Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience PhD Programs

May 28, 2019

This article addresses the general admission and program requirements related to a PhD in developmental cognitive neuroscience. Brief descriptions of common courses are also provided.

A PhD in developmental cognitive neuroscience can provide a simultaneously broad and specific focus into how the human brain works, both as a cluster of cellular pathways and as a super computer. Researchers attempt to figure out how we learn, remember, think, feel emotion and experience reality. Psychology may be addressed from a biological and computational perspective. This type of interdisciplinary program can prepare graduates for the multifaceted realm of cognitive neuroscience.

PhD Programs in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience

Research opportunities are usually prevalent and varied, incorporating methods and theories from a wide range of seemingly unrelated disciplines. These are often cognitive neuroscience PhD programs with the option to specialize in developmental neurobiology or may be offered as developmental psychology PhD programs with a specialization in cognitive neuroscience. Because there are so many ways to approach the subject, doctoral program names can vary significantly but generally share common terms: cognitive neuroscience; cognition and neuroscience; developmental, cognitive & behavioral neuroscience; or developmental psychology with a developmental cognitive neuroscience specialization. While these program names are worded differently, the material covered is often very similar, including the following types of courses.

Cognitive Neuroscience

Cognitive neuroscience approaches the brain from a bio-computational perspective. The brain is the most complex and elegant processing system in existence, and the combination of neurobiology, computational neuroscience, psychology and cognitive science are required to get a proper overview of its computing prowess. This type of course often explores experience, memory, language and emotion from a computational point of view.

Biological Bases of Behavior

Students might look at how biological mechanisms function and manifest as cognitive behavior. Neural pathways, synapses, chemical and electrical messengers and other cellular systems and their interactions may be studied in relation to behavior and experience. This type of course might explore how the opening and closing of ion channels manifests as thought and how the brain's ordering of these networks and systems manifests as reality. Current theory and research in communication disorders, cognition and neuroscience may be discussed.

Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

This type of class might cover how the brain uploads, stores and retrieves memories. The focus may be on the neurobiological methods used to study the synaptic mechanisms. Students might look at organization of the unique structures comprising brain systems which allows them to accommodate different kinds of memories.


This sort of course may delve into the major brain systems of human neuroanatomy. Neuroanatomical functions of each major system may be covered in relation to neurological disorders associated with damage to these systems. Both major and minor brain trauma can have surprising and unexpected consequences and it is often via these cases we learn how specific parts of the brain function in regards to behavior.


These courses tend to focus on the genetics behind behavior. Students might study the molecular and cellular processes that grant neurons their functionality. Emphasis may be placed on the roles genetics, epigenetics and cell signaling play in the regulation of gene expression.

Admittance Requirements for Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience PhD Programs

Admission into these programs requires at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution along with official transcripts. Schools typically require an applicant to have a minimum GPA of 3.0/4.0 as well as a satisfactory GRE score. Those with relevant coursework and research experience may be the strongest candidates. Usually three letters of recommendation are requested as well as a resume highlighting relevant experience, honors, community service and awards. Applicants are commonly asked to provide a statement of intent/career statement indicating their educational and career goals and any faculty members in which whose research they would like to participate. A final interview is often conducted with prospective candidates.

Developmental cognitive neuroscience PhD programs tend to be multidisciplinary and heavily involved in research. Admission into these programs typically requires at least a bachelor's degree and sufficient GPA and GRE scores, with a background in relevant research being a positive.

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