Cognitive science is the study of how the human mind works, one of the most challenging and exciting projects of modern science. In order to explore the nature of cognitive processes, cognitive scientists rely on tools and ideas from a combination of fields, including cognitive psychology, linguistics, computer science, neuroscience, philosophy and anthropology. The goal of cognitive science is to discover and understand:
- The representations and processes in our minds that underwrite our capacity for perception, reasoning, memory, attention, language, imagery, motor control and problem solving
- How they are acquired and how they develop
- How they are implemented in our underlying biological hardware
The undergraduate program in cognitive science at Johns Hopkins reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the subject and requires students to approach the study of the mind from several different investigative perspectives by drawing from courses in other departments. Many graduates continue their study of cognitive science at a higher level, either by continuing with the discipline or by specializing in another area such as computer science, psychology, philosophy, linguistics or neuroscience. Cognitive science is also an excellent precursor to medical, law and business school, as well as graduate programs in education and computing.
The dynamic, interdisciplinary nature of the field allows graduates to explore a variety of potential careers in the job market. For instance, positions in industry research enable graduates to apply their knowledge of cognitive science directly, either by designing and constructing artificial devices that mimic cognitive processes, or to aid cognitive processes in humans. Others use their knowledge of cognitive processes to improve education and testing processes, or their knowledge about attention and decision making to produce more effective advertising campaigns.
A few of the many career fields for those with backgrounds in cognitive science include:
- Behavioral neuroscience
- Science/technology journalism
- Neuroimaging technology
- Child psychology
- Counseling psychology
- Environmental design
- Pharmaceutical sales and marketing
- Forensic psychology
- Geriatric psychology
- Research administration
- Consulting, advertising and marketing
- Sports psychology
- Molecular biology
- Substance abuse counseling
Many of these positions, and most beyond the entry level, require additional training above the undergraduate level. However, the ability to understand the workings of the human mind and memory is a widely marketable asset. For example, cognitive science graduates can better understand the decision making of a consumer, the learning styles of students, and the information processing of employees – all abilities that enable a cognitive science graduate to readily standout in a field of job candidates for entry-level positions. This makes cognitive science is a particularly versatile and marketable area of study, as it encompasses both knowledge of science and biology, and instills problem solving, analytical and communication skills, providing its graduates with a strong foundation for a rewarding career in the area of their choosing.
Because cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field, students should graduate with the ability to apply and integrate fundamental scientific principles as well as to effectively communicate them. In addition to basic laboratory and research experiences, students should also have strong quantitative ability and skills in statistical analysis and presentation.
As with other interdisciplinary areas of study, students who major in cognitive science must determine their area of interest and pursue research and internship opportunities within that area as undergraduates, particularly for those interested in careers outside the science and medical fields. For instance, students interested in business in communications should take courses, and possibly minor or double major, in those areas, as well as seeking summer internships. Employers look for well-rounded candidates who bring diverse experiences and perspectives to a team environment.
Extra-curricular activities on campus such as volunteering, athletic teams and social organizations allow undergraduates to demonstrate their ability to work well and communicate with others. Similarly, employers expect students to graduate with the real-world professional skills gained through research and internship experiences.
Hopkins Cognitive Science alumni go into a variety of career fields. Since 2003 the Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans 6 months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses.
Hopkins Alumni in Cognitive Science
Additional Alumni Profiles
Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.
Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Medicine, Scientific Research, and Pharamaceuticals.
If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.
LinkedIn.com - a professional networking site where you can identify Hopkins alumni. Join the LinkedIn Johns Hopkins University Alumni Group to add over 4000+ alumni to your network.
The Career Center is here to help you navigate the graduate school search process. Click here for guidelines and preparing for Graduate School and Professional School.
For information on the specific programs, the best people to talk to are the experts in your field you wish to study, faculty members and graduate students in that specific discipline. We strongly encourage you to talk with your advisor and other faculty members with whom you have a good working relationship. This will also help when you request letters of recommendation. The Career Center has a handout to guide you in asking for letters of recommendation.
The Cognitive Science Society is the prominent professional association for cognitive science, maintaining over one thousand researchers from many fields with the common goal of understanding the human mind and promoting scientific interchange among researchers in artificial intelligence, linguistics, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and education. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the field, many professionals in cognitive science are also involved in the professional associations and societies within the field, such as the American Psychological Association, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. All of these organizations provide resources for cognitive scientists at all levels of advancement, and excellent opportunities for networking.
Honor Societies and professional associations: