Cognitive Science Program

The Cognitive Science PhD program employs techniques from several disciplines to train students to become expert scientists in the field of cognitive science.

Our program focuses on research training with program requirements that emphasize research involvement from day one and a curriculum that focuses on providing a firm theoretical foundation in cognitive science. The research emphasis and strong theoretical foundation provide the training needed to investigate key problems in both industry and academic research. Our graduates have successfully obtained positions in academia, government research labs, and industry. To see examples of some of our graduates and their current positions, see Cognitive Science Students and Labs.


Research Areas

The research interests of our core cognitive science faculty cover a diverse range of topics within cognitive science. One of the most important factors in our admission decisions is the fit between the student's and mentor's research interests. Research areas in our program include memory and metamemory, problem solving, decision making, working memory, visual attention, perception, learning, computational modeling, and language.

Please contact program faculty if you are interested in their research. Faculty with an * next to their name are interested in taking new students for the upcoming 2024-2025 academic year (application deadline December 1, 2023).


Application Information

What are the required elements of the application?

We require a personal statement, CV, transcripts, and three letters of recommendation. Electronic copies of unofficial transcripts for all undergraduate and graduate coursework should be submitted. Applicants who receive an offer of admission will need to submit official transcripts after receiving an offer.

What should my personal statement include?

Our program uses a holistic review procedure that looks for a good fit of interest with the research conducted in our program and considers a wide range of factors associated with success in graduate school. A required personal statement is an essential component of this holistic review as it provides a personal perspective on each applicant. This statement should be approximately 1,000 - 1,500 words and explain your plans and preparation for graduate study and a professional career. Please be as specific as possible about (a) the development of your academic interest in cognitive science and reasons for pursuing the PhD; (b) past research experience and mentorship, and its relationship to your current research interests; (c) other skills, abilities, and experiences that have helped to prepare you for graduate study (e.g., data management and analysis skills; experience with advanced methods such as neuroimaging; leadership or outreach efforts in your school or community; employment that you have balanced with academic demands; learning that you have undertaken outside of the classroom; challenges that you have overcome in persevering towards your goals; and if you wish, any issues or service relevant to diversity, broadly considered); and (d) why you have chosen to apply to the Cognitive Science doctoral program at MSU and how your interests fit with the research program of the faculty member(s) you are applying to work with in graduate school.

Are GRE scores required?

GRE scores are optional. They can be used to provide evidence of quantitative and writing skills, but the absence of GRE scores will not be weighed against your application. You are encouraged to consult with your prospective mentor(s) in the program prior to submitting your application. They may help to indicate the types of skills that would be most useful to see documented in your application based on the type of research they conduct. Note that this is not a temporary response to the pandemic. It is the current policy in effect for our program. 

The cognitive science program is a research-focused program with courses and research routinely involving statistics, programming of experiments/analyses, and computational models of cognition. Applicants are strongly encouraged to submit evidence of their quantitative and writing skills. Please use the optional writing sample part of the application to submit this evidence as a single document. This evidence could include a written product of a research methods course, writing from an independent research project, or any other sample of academic writing. In the same writing sample document, include a short addendum summarizing evidence of your quantitative skills. This summary could include indicating relevant courses on your transcript, GRE scores, or other evidence. You can attach any writing samples to the end of your CV as a single pdf file if you do not see a place to upload it as part of the application form.

How do I apply and what is the deadline?

Interested applicants should apply via our online application system on or before December 1 for admission starting the following fall semester.

Should I contact potential faculty mentors before applying?

Applicants are encouraged sure to peruse cognitive science faculty research interests on each faculty member’s page linked to above and contact prospective graduate advisors well in advance of submitting their applications to establish a potential match between their interests and their prospective mentor’s research laboratory. You are not required to contact faculty before submitting your application, but it is often helpful to do so.

Are there any application fee waivers available if I can’t afford the fee?

Application fee waivers may be available to those for whom payment of the application fee would be financially challenging. Please contact Dr. Jarrod Moss prior to November 1 at for more information on applying for a waiver for applications to the cognitive science doctoral program.

What if I have other questions about the program?

Please contact the program director, Dr. Jarrod Moss, at jarrod.moss@msstate

Student funding

Graduate students in the Cognitive Science Ph.D. program are funded via graduate assistantships. This funding is typically in the form of teaching or research assistantships. Teaching assistants generally serve in an instructional capacity, either under the supervision of a faculty member, or potentially as an instructor of record. Duties of the former can range from classroom duties and grading to teaching laboratory sections for statistics or experimental psychology. Instructors of record have the support of a faculty advisor for questions or issues that might arise, and these positions can provide excellent training opportunities for those planning academic careers. Research assistants generally work on a research grant with a faculty member or other supervisor. In the past, about half of our students have been funded via a research assistantship and half via a teaching assistantship. Our intention is that all students are funded throughout our five-year doctoral program. We have successfully accomplished this goal for the program’s entire history, but of course funding is subject to the availability of funds.

Overview of Program Requirements

Our coursework focuses on a common foundation of research methods, quantitative methods, computational modeling, and cognitive theory. In addition, several additional courses are offered to provide some breath in selected areas of the field that vary from year to year. The program’s research requirements include a first-year research project designed to get students started on research. In the second year, a master’s thesis is completed and defended at the beginning of the third year. Later in the third year, a review paper is completed that should include a most of the literature to be used in the student’s dissertation work. A dissertation proposal is completed in the fourth year followed by the dissertation defense in the fifth year. For more information about our program requirements, you can read our program’s handbook.