The human mind is among the most fascinating products of evolution and has been studied from many different points of view – philosophical, psychological, computational, physical and biological. Cognitive Neuroscience is a relatively new and interdisciplinary approach that combines methodologies from all these fields to answer the ultimate question “how does the brain enable cognition?”

Modern brain imaging techniques offer a myriad of possibilities to study human cerebral architecture and physiology in relation to cognitive functions such as perception, attention, learning, memory, and language, as well as behaviors such as sleep. Cognition is not unique to humans, however, and many aspects are studied in animals using powerful experimental technologies. An insight into the neural underpinnings of cognition is of fundamental interest, but it also has many applications in fighting disease and dysfunction from brain damage, for example through brain-computer interfaces and other innovative medical technology, or in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Anyone who is specifically interested in Cognitive Neuroscience, and/or who wants to pursue a MSc or PhD programme in (Cognitive) Neuroscience after graduating from University College Utrecht should consider this track. There is no other Liberal Arts and Sciences college in the Netherlands that offers a track in this field. It is a no-brainer: this is your chance.

In addition, this track should appeal to students who would like to complement a different discipline for example because they want to develop a brain-centered perspective on their topic of interest.

Courses in Cognitive Neuroscience are a very good match for anyone interested in Psychology and Sociology, as it addresses the neural underpinnings of the human mind and behavior. Cognitive Neuroscience is also getting recent attention in Economics, in an emerging subfield called Neuroeconomics. Prospective economists who are interested in applying neuroimaging techniques to study, e.g. rational and irrational decision making in Homo Economicus should consider this track. Careers in the field of Linguistics will benefit much from a background in Cognitive Neuroscience, as a considerable part of research in the subfield of Psycholinguistics now takes place at the level of neural processes, and this will undoubtedly increase further in the future. Courses in this track are also a very good match for those who are interested in Philosophy, especially Philosophy of the Mind or Aesthetics, or in cognitive aspects of Art.

Within Science, courses in Cognitive Neuroscience are a good combination with Biology, providing a basis for further studies into molecular, neurophysiological and evolutionary aspects of neuroscience. In combination with Chemistry (especially Biochemistry and Medical Chemistry), knowledge of Cognitive Neuroscience forms a foundation for a future in designing medicines for brain disorders, while a combination with Medical Science prepares those who want to specialise in the fields of neuropsychology, (biological) psychiatry, neurology, or neurosurgery.

No courses in other tracks strictly depend on courses in the Cognitive Neuroscience track, but its brain-centered perspective nicely complements many other tracks and courses. Students with main interests in other fields of Science, as well as many students in the Humanities and Social Sciences, appreciate the level 1 course, UCSCICOG11, which provides an introduction to many concepts in the field.

Conversely, if Cognitive Neuroscience itself is a main interest of yours, there are no courses in this track that depend on other courses or tracks, although knowledge of high-school level Biology is recommended. However, it is important to realise that the field of Cognitive Neuroscience is very broad, including examples as diverse as research into neuronal mechanisms of memory formation, clinical work with patients suffering from brain damage, research on brain degenerative diseases, and the development of brain-computer interfaces. The Cognitive Neuroscience track only covers core aspects that are common to these specialisations, but not the expertise or skills that are specific to them. Students who are considering a career in (Cognitive) Neuroscience should therefore note that the track is not sufficient as a basis for all further career paths in the field, and they should prepare for future specialisation by carefully selecting appropriate courses from other tracks.

Students interested in neurobiology should consider courses in the Biology track, e.g. those focusing on animal and human physiology (UCSCIBIO13, UCSCIBIO23, UCSCIBIO33), and/or on molecular biology (UCSCIBIO11, UCSCIBIO21). Interested in the evolution of brain and cognition? Have a look at Evolution, Culture and Human Nature (UCINTEVO31).

Students interested in computational neuroscience, computational cognition, and artificial intelligence are advised to look into Calculus and Linear Algebra (UCMAT11) and Mathematical Modeling: Networks (UCMAT22).

Students interested in the development of brain-computer interfaces, neuroimaging technology or electrophysiology should, in addition to ‘computational courses’, consider Classical Electrodynamics (UCSCIPHY21).

Students with a focus on psychology and human behavior should take courses offered in the Psychology track, e.g. Introduction to Psychology (UCSSCPSY11), Clinical Psychology (UCSSCPSY23), Developmental Psychology (UCSSCPSY22), Health Psychology (UCSSCPSY37), or Crime and Context: the Origins of Crime and Violence (UCSSCPSY34).

Students interested in medical research or clinical work should look at courses in Medical Science, e.g. Mechanisms of Diseases (UCSCIMED21) and Pharmacology (UCSCIMED32).

Students interested in questions of the mind should consider courses in Philosophy, e.g. Introduction to Philosophy (UCHUMPHI11) or Philosophical Views on Humans and Gods (UCHUMPHI25).

Students interested in neuroscience of language should take courses in Linguistics, e.g. Introduction to Linguistics: Language and Mind (UCHUMLIN11), Language and Acquisition: Modern Linguistics (UCHUMLIN31), or Psycholinguistics (UCHUMLIN22).

In general, you will benefit a lot from expertise in data analysis and statistics, and should consider specific courses to acquire it, e.g. Research in Practice: Methods and Statistics for the Social Scientist (UCACCMET12), Applied Multivariate Statistics (UCACCMET23), Analysis of Time Series Data (UCACCMET2C), or Computational Physics (UCSCIMATL2).

NB: The above are just suggestions. Other combinations can work depending on specific interests.

The track is relatively small with only four full courses and two lab courses. There is one level 1 course (UCSCICOG11), and one level 2 course (UCSCICOG12). At level 3 you can choose between two courses, UCSCICOG31 in SEM2, and UCSCICOG32 in SEM1, or take both.

The track Cognitive Neuroscience, supplemented with appropriate other courses or tracks at University College Utrecht (see above for good combinations), provides an ideal basis for a Master's programme in (cognitive) neuroscience. This is a popular field and many universities offer such programmes. In the Netherlands:

  • Master Neuroscience and Cognition, Universiteit Utrecht University
  • Master Neuroscience and Cognition, Radboud Universiteit
  • Master Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Universiteit van Amsterdam
  • Master Biomedical Sciences: Neurobiology, Universiteit van Amsterdam
  • Master Neurosciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Master Behavioral and Cognitive Neurosciences, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
  • Master Cognitive And Clinical Neuroscience, Maastricht University
  • Cognitive Neuroscience (research), Universiteit Leiden
  • Master Neuroscience, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Of course, there are also many good Master's programmes in this field in the rest of the world. For Europe, see the website of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies.

In addition, this track may also help students preparing for and getting into other Master's programmes, such as Utrecht University's programmes on Artificial Intelligence, Linguistics, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Philosophy, Medical Imaging, and Neuropsychology.

If you want to apply for a Master's programme on Cognitive Neuroscience, it would be a good idea to do your research thesis in this field (UCSCIRES32). Research can be carried out at many neuroscience-oriented university research groups or departments in academic hospitals, in the Netherlands or abroad, depending on your interests. Topics can be very diverse. In 2018 student theses included topics as diverse as brain waves during sleep in relation to dreaming, HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder, brain network development in children of schizophrenia patients, brain computer interfacing, effects of hormones on the amygdala (brain region involved in emotion), and multi-sensory integration. To do a thesis in Cognitive Neuroscience, Biostatistics (UCACCSTA21) is required (can be waived if you did UCACCMET22 or UCACCMET23), as well as at least one of the level 3 courses and 7.5 ECTS credits of science laboratory courses.

UCSCICOG11: Cognitive Neuroscience I
This is a broad introduction into the field. It does not require a specific background in biology, but it puts considerable weight on anatomy and physiology of the brain and on molecular processes underlying the function of the nervous system. Knowledge of high-school level biology is therefore recommended.

UCSICOG21: Cognitive Neuroscience II
This course examines more closely the underlying neuroscience of two aspects of mental function: perception and higher cognition. To enter this course, UCSCICOG11 must be completed.

UCSCICOG31: Advanced Cognitive Neuroscience: Spatial Cognition
This course focuses in particular on the role of vision in building spatial representations, the build-up of representation of space on the basis of verbal descriptions, and the maintenance of spatial relations between objects in spatial memory. To enter this course, UCSICOG21 must be completed.

UCSCICOG32: Advanced Cognitive Neuroscience: Imaging Human Brain Functions
This course focuses in particular on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Neuroimaging is discussed in a broad range of cognitive domains, such as perception, memory and consciousness. To enter this course, UCSICOG21 must be completed.

Full courses are complemented by two lab modules: Visual Psychophysics (UCSCICOGL1), and Functional-MRI Data Analysis (UCSCICOGL4). UCSCICOGL1 requires either UCSCICOG11, or UCSCOBIO13, or UCSSCPSY11.  UCSCICOGL4 requires either UCSCICOG11, or both UCSSCPSY11 and UCSCOBIO13.

Contact person

Dr. Gabriël Beckers is the Cognitive Neuroscience fellow at University College Utrecht. Office: Newton-Gg (University College Utrecht) and Nieuw Gildenstein, Room 2.47,  Yalelaan 2, 3584 CM Utrecht (Utrecht University).