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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

New Cognitive Science major offered after increased demand

<r, the cognitive science program will offer a major. The program, formerly offered as an interdisciplinary concentration, and, by petition, as a special major, follows Carleton’s recent transition from interdisciplinary concentrations to minors.

“We would have done it earlier, but because of the rules for these things, the concentration would have gone away if we changed it to a regular major,” said Jason Decker, professor of cognitive science and Chair of the philosophy department. Carleton’s introduction of academic minors, which began last year, lifted a rule that prohibited concentrations and majors in the same field.

Since 2002, over 50 Carleton students have graduated with degrees in cognitive science. These students petitioned to be a “special major,” which required a proposal and a meeting with the Academic Standing Committee. There was a standard cognitive science template that students used to petition.

William H. Laird Professor of Cognitive Science Kathleen Galotti said that she was initially reluctant when one of her students, a 2002 graduate, asked her for a special major in cognitive science. Although cognitive science had been a concentration since 1989, there were at least four overlapping majors and the concentration was poorly resourced. The student persisted, however, and Galotti decided to allow the petition.

“I was sure that the college wouldn’t let her do it anyway, so in a moment of weakness I thought, ‘let her do it and get turned down,’” she said. “But the college went for it!”

Galotti thought the student in 2002 would be a one-off. But, later that year, another student petitioned for a cognitive science major. In 2005, five students petitioned. Last year, 11 Carleton students graduated as cognitive science majors. By comparison, there were 10 philosophy majors. But the cognitive science major did not formally exist.

Professor Galotti anticipated objections to the creation of the new major, but the Education and Curriculum Committee approved. Faculty were encouraged by data showing sustained interest in the major for a 15 year period. Last year, the faculty voted unanimously for the creation of the major.

“The folks who approve the special major had remarked several times that the major is not looking so special,” said Decker.

It was still important to the cognitive science professors to offer a concentration-like degree, which is now the minor. Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field that, in general, studies cognition. Articles in cognitive science journals tend to have research from artificial intelligence, neuroscience and philosophy researchers bundled together. Consequently, students from several majors, especially students from psychology, computer science and philosophy, tended to concentrate or double major.

Decker said the cognitive science major differs from other majors at Carleton in that “it doesn’t have a disciplinary home.” He continued, “one way it’s different as a major is getting at this range of phenomena from multiple disciplines, not just looking at what psychologists say about reasoning, but looking at what philosophers say about reasoning, what computer scientists have to say about modeling reasoning.”

There are currently five majors between the class of 2018 and 2019. Students graduating in spring 2018 will be the first majors under the new major.

“People don’t have to go through the paperwork and petition [the Academic Standing Committee] to become a cognitive science major anymore,” said cognitive science major Trixie Dao ’18.

At large schools, cognitive science programs are common. It is possible to obtain a Ph.D. in cognitive science, and Carleton students have been accepted into graduate cognitive science programs. Yet, at liberal arts colleges, cognitive science programs are still developing. Macalester started a cognitive science program only last year. According to Decker, Carleton has been ahead of the leading edge among liberal arts colleges with its program.

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