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Ph.D. Program in Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience


The primary purpose of this program is to prepare students for careers in academic or research settings. This is a full-time doctoral program that takes 4-5 years to complete (2-3 years if the student enters with a master's degree). It is our goal to support all students with research or teaching assistantships that include a full tuition waiver.

Graduate training in Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience at North Dakota State University is intended to meet five objectives:

  1. Gain intensive training and experience in conducting research as part of an apprenticeship system with faculty members in the program.
  2. Attain foundational and in-depth knowledge in visual and cognitive neuroscience by completing core courses in these areas.
  3. Become skilled in quantitative and research methods through coursework and hands-on analyses and programming.
  4. Broaden knowledge of experimental psychology through breadth of coursework.
  5. Gain valuable knowledge and experience teaching at the college level through pedagogical coursework and mentored teaching experiences.

Research Apprenticeship

We select students for our program who have the interest and desire to be engaged in intensive, cutting-edge research with faculty members in our department. Consequently, we expect that students will become involved in research with a faculty mentor during their first month in the program, and to continue this involvement throughout the time they are in the program. Students in the program may have opportunities to work on projects or use facilities associated with the NIH-funded COBRE Center for Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience. Students register for research credits (793) each term. In addition, students design and conduct independent thesis research projects. The goal is for students to gain the skills to become successful and independent researchers.

Foundational and Core Courses in Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience

Students entering the program have differing backgrounds and training. Consequently, our students select courses based on advice and consultation with their major advisor and academic program committee. We want students to have a strong foundation in Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience, so we recommend students take coursework in Perception (660), Cognition (661, 664), or Neuroscience (686) if they lack a strong foundation in these areas. In addition, we expect that students will take several higher-level didactic courses (Visual Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, Advanced Topics in Visual Perception, Fundamental Processes in Cognition, Neuroscience Research Methods, Advanced Topics in Attention) based on their particular interests. We encourage students to take courses outside the department that are relevant to their research interests.

Quantitative and Research Methods Training

Students are expected to take core courses in research methods and quantitative analysis (640 - Experimental Methods, 762 - Advanced Research Methods and Analysis) and may take other statistical courses as part of the general doctoral breadth requirements (e.g., Advanced Regression, Multivariate Methods, Meta-Analysis). In addition, much of students' exposure to quantitative and research methods will result from their research activities and individual training.

Breadth in Experimental Psychology

Students gain breadth of knowledge in experimental psychology by taking at least one course outside their primary topic area (e.g., Emotions - Psyc 782, Neuropharmacology - Psci 746, Applied Statistics - Stat 725). In addition, each term the student participates in the instruction and activities associated with the Psychology Department Colloquium Series (790).

Teaching of Psychology

Students in the program take a graduate level course in teaching strategies (e.g., Communication 790, Education 705), which exposes them to different teaching methods and philosophies of education. Subsequently, students teach a full semester undergraduate course in psychology (e.g., Research Methods, Introduction to Neuroscience, Thinking and Making Decisions). The teaching assignment is a mentored experience. Students select a faculty member to serve as a mentor who has experience with the course to be taught. The faculty member will help with early course decisions (e.g., textbook selection; syllabus advice). In addition, the student and mentor routinely touch base during the semester. Fulfilling this requirement will prepare students for teaching in a college/university setting.

Additional Program Requirements

Students are accepted into the doctoral program with a bachelor's degree or a master's degree. Students entering with a B.A. or B.S. complete the requirements for the master's degree before becoming eligible for doctoral candidacy. Students work with an academic advisor who typically also serves as their research supervisor.

Whether working on the master's degree or the doctoral degree requirements, all students prepare a Plan of Study. This plan of study describes the coursework and credits that the student will take and is constructed in consultation with the student's major advisor and program committee members. In addition to the required coursework and research credits, master's students complete a research-based thesis project. Doctoral students complete a major area paper (a critical literature review of theory and research in a chosen area) as well as a research-based dissertation. Details regarding these requirements are provided in the Graduate Student Policies and Procedures Manual.

Applying to the Program

Applications are made online. You can find instructions and more information by visiting the Graduate School. You will need to include transcripts, GRE scores, and three letters of recommendation. Our application deadline is January 15. Admission decisions will be made by mid March.

When making admissions decisions, we consider grades (minimum of 3.0), GRE scores, research experience, letters of recommendation (preferably from faculty who can comment on your research skills and academic potential), and the personal statement. We look favorably on coursework in statistics, research methods, perception, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience. The personal statement should describe your career goals and interests, how your past experiences have prepared you for graduate school, and how you think our doctoral program will help you achieve your goals. Also name the faculty with whom you are interested in working. To learn about our faculty, visit the website links provided below.

Students with either a bachelor's degree or a master's degree can apply to the program. For students with a master's degree, credit towards the doctorate will depend on whether the degree is in a relevant area and how well previous course work matches with our requirements.

Requirements and Checklists for Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience Program

Checklist of requirements for the M.S. degree (PDF)

Checklist of requirements for the Ph.D. (PDF)

Primary Visual and Cognitive Neuroscience Faculty

FacultyResearch interest(s)
Ben BalasHigh-level vision, face recognition, visual development, ERPs
Erin ConwellEarly childhood development
Jeffrey JohnsonBehavior, attention, working memory
Linda LangleyCognitive aging, attention, visual search, cognitive training
Mark NawrotVisual neuroscience, eye movements, depth perception, visual disorders
Mark McCourtBrightness/lightness perception, spatial attention, multisensory integration
Laura ThomasLinks between action and cognition, embodied cognition, attention, eye movements


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Department of Psychology
North Dakota State University
Phone: +1 (701) 231-8622
Campus address: Minard Hall 232 
Mailing address: NDSU Dept. 2765 / PO Box 6050 / Fargo, ND 58108-6050

Department Chair: Mark Nawrot, Ph.D.
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Last Updated: Monday, April 23, 2018 4:51:31 PM
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