Graduate program in Cognitive science

Program type : Initial Training
Degree : Master
Discipline(s) : Cognitive science
Place : Paris
Domains : Humanities & social sciences, Fundamental Sciences
Teaching language : English
Internship required
International course
Prerequisites : Bachelor

The Department of Cognitive Studies (DEC) at Ecole normale supérieure offers a fully funded 5-year PhD program in cognitive science.

Unlike most PhD programs in Europe, and at the image of PhD programs in North-America, admission in our program does not require an MA-level degree. Students in our PhD program take three years of courses drawing from our MA program.  Courses bring together researchers from Ecole Normale Supérieure, Université Paris Descartes, and Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. Students will take introductory courses, advanced seminars, scientific and professional skills courses. Spreading out the coursework over three years instead of two allows students to conduct original research from the moment they begin our program.

Financial information

The PhD program is funded by French government grant Frontiers in Cognition, which allows us to support all PhD students for the five years of the program, regardless of citizenship. Funding packages provide a monthly stipend, tuition remission, access to subsidized ENS housing, and travel and research funds. Details on the exact funding packages will be revealed to admitted students upon acceptance, by the end of February.

Each student’s individual curriculum will be determined by the director of graduate studies and the student’s adviser, in consultation with the student. Students will have to finish their coursework by the end of their third year, with a progressive reduction of the course load throughout the three years.

Typically, the five years will follow the structure below:

Year 1:
Semester 1: 3 courses / Semester 2    3 courses + lab rotations
Year 2 :   
Semester 3: 3 courses + lab rotations / Semester 4: 3 courses + lab rotations
Year 3:
Semester 5: 3 courses + lab rotations / Semester 6: 3 courses + lab rotations
Years 4, 5
- Research, dissertation and paper writing,
- preparation of the postgraduate career.


The program builds on the courses in our MA program (Courses). The offering  includes, introductory core courses in the different subfields of cognitive sciences, advanced courses and research seminars.
In addition to the courses listed above, students’ training includes the following:  

  • Lab rotations
  • Scientific skills (e.g. statistics, experimental methods, programming)
  • Professional skills (e.g. Abstract writing, Reviewing, Job market training)

Program Requirements

  • PhD students must complete their coursework in the first three years.
  • During their first three years they must complete at least three lab rotations in different teams in the department, from at least two different labs.
  • Before semester 5 (Fall of year 3) students will have completed two Qualifying Papers (QPs) on different topics, where typically one will be of a theoretical nature. The exact schedule will be determined at the end of the first year. Qualifying Papers will typically come out of work conducted in lab rotations, but may also stem from a term paper or other course requirement. Qualifying Papers are evaluated by a committee determined in advance by the student and adviser, in consultation with the director of graduate studies. They are graded as “Pass,” “Qualified Pass,” and “Fail.”
  • A student must have had an unqualified Pass in at least one QP by the end of the third year to continue onto the dissertation phase of their PhD.
  • Students who fail program requirements will be put on academic probation and if they will fail to show significant improvement they may be asked to leave the program.
  • Students will act as teaching assistants for courses in our MA program on at least two occasions. TAs will receive a supplementary salary in addition to their stipend during semesters in which they teach.

To be admitted to the PhD program, applicants must satisfy the requirements for admission to the Graduate School and be formally accepted by the admissions committee of the graduate school as a candidate for the PhD program. Admission is highly competitive, we expect to make offers to four applicants. Our department is committed to the principle of equal opportunity in education and employment.

Application procedure

To apply for our PhD program an applicant must have earned a bachelor’s degree or equivalent from a college, university, or technical school of acceptable standing. Applicants do not need an MA to apply. Students in their final year of undergraduate study may be admitted on the condition that their bachelor’s degree is awarded before they enroll in our graduate program in September.

Applicants will select an admission track at the moment of application, between the three options below. The admission tracks group areas of specialization in the program, you are not expected to be educated in both subfield in your chosen admission track.

  • Philosophy and linguistics
  • Psychology and social science
  • Neuroscience and modeling

We are interested in recruiting students with a well-rounded education and the ability to communicate usefully about science with scholars from multiple fields within cognitive science. Your application should concentrate on your strengths, which will naturally involve your field of specialization, but your research statement and writing sample must be understandable to scholars in the other field of specialization within your admission track. Ideally, your application will also evidence a genuine interest in bridging the gap with subfields in the other admission tracks.

Applications must be submitted via the online application portal, no materials submitted by email will be considered.
Please follow this link to apply online 

The application file involves personal contact information, demographic information, and prior education. Assessment of your application will be centered in the following attachments which you must provide at the moment of application:

  • Statement of purpose
  • Academic transcripts from each college/university attended
  • Writing sample
  • Research statement
  • Proof of English proficiency
  • Academic CV
  • Copy of your passport / EU identification card
  • Contacts of at least two references, three if you prefer, who will be contacted by the School to provide letters of recommendation for you

You can submit scanned copies of transcripts for the application, but these will be considered unofficial. Upon acceptance into the program, we will require that you send official versions by mail.

Deadlines and selection process

Students are only admitted into the program for the Fall semester. The application deadline is December 10, 2020 for the academic year starting in September 2020. Decisions are communicated to applicants by the end of February. 

Date Milestone
Oct 7, 2019 Applications openings
Dec 10, 2019 Deadline for applications

Dec 2019

Admitted and wait-listed applicants are contacted
Feb 2020 Admissions results

Application material

More information

2020 applications openings:
Oct 7, 2019


Salvador Mascarenhas

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