Cognitive Science Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Degree

A cognitive science Ph.D. that provides an interdisciplinary study of the human mind and cognition, through the lens of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, language science, vision science, philosophy, and computer science.

Overview for Cognitive Science Ph.D.

Cognitive science encompasses human and animal intelligent minds, curiosity, and artistic creativity, along with social interactions. It makes use of technology, especially computer technology, and it has applications in the design of human-machine systems and cognitive technologies that can contribute to the greater good.

RIT’s Cognitive Science Ph.D. combines interrelated fields that come together to yield the interdisciplinary study of the mind and its processes, drawing from a rich set of different methodological resources. From laboratory or in situ experiments, statistical testing, simulation, imaging, big data, theoretical representations, neurobiology, philosophical analysis, and sensing, to contribute towards the advancement of innovative neurocognitive technologies. 

The program will emphasize knowledge application and broader impacts to nurture workplace opportunities within and outside of academia, including industry and government. 

Unique from other regional and national programs, the program will provide students with innovative research training and career-building experiences centered around engineering, computing, and social and behavioral sciences. The programs STEM foundation will enable graduates to develop strong computational and modeling skills.

Plan of Study


In accordance with the interdisciplinary nature of cognitive science, this program will be delivered by faculty across five RIT colleges (College of Liberal Arts, College of Science, Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, Kate Gleason College of Engineering, and National Technical Institute for the Deaf). 


A combination of core courses,a research project during the second year of study, and a research dissertation. Students must pass a qualifying examination during their second year of study and a candidacy examination at least one year prior to completing their dissertation. Candidates who wish to enter the program, but lack adequate preparation, might be required to complete undergraduate foundation courses before matriculating with graduate status.

Second year project

During the second year, students engage in graduate-level research under the supervision of a graduate program faculty member. The topic may or may not be the same as the dissertation topic. One of the purposes of this project is to evaluate the student’s research capabilities and suitability for doctorate-level research.

Years three and beyond

After completing the required courses, students follow their study plan which consists of research and thesis credits and elective courses.

Qualifying examination

All students must pass a qualifying examination, which determines whether the student has a sufficient depth of knowledge in cognitive science and the ability to perform research at the doctoral level.

The qualifying exam consists of a written test and an evaluation of the second-year research project. The written test is given twice each year and is based on the core curriculum in color science and any material deemed appropriate by the committee. Note that the required readings for these courses include textbooks and current literature. An evaluation of the second-year research project includes depth of research, productivity, quality, analytical skills, and the ability to communicate results. A written document is submitted in the style of a published proceedings paper.

Students must successfully pass the qualifying examination to continue in the program. Those who do not pass the qualifying examination may make a written request to the color science program director to change to the MS program. Requests must be received before the end of the semester in which the second written test is taken. Students with permission to enter the MS program will use their second year research project as an MS research thesis topic. A written thesis is required. Students can then graduate with an MS in color science.

Dissertation research advisor and committee

After students pass the qualifying examination, a dissertation research adviser is selected from the graduate program faculty based on the student’s research interests, faculty research interests, and discussions with the color science graduate coordinator. A four-member dissertation committee is appointed for the duration of the student’s tenure in the program. The committee includes the dissertation research advisor, one other member of the color science faculty, and an external chair appointed by the dean of graduate education. The external chair must be a tenured member of the RIT faculty who is not a current member of the color science faculty. The fourth member may be an RIT faculty member or a professional affiliated with industry or another institution. The color science graduate program director must approve committee members who are not RIT faculty.

The dissertation committee prepares and administers the examination for admission to candidacy; assists in planning and coordinating research; provides research advice; supervises the writing of the dissertation; and conducts the final examination of the dissertation.

Developing a study plan

During the first semester of study, students work with the color science graduate program director to develop a study plan. This plan may be revised as necessary, subject to approval by the graduate program director. For example, the dissertation research adviser or the dissertation committee might recommend a revised study plan to include specific graduate electives.

Admission to candidacy

When the student thoroughly understands the dissertation research topic, the dissertation committee administers an examination to determine if the student can be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree in color science. The purpose of the examination is to ensure the student has the necessary intellectual skills and background knowledge to carry out their specific doctoral-level research project. The dissertation research adviser defines the type of examination and any requirements prior to the examination. Requirements include a dissertation proposal and may additionally include a review of literature, preliminary experiments, and the preparation of an oral presentation. The examination must be administered no later than one year prior to defending the dissertation.

Final examination of dissertation

Once the dissertation has been written, distributed to the dissertation committee, and the committee agrees to administer the final examination, the doctoral candidate can schedule the final examination.

The final examination of the dissertation is open to the public and is primarily a defense of the dissertation research. The examination consists of an oral presentation by the student, followed by questions from the audience. The dissertation committee may also elect to privately question the candidate following the presentation. The dissertation committee immediately notifies the candidate and the color science graduate program director of the result of the examination.

Teaching experience

All candidates for the Ph.D. must serve as a teaching assistant for a minimum of one course before scheduling the final examination of the dissertation. Candidates are encouraged to serve as a teaching assistant for two or more courses.

Public presentation experience

All candidates for the Ph.D. must present research in a public forum before scheduling the final examination of the dissertation. The preferred public forum is a technical conference.

Publication requirement

Prior to scheduling the Ph.D. dissertation defense (final examination), all candidates for the Ph.D. must have at least two refereed journal publications on the dissertation research accepted for publication (or published). The student must be a principal (not always first) author on both papers.


Admissions and Financial Aid

This program is available on-campus only.

Application Details

To be considered for admission to the Cognitive Science Ph.D. program, candidates must fulfill the following requirements:

How to Apply Start or Manage Your Application

Cost and Financial Aid

An RIT graduate degree is an investment with lifelong returns. Ph.D. students typically receive full tuition and an RIT Graduate Assistantship that will consist of a research assistantship (stipend) or a teaching assistantship (salary).