TLDR; Majors: Cognitive Science

By Shang Chen
July 08, 2020 · 2 minute read

Cognitive Science

The range of majors in STEM is vast and ever-increasing. As new technologies are developed, so must the different types of majors available for students to pursue. Cognitive science is a major that has recently become popular due to its diverse coursework and practical applications. Majors in CogSci will focus on STEM courses in biology and chemistry and courses like philosophy, linguistics, and psychology to give them an understanding of both physical and mental processes of our mind.

What Exactly is Cognitive Science?

Cognitive Science is the study of the human mind and brain, focusing on how the mind represents and manipulates knowledge and how mental representations and processes are realized in the brain. Because our brains are so complex, cognitive science requires a wide array of classes even to begin representing the way you and I think and interpret the world around us. A usual Cognitive Science course-load includes the following subjects:

  1. Biology - If you want to work with the brain, you'll need to understand the mechanics of how the brain processes thoughts and transfers them to the rest of our body. Thus CogSci classes include standard requirements like molecular cell biology, neuroscience, and organic chemistry.
  2. Computer Science - Artificial Intelligence has brought upon the rise of more detailed and more accurate modeling of the neural networks that make up our brain. As most people know, the human brain is an incredibly complex and intricate organ with emotions like love, hate, and happiness barely understood even after decades of scientific research. Thus, a strong background in programming is essential for CogSci majors as much of the research and advancements in the coming years will crutch on the power of AI.
  3. Linguistics/Anthropology - These humanities focus on studying people and understanding that people from different cultures think in different ways. It is an essential aspect of the cognitive sciences as what is considered normal for us may be very different from somebody on the other side of the world. As the field of cognitive science has progressed, researchers and academics have quickly realized that processes of the mind change drastically depending on particular physical and social environments.
  4. Philosophy - Quite literally, the study of knowledge, philosophy deals with the brain's theoretical side. Why people do the things they do, think the things they think, etc. While not a STEM subject, philosophy is vital for CogSci as it allows the researchers and students to better visualize abstract concepts like how thoughts are put together and questions of morality like how people should think.

What types of jobs can you get with a Cognitive Science Decree?

CogSci is a very diverse and interdisciplinary field, which means you can major in CogSci and end up with a wide array of jobs. Students interested in programming can find themselves in research labs or institutes where they will be in charge of developing sophisticated algorithms to model the human brain with a heavy emphasis on AI and computer-human interaction. Those more in tune with the biochemistry and pre-med side aspects of cognitive science can choose to pursue medical degrees and work as doctors or medical analysts in hospitals or pharmaceutical companies. Cognitive science is an extremely adaptable field that opens a wide array of opportunities for those who decide to dedicate themselves to it.

The Cognitive Science Experience

Like last week, rather than giving you information that you can find on your own through YouTube videos, articles, and websites, I've reached out to students who are actually majoring in the field we are discussing. I hope through their answers, you can get a true understanding of what it will be like to major in CogSci and decide if the major is a good fit for you. Even if you are just now hearing about this field of study, it is never too late to start taking classes or educating yourself for the future.

TLDR;

Cognitive Science is an interdisciplinary major that draws on aspects from many different fields. We recommend students interested in chemistry, biology, computer science, or psychology to check out what a major in CogSci could entail. A degree and career in CogSci require a very well-rounded student, comfortable working in a laboratory, reading philosophical texts, and presenting an experiment's results in front of an audience.

Interview

Abraham Niu - UC Berkeley

What exactly is CogSci? Why is it now just becoming a more popular major?

CogSci is the interdisciplinary study of the mind through the lens of neuroscience, philosophy, AI, psychology, linguistics, and anthropology. I think it’s just now becoming a more popular major because the possibilities of AI are becoming more and more boundless, and people are finding CogSci a more comprehensive approach to understand the brain and its functionalities.

What interests you, specifically about CogSci?

In high school, I had witnessed the effects of mental illness on people close to me. Since then, I have always been interested in the neuroscience aspect of the human brain as it relates to disease and pathology. However, I am also extremely interested in the broader intersections between health and technology, and the AI aspect of cognitive science has been particularly eye-opening.

What ‘STEM’ major(s) would you consider CogSci to be?

It’s hard to say what ‘STEM’ major CogSci is because it doesn’t necessarily fall under a hard category. The great thing about the discipline is that you can kind of take it wherever you want. There are many people who find interest in the humanities aspects of CogSci like linguistics, philosophy, and anthropology. But at the same time, many people choose to focus on the cognition/computer science aspect, and others are drawn towards the biology and psychology of the brain. From research to tech, to design just to name a few, the career paths vary widely amongst CogSci grads.

What are some exciting CogSci classes that you’ve taken so far?

A few of my favorite classes I’ve taken include CogSci 1 and Principles of Data Science. These were both introductory classes into the scientific study of the mind and were eye-opening in allowing us to understand some of the defining characteristics that make us human.

What high school activities, in school, or extracurricular do you feel helped you prepare for CogSci?

In high school, I was fortunate enough to get my hands-on research at a neurobiology lab which was definitely a gateway for me into the world of neuroscience. Other than that, there are a lot of good resources on the internet that I delved into out of curiosity which ultimately continued to grow my interest in CogSci. 

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a CogSci major?

Generally speaking, a major challenge in CogSci is deciding a discipline and career path that you want to particularly focus on; there are many aspects of CogSci that are so interesting but honing in on a few particular skills can be a bit difficult and overwhelming at times — as with many other majors, getting valuable industry experience early on is helpful in building your skill sets and expanding your horizons - a quality that I am a bit late on. 

What types of jobs would you want to end up having majored in CogSci?

Originally, I was looking towards Med-School to become a neurologist, but I have since decided to put that path on pause and look towards other fields in tech. I have interests in neuro-technology but I am currently looking towards User Experience Research as well as various other data/statistic-driven jobs (Product Management, Data analyst, data scientist).

What would you say to aspiring high school students who might be interested in CogSci?

Let your curiosity guide you! The years following high school are your prime years for intellectual exploration. Don’t be afraid to try new things - no matter how unqualified you may think you are - and figure things out as you go. The internet is a great starting place to delve deeper into some of these topics.

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About The Author

Shang Chen is on the executive team of SciTeens and is studying Data Science and Economics at UC Berkeley. His hobbies include working out, cooking, and playing video games. Feel free to reach out to him with comments, questions, and future article recommendations at shang@sciteens.org. Sources: https://cogsci.jhu.edu/about/ https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cognitive-science/#Met https://cognitivescience.case.edu/undergraduate/careers/

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