Prospective Students

Our lab is looking to accept up to 2 new graduate students for the incoming class of 2017.

How to Determine Whether This a Place for You

The students in our lab are very successful because they are intelligent, passionate about research, and hard-working. As a result, they win academic awards, publish regularly in prestigious journals, graduate on schedule, and do well on the job market. Most importantly, they experience firsthand the thrill of doing good science.

We live in such exciting times! The most interesting thing in the Universe — the human brain — is beginning to reveal its secrets. We know a great deal about the brain and a great deal about behavior. The time has come to forge a unified understanding about how the former gives rise to the latter. Cognitive science today is at a threshold analogous to where biology was shortly after the discovery of the DNA 50 years ago. The next 50 years will witness similar breakthroughs in cognitive neuroscience. Alex was introduced to this field many years ago (Thank you, Boicho!) and never looked back. Who knows, you might find it just as exciting. There is plenty of unsolved problems for all of us.

If you want to take part in this adventure and you are prepared to work hard to get to the cutting edge, then you will thrive in our lab. Welcome!!   However, if you are thinking of grad school primarily for pragmatic reasons — to obtain a US visa, for instance, or to postpone the stress of finding a real job — then it is to your best interest to apply elsewhere. (These are perfectly good goals, mind you, and being an international student will not be held against you. It’s just that our lab is not the best place for accomplishing these goals unless you are genuinely interested in cognitive science.)

Research Topics

According to tradition, the entrance to Plato’s Academy was inscribed with the phrase: “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here.”  We take this counsel very seriously. The more mathematics, computer science, neuroscience, and/or philosophy you know, the better you will fit with us. You do not need an undergraduate degree in psychology to excel as a graduate student in cognitive psychology. In fact, a degree in computer science/engineering, mathematics, physics, or a related “hard” field is a much stronger foundation as far as we are concerned. For example, Alex’s undergraduate degree was in computer science. You will learn (and teach!) a lot of psychology when you join our program.

In our lab, you will have an opportunity to develop state-of-the art computational models and perform state-of-the art experiments. The lab research page lists some ongoing projects in some detail. Briefly, some relevant keywords are:

  • analogy making (e.g., Raven’s Progressive Matrices Test)
  • neural-network models of relational reasoning
  • neural-network models of perceptual learning and categorization
  • perceptual learning, particularly its specificity and transfer
  • high-level vision (e.g., configural properties and relations)
  • spatial vision (e.g., orientation discrimination)
  • cognitive architectures: Leabra, ACT-R, Nengo
  • visual object recognition: models and philosophical implications
  • visual working memory
  • eye tracking and pupillometry
  • machine learning

If you are interested in one or more of these topics, you will find the intellectual atmosphere in our lab very congenial. So, don’t be shy and check us out!

How to Apply

As stated earlier, we are looking to accept up to 2 new graduate students for the incoming class of 2016. To apply, make sure to designate “cognitive” as your primary area of interest on the departmental application form and to mention Dr. Petrov’s name prominently in your statement. The application deadline is November 30. (Your application packet does not have to be complete by that date. Recommendation letters, official GRE scores, and so forth can arrive later. The application form itself, however, must be submitted by Nov 30, especially for international students.)

Your GRE scores are important for acceptance to our program (not just our lab but the Psychology Department as a whole). Ideally, you want to get GRE scores that will make you eligible for the so-called University Fellowship (UF). If you cover the eligibility criteria below, you are 99% likely to be accepted to our program. (Though it would still be uncertain whether you will get the actual UF itself because the competitiveness of the applicant pool varies from year to year.) The criteria are:

  • Undergraduate GPA of 3.6 or greater
  • At least 4.0 on the Analytical Writing component of the GRE
  • A 75th percentile average of the GRE Verbal and Quantitative components. That is (V+Q)/2>75%, where V and Q are the corresponding percentile ranks reported by the ETS

This is a high bar. If your credentials are that strong, congratulations!  You are in very good shape! If you have a near-miss on some of the GRE components, consider retaking the GRE test. It is a good investment of your time because if you improve your score and get the UF, you will spend less time as a teaching assistant later. When Alex was preparing for the GRE many years ago, Princeton Review was a wonderful resource. Check it out and remember that practice makes perfect. The good news is that the GRE probably is the last standardized test you are ever going to take.

Even if you don’t quite reach one of the high criteria above, don’t be discouraged. There are a few other fellowships in our department with slightly lower eligibility criteria. Women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply. If you don’t reach two or more of the criteria, things are more complicated because the competition is steep. But the Admissions Committee often looks beyond GPAs and GRE scores and considers each applicant on his/her merit. So don’t be discouraged and apply anyway. The one certainty of the admission process is that you will never get accepted unless you apply.

You are most welcome to email Alex or any other lab member with questions. We look forward to hearing from you.

Good luck with your application!!