuroscience laboratories. Some specific positions held by graduates of a doctoral program in neuroscience include:

  • Neuropathologist
  • 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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