Psychology PhD (cognitive science)

The Doctor of Philosophy program in psychology with an emphasis on cognitive science at Arizona State University investigates core cognitive processes and applies multiple theoretical perspectives to understanding these processes. Doctoral candidates conduct both basic and translational research in the spirit of the New American University to generate solutions for real-world problems, such as improving children's reading comprehension.

The Department of Psychology’s doctoral program offers collaborative and interdisciplinary training in innovative, mentored research that is tailored to the unique needs of student. Doctoral candidates will develop expertise in quantitative methods from one of the nation’s top-ranked programs. The program also offers a breadth of courses in cognitive processes such as decision making, dynamics, embodiment, language, memory, natural language processing, neuroscience, and perception and action. Careers in cognitive science can be anywhere from research, computer science, intelligence, marketing, speech synthesis, telecommunications, medicine, informatics, and big data analysis. A graduate degree in cognitive science prepares you for any field that includes cognition and technology.

IMPORTANT: To be considered for this PhD program, you must complete the application through ASU's online portal AND submit your material through Slideroom.

5 years to degree
7 research labs
11 faculty members

Degree Overview

The 84-hour program of study includes a first-year project, a written comprehensive exam, an oral comprehensive, a prospectus and a dissertation. Prospective doctoral candidates should have a passion and interest in cognitive science, have demonstrated research skills in a senior thesis, have a minimum of a 3.00 cumulative GPA and score in the upper quintile of GRE scores. 

How to apply

The Department of Psychology application process is completed online through ASU Graduate Admissions. Prospective students must submit the admission application form along with the fee and official transcripts.

For the department’s doctoral programs, students must submit supplemental application materials through SlideRoom, which requires an additional fee. For complete instructions for applying to the PhD program, visit our Doctoral Admission requirements page. 

One of the best things about the doctoral program in Psychology is the really great sense of community and working together to exchange ideas. Not only have I been able to publish my research but I've also been able to collaborate with other scientific resources in Phoenix such as the Mayo Clinic, Barrow Neurological Institute and TGen.
- Stephanie Koebele, Doctoral Student, Behavioral Neuroscience


Training in cognitive science follows an apprenticeship model. Students work closely with a mentor to complete required coursework, research training, a first-year project, a comprehensive examination and a doctoral dissertation. The goal of the program is to prepare students to become independent and creative scientists who publish findings in major, peer-reviewed outlets.

A minimum of 84 hours is required. 

Requirements and electives


Core courses








Total hours required



Courses and electives

Training in Cognitive Science (CS) follows an apprenticeship model and most students work closely with one advisor/mentor. Depending the student’s interests, however, the student may participate in several laboratories. The goals of the program are to train students through a series of projects and courses and to become independent and creative scientists. An important part of this training is developing skill in publishing and students are expected to have several publications in major, peer-reviewed outlets by the time they graduate.

2 – Graduate Level Statistics

  • PSY 530 Intermediate Stats
  • PSY 540 Advanced Stats

6 – courses taught by at least five CS core faculty (3 credits each), sample courses include:

  • 528 Sensation and Perception

  • 529 Embodied Cognition

  • 535 Cognitive Processes

  • 576 Dynamical Systems in Psychology

  • 591 Seminar (in various topics)

  • 598 Psychology of Language

In consultation with their research advisors, students select courses to meet their research and training goals.

2 – electives, sample courses include:

  • PSY 598 Cognitive Science
  • PSY 573 Psychopathology
  • PSY 591 Social Cognitive Development: Theory of Mind
  • PSY 591 Behavioral Neuroendocrinology
  • PSY 598 Cognitive Science seminar
  • PSY 512 Advanced Learning

First Year Project. The first year project involves designing, conducting, and reporting research under the direct supervision of the student’s advisor.  By the end of the student’s first semester, two additional faculty members, called "readers," are selected to assist in the development of the project. The student must meet with the readers (either separately or as a committee) at least once. Also by the end of the first semester, the student will give a presentation of the plans for the first year project in the CS Seminar. No later than two weeks before the end of the second semester, the student provides to all CS faculty a written draft describing the project. The readers provide feedback to the student. The student gives an oral presentation to the CS Seminar by the end of the student's second semester.

Master’s Thesis. The master's thesis is typically undertaken in the second year and defended during the third year. It is an original piece of research, closely supervised by the research advisor and an advisory committee. The thesis leads to the MA degree, which is considered to be a "masters in passing."  After forming a master’s thesis committee, the student must complete a three-step process:  (1) defend a written prospectus; (2) after data collection, conduct a “data meeting” at which the analyses are reviewed by the committee; and (3) pass a defense of the thesis.

Comprehensive Examination

During the third or fourth year of the doctoral studies, the student concentrates much of his or her effort on a scholarly review of the areas of Cognitive Science. The student works with four committee members to put together a reading list upon which the Comprehensive Exams — written and oral — are based. The student has the choice of completing a "closed-book," two-day written exam or an "open-book," two-week written exam. The oral exam is conducted one week after the conclusion of the written exam and serves to clarify the student's answers to the written questions. Often, the literature review that the student conducts during this time period becomes the basis of the doctoral dissertation.


Doctoral Dissertation: PSY 799 (12 hours) 

The doctoral dissertation is an extensive piece of original research that demonstrates the capability of the student to act as an independent scholar and use experimental methods. The dissertation is closely supervised by the research advisor and three additional faculty members who constitute the dissertation committee. As with the master’s thesis, there are three components. First, the student writes a formal dissertation proposal and defends it to the committee. After the defense, the student is admitted to PhD candidacy by the Graduate College. Second, following data collection, there is a "data meeting" at which the analyses are reviewed by the committee. The process culminates with the student's defense of the dissertation before the committee and the academic community.

Cognitive Science Research Laboratories