About CNS

The Cognitive and Neural Systems (CNS) Program brings together researchers who study mind, brain and behavior. CNS laboratories investigate the cognitive and neural underpinnings of attention, sensation, perception, action, memory, decision-making, sensory-motor integration, and social behaviors in humans and animal models. Commonly used techniques in CNS laboratories include neuroimaging, electrophysiology, neuropharmacology, histology, computational modeling, eye tracking, and behavioral analysis. Research conducted in the CNS laboratories has led to a broad understanding of the cognitive and neural processes underlying real-world behavior and has important implications for neurological disorders, mental health, and education. The CNS Program is affiliated with the campus Neuroscience and Cognitive Sciences Program (NACS), an umbrella for interdisciplinary research in systems, cognitive, cellular/ molecular, and computational neuroscience ( The Cognitive and Neural Systems Program also draws upon and contributes to the resources of the Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL), a University-Affiliated Research Center (UARC) that conducts research on the learning and use of language.

The CNS program provides students with a broad overview of psychological science, coupled with in-depth training in the cognitive and neural underpinnings of behavior. The CNS program shares many training resources with the interdisciplinary NACS Program, which involves 14 departments across campus, including Psychology. The CNS faculty train graduate students enrolled in both the Psychology Department and the NACS Graduate Program. The primary difference between the two programs is that CNS students take courses that emphasize breadth within psychology while NACS students take courses that emphasize breadth in the interdisciplinary field of neuroscience. Students interested in pursuing graduate research with any of the CNS faculty should contact potential mentors for advice on whether their needs will be better met by applying for admission through Psychology or NACS, as the curricula for the two graduate programs differ.

CNS Program Requirements

All CNS graduate students receive academic advice and support from a faculty advisor and a graduate committee, formed in the first semester of enrollment. The committee, comprised of the faculty advisor, and two additional faculty members make recommendations for coursework and other training tailored to the graduate student’s background and research interests. Each student meets with his/her graduate committee at least once annually.

Graduate study in CNS encompasses a 49-credit program which is structured as follows:

A. Departmental Requirements (20 cr.)

  1. Core courses (9 cr.): All Psychology doctoral students are required to take 3 core courses outside their area of specialization. The CNS faculty recommend that the student’s courses span at least two of the following levels of analysis:
  • Physiological level
    • PSYC 606 Human Biopsychology
    • PSYC 605 Sensory Processes
  • Individual level
    • PSYC 607 Advanced Topics in Human Learning
    • PSYC 611 Developmental Psychology
    • PSYC 612 Personality
  • Social level
    • PSYC 604 Social Psychology
    • PSYC 603 Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • Other courses may be substituted given approval.
  • Statistics courses (11 cr.): All Psychology doctoral students are required to take PSYC 601, PSYC 602 (or equivalent), plus a third statistics or methodology course to be selected in consultation with the advisor.

B. Additional CNS Area Requirements (11 cr.)

  • NACS 600, Ethics in Scientific Research (2 cr.)
  • At least three additional elective courses (9 credits minimum) relevant to the student’s program of research. These courses should be selected in consultation with the advisor, and can include formal courses and/or seminars in PSYC, NACS, or other departments. Note that a student’s advisor and/or advisory committee may require additional coursework beyond these 9 credits.
  • Students are additionally encouraged to attend (and enroll in) the weekly Cognitive Seminar (PSYC 889). This one-credit course is designed as a relatively informal forum to discuss and present research in progress and professional issues.

C. Research Requirements (18 cr.)

D. Comprehensive Examination

  • Written and oral exam in the field of study that encompasses the student’s research area.

E. NACS and Cognitive Science Colloquia

  • Students are strongly encouraged to attend these colloquia, which bring together graduate students and faculty on a regular basis. Internationally renowned neuroscientists and cognitive scientists present research seminars (see the listing of NACS seminars and Cognitive Science colloquia), visit Maryland labs, and meet with graduate students in an informal setting.

F. Timeline for completion of requirements

  • The Psychology Department specifies department-wide expectations for the timely completion of graduate requirements, grades, research competency and the completion of the dissertation. The CNS faculty members expect that students in this program will meet or exceed those standards. We suggest the following timelines as guideposts to students in the CNS program. Students are expected to work closely with their advisors and committee members in planning a schedule for completion of the requirements.
  • Coursework

Years 1 and 2: Students should complete at least 8 courses in total (distributed over the two years). These should include the departmental statistics requirement and the CNS basic courses.

Years 3 and 4: Students should complete the remaining required courses and register for PSYC 888 and 889

  • Research Requirements

Research Competency/Masters Degree – To be completed during the second or third year.
Comprehensive Examination – To be completed during the third year.

  • Dissertation – To be completed in the fourth or fifth year.