Name: Julia Thorn
Year: Class of 2009
Hometown: Paoli, PA
Major: Cognitive Science
LEARNING ABOUT THINKING: COGNITIVE SCIENCE AT HOPKINS
The cognitive science major was honestly the main reason I decided to come to Hopkins in the first place. I had an interest in psychology from high school, but more specifically I enjoyed learning about the brain. After I read the description of the cognitive science major in the course book at Hopkins, I knew it was a perfect fit for me. Plus, only a handful of universities in the country have an entire department dedicated to cognitive science—if other schools offered cognitive science at all, it was usually as a focus area or certificate program. Cognitive science is a new, rapidly rising field that approaches how we think from a variety of different perspectives, including psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and computer science. The interdisciplinary nature of the subject makes it difference from any other science. At Hopkins, the requirements for the major reflect this variety of material from which cognitive science draws.
There are five concentrations within cognitive science: cognitive psychology & neuropsychology, linguistics, computational approaches to cognition, philosophy of mind, and neuroscience. Majors in the program pick two areas to focus in depending on their interests—I’m focusing in cognitive psychology & neuropsychology and neuroscience, because I like learning about the more anatomical aspects of the brain. Cognitive psychology is interesting as well because it involves drawing conclusions about the normal brain by studying those whose brains are damaged. In fact, in one of my favorite courses, Written Language: Normal Processing and Disorders, we were able to administer cognitive testing to an actual stroke patient with a writing disorder and devise a theory about his impairment. I’m required to take three courses each in my two focal areas, and one course each in the additional concentrations. The requirements are incredibly reasonable, and they give students that opportunity to learn about each one of the disciplines that contributes to cognitive science. Being a pre-med student, I’ve taken plenty of “hard” science classes (Organic Chemistry, Physics, etc.), so I enjoy the opportunity to take classes of a different nature. The different focus areas also allow for a great amount of flexibility, given that there are only two specific introductory courses that are required (Language and Mind and Cognitive Neuroscience)—the others are up to you!
Because the department is a smaller one, the class sizes are also small, allowing for an open environment of discussion. Currently I’m taking a class called Classical Papers in Language Learning, which is a review of different language acquisition theories. There are only about 10 students in my class, some of whom are graduate students. I never thought I would ever take a course in those conditions as an undergraduate! A smaller department also makes for more personalized attention. It is easy to get to know all of the professors and the other cognitive science majors. Each professor also heads their own lab on campus, conducting research on different subdivisions such as language acquisition or psycholinguisitcs. These labs are a great opportunity for undergrads to get involved in more hands-on application of cognitive science. As a sophomore I began working in Dr. Rapp’s cognitive neuroscience lab. I worked one-on-one with a graduate student who was studying an individual patient who had a spelling disorder following a stroke. In my second semester of research, I was already devising my own tests to administer to the patient. It was a great experience and I learned more about what kinds of specific research I could pursue in the future. However, as my department adviser once told me, majoring in cognitive science prepares you for anything!
I entered Hopkins as a cognitive science major and I’m happy to be graduating as a cognitive science major! It’s a great department, and anyone interested in psychology or neuroscience should check it out. Even more information is available on the department’s web site.
Click here to access more information about the Cognitive Science Undergraduate Program of Study.
To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective as well as the Cognitive Science questions thread.