Cognitive Neuroscience PhD Programs: Degree Overviews

Doctoral programs in cognitive neuroscience examine human cognition through a variety of neural and behavioral methods. Learn about common coursework, program information, and job outlook.

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Essential Information

The Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience degree program is highly interdisciplinary, containing courses from the departments of neurobiology, psychology, medicine, philosophy and many others. Emphasis is placed on perception, attention, visual information processing, emotion, decision-making, learning, memory and more.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree in biology, psychology, philosophy or another area related to cognitive neuroscience, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. They may also need a detailed resume of academic or professional experience and GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores with the subject test in psychology. Once accepted into the program, students can expect to participate in teaching assistant opportunities and complete a dissertation for graduation. These programs usually take 3-6 years to complete.

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Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience

In a doctoral program, students learn about and participate in research on the influence of the brain on human cognitive processes. They also learn about advanced imaging technologies used to determine brain dysfunctions, such as magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging. Certain schools allow students to select the department they'd like to affiliate with so they can direct their research towards their particular areas of interest. Other schools have a set core of neuroscience courses and a proseminar sequence that emphasize an integrative cognitive neuroscience approach. Doctoral students take courses or proseminars in areas such as:

  • Advances in neuroscience research
  • Higher-level cognition
  • Sensation and lower-level perception
  • Attention and higher-level perception
  • Psychopathology in adults
  • 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 8% from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an average rate for all occupations. As of 2015, the median salary for medical scientists, excluding epidemiologists, was $82,240, per the BLS.

A Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience gives students the research skills and knowledge of cognitive processes to pursue a career as a researcher, professor, neuropathologist, or other medical scientist.

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