Science X Information Processing: UBC Cognitive Systems

In the OYMS series, Science x Undergrads, we are exploring a variety of Canadian undergraduate science programs that are interdisciplinary and, therefore, useful in guiding students who want to avoid being restricted to exclusively science-degree-seeking careers after graduation and who would like to use their four years in undergrad to increase their skills and open up more doors to potential employment opportunities.

While other integrative undergraduate science programs often draw upon other areas of study including technology, engineering, arts, research, and criminology, we seldom hear about those that involve multidisciplinary studies tackling modern questions surrounding the mechanics of the mind, the requirements of developing artificial intelligence, how humans receive and interpret data, etc. Well, in this Science x Undergrads series post, we will look into the University of British Columbia’s Cognitive Systems Program covering its unification of the sciences and information processing, the program’s admissions requirements, its courses and structure, and, of course, the diverse career options students have access to after graduating.


About UBC’S Cognitive Systems Program:

Before diving into UBC’s Cognitive Systems (COGS) program, it is important to understand what cognitive systems are, and areas we see them currently emerging in the world. According to Georgia Tech Computer Science Professor, Ashok Goel, Cognitive Systems are both natural and artificial systems that exhibit human-like intelligence through processes like learning, reasoning, and memory. Some examples of these systems include robotic prostheses and orthotics, software and robotic assistants, autonomous cars, and the intricate network of neurons in the brain that work together to give rise to cognitive processes. The purpose of exploring how intelligent systems perceive, act upon, and learn about their world is that it teaches us more about systems that enable people to think, of the systems that can help and hinder our thinking, and of the artificial systems in which something like cognition is accomplished. Further, it allows us to keep pace with the explosion of data and knowledge that is being created. Sitting at the intersection of computer science, linguistics, philosophy and psychology, people with backgrounds in cognitive systems may pursue careers involving the designing of intelligent computer systems such as medical diagnosis systems, they may become psychiatrists or researchers in cognitive neuroscience, or they may enter the field of research to learn about how humans receive and interpret information as well as communicate with language.

As one of the only Cognitive Systems programs in the country, the University of British Columbia’s COGS program remains one of the most renowned in the study of cognition and intelligent systems. Delivered across UBC’s lauded Science and Arts faculties, the Cognitive Systems program involves 4 different departments: Philosophy, Psychology, Computer Science, and Linguistics, and is praised for its multidisciplinary approach to learning. The program provides its students with a foundation in the principles and techniques used by intelligent systems by emphasizes the study of existing systems (e.g., perception; linguistics), the design of new ones (e.g., machine vision; machine intelligence), and the design of interfaces between different forms of intelligent agents (e.g., human-computer interfaces)

Click here to watch a UBC presentation of Dr. William Wong — Professor of Human-Computer Interaction and Head, Interaction Design Centre, at Middlesex University’s School of Science and Technology, London, UK — discussing how principles from Cognitive Systems Engineering, CSE, might be used to design Visual Analytics systems to support intelligence analysts


Admissions Requirements:

After hearing so much about what a great program this is, it’s time to get down to business and discuss the UBC Cognitive Systems program’s admissions process. COGS is known not only for being interdisciplinary, challenging, and putting an emphasis on research, but also for its competitive admissions process. With only 120 spots available, a variety of sought-after stream options, and a large number of students applying each year, the program has a specialized way of enrolling students.

Similar to Gateway Programs such as U of T Life Sciences in which students apply for a general major in their first year, and then specialize their degree upon its completion, admission in to the Cognitive Systems program is offered to students after their first year, particularly to those pursuing the following degree programs: B.A. (Bachelor of Arts), and B.Sc. (Bachelor of Science). Interestingly, this requirement is based on the faculty-specific (Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Science) streams available within the COGS program such as Computational Intelligence and Design, Cognition and Brain, Mind; Language; and Communication, etc. Keep reading to learn more about these streams!

If you’re a high school student thinking about applying to COGS, it’s crucial that you meet the admission requirements of a program which either leads to a B.Sc. or B.A. so that, when second year comes around, you have the opportunity to major in Cognitive Systems. For Ontario Grade 12 students, the general admission requirements are that you must have earned your OSSD with a minimum average of 70% in English, and that you must have completed at least five other Grade 12 U/M courses in addition to ENG4U to total six. See the prerequisites for programs of each degree below****

For B.Sc. Degree

  • English U (ENG4U)
  • Biology U (SBI4U), Chemistry U (SCH4U), or Physics U (SPH4U)
  • Advanced Functions U (MHF4U)
  • Additional U or M credit(s) to total six courses
  • For this degree, taking Grade 11 U-Level Chemistry and Physics is also required

For B.A. Degree

  • English U (ENG4U)

After completing your first year in a program offered by UBC’s Faculty of Science or Faculty of Arts, you have the option of declaring a Cognitive Systems major, specifically taking a B.Sc. in COGS or a B.A. in COGS which depends on the program initially pursued and the stream in which you hope to earn your degree. UBC Cognitive Systems offers five streams — 3 offered by the Faculty of Arts and 2 offered by the Faculty of Science:

In order to be certified as Cognitive Systems major, students apply directly to these streams based on their interests and goals. However, it is important to consider that these, too, have their own admissions criteria in order to facilitate the process of awarding the 120 spots available in the entire Cognitive Systems program (60 spots in streams offered by the Faculty of Arts, and 60 spots in streams offered by the Faculty of Sciences).

Although the COGS program does not require a minimum GPA from those applying after their first year, students wishing to declare a Cognitive Systems major will be admitted to the program only until the 120 places are filled, with overall GPA being used to determine the order of priority. However, due to the competitive nature of this program’s admissions process, some applicants who satisfy the minimum prerequisites may not be admitted. In addition to the GPA requirements of the program, each stream possesses its own course prerequisites that must be fulfilled before applying. To learn more about each stream and their prerequisites, click the links to them in the list above! Further, to gain a better understanding of the COGS program admissions process, visit this link!

Source: www.cognitive-systems-major-overview

Coursework, Opportunities, and Post-Graduate Pathways:


What truly makes Cognitive Systems the highly sought-after program it is, however, is the interdisciplinary content students are exposed to during their 3 years as an official COGS major, along with the program-specific courses they are required to take. Because the program is delivered through 5 different streams the courses individuals in each stream take are different from one another. For example, second-year students pursuing the B.Sc. Computational Intelligence and Design stream are required to take Computer Science courses whereas those in the B.Sc. Cognition and Brain stream are required to take Psychology. However, it is the courses specific to the Cognitive Systems program that all students, regardless of their chosen stream, are required to take over their 3 years that highlights the individuality of the COGS program and how it sets itself apart from others similar to it. In total, there are five courses, which span out over three years, that COGS majors are required to take in order to earn their degree: Introduction to Cognitive Systems (COGS 200), Understanding and Designing Cognitive Systems (COGS 300), Research Methods in Cognitive Systems (COGS 303), Seminar in Cognitive Systems (COGS 401), Research in Cognitive Systems (COGS 402). Click here to learn more about each course!

Further, this program employs a module-system when it comes to its students choosing courses outside of the requisites ones listed. Modules are sets of recommended courses that are directly relevant to the Cognitive Systems program and are recommended to be taken in place of electives for each year of study! Examples of module courses that COGS program have the opportunity to pursue include Principles of Neurobiology, Introduction to Software Engineering, Computer Graphics, Internet Computing, Biomedical Ethics, Behavioural Neuroendocrinology, Biopsychology, Philosophy of Mind, Mathematical Game Theory, Advanced Methods for Human Computer Interaction, and much more. Click here to see the full list of module courses offered for UBC COGS students! Also, to see how module courses play into each year of a student’s degree in the Cognitive Systems program, click here (be sure to look at each stream’s year-by-year plan).

Co-Op Opportunities:

Like many of its kind, the skills and knowledge that are developed in the Cognitive Systems program are greatly valuable in the workplace, which is why pursuing one of the university’s co-op work programs is a great opportunity for students to gain experience and training in putting these skills to work! There are four kinds of co-op programs available for COGS students, with some being more specialized than others. Generally, COGS students working towards a B.A. are able to apply for Arts Co-Ops and COGS students working towards a B.Sc. are able to apply for Science Co-Ops. However, COGS B.Sc. students who have specialized in the Computational Intelligence and Design stream can apply through the Computer Science Co-op Program, and COGS B.Sc. students who have specialized in the Cognition and Brain stream can apply in their third year through the Life Sciences Biopsychology Co-op Program. To learn more about COGS Co-Op opportunities, click here!

Post-Graduate Pathways:

Since this entire series is dedicated to explaining a program that is a great option for students interested in having multiple fields open for them to pursue, it’s time to dive into what you can do with your degree from UBC’s COGS program.

To begin, it’s important to understand that, due to their highly-specialized nature based on each student’s combination of skills and interests, each COGS graduate will have a different answer as to how they were able to apply their degree to a career. With so many options of module courses and program streams, it’s really up to the student to take ownership of their learning and mold it into what they hope to pursue!

For this reason, many students who have graduated with a degree from UBC’s Cognitive Systems program have gone on to pursue further education. Popular Masters degrees include Artificial Intelligence, Computer Science, Digital Media, and Human-Computer Interaction, while most students that pursued doctorates did so in the areas of psychology/neuroscience. Additionally, some COGS students even went on to pursue medical school and law school! Other career options the B.Sc or B.A. from COGS well-prepares its graduates for are those in software engineering, marketing, data science, web development, business intelligence/development, etc.

Therefore, if you’re a student thinking about pursuing a program that will leave you with plenty of career options, COGs represents an excellent pathway for you! For more information about the diverse pathways COGS leads its graduates to, check out this careers page to learn more about how students have applied their cognitive systems degree into a career!

We hope that this overview of the University of British Columbia’s Cognitive Systems Program has given you the insight you need to decide whether it would be a good fit for you and begin your journey through its application process. Stay tuned for next week’s Science X Undergrads Series post where we will dive into another amazing program bound to set you on the path to an interdisciplinary career of your choice!

About the Writer: Hassan Hassan is an incoming Grade 12 student from Brampton, ON passionate about writing and STEM. With a strong commitment to helping others, he plans to pursue a career in medicine and enjoys participating in activities related to the field. An interesting fact about him is that he aims to be fluent in French by the time he graduates high school. In his free time, you can expect to find him reading, volunteering, or binge-watching The Office!



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