For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

PhD in Psychology: Applied Cognitive & Brain Sciences

Drexel University’s PhD in Applied Cognitive and Brain Sciences (ACBS) is a research-intensive program emphasizing psychological questions of real-world significance, grounded in fundamental issues and methods of basic science. The ACBS program provides personal interaction with mentors and emphasizes rigorous quantitative and methodological training to empower students to pursue research without technical limitations.

The 21st century has seen the beginnings of a new revolution in psychology, one in which novel questions have been posed, research methods devised, and sub-fields created. It is an exciting time for the field.

One of the traditional distinctions in psychology and other disciplines is between basic and applied research. Basic research addresses fundamental questions, the answers to which may or may not yield immediate, practical benefits. Applied research addresses questions of real-world significance, such as how to expand and improve human cognitive and affective capabilities.

This distinction has begun to dissolve in recent years. Basic and applied research need not be viewed as opposite ends of a single spectrum. Rather, many scientific questions seek a fundamental understanding of nature while also contributing to the solution of practical problems.

Learn more about the degree in the course catalog

Psychology Careers

Use-inspired research can be performed in a variety of contexts, and the ACBS program is designed to prepare doctoral students for a broad range of careers, whether in a traditional faculty position in a university, or in the corporate world, government, startup companies, NGOs and more. With ACBS training in behavioral experimentation, advanced data analysis, computer programming and computational modeling, graduates will be well qualified for careers in:

  • Data science
  • Educational testing and assessment
  • Software development, with applications in cognitive modeling, artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Product development and marketing
  • Human computer interaction and human factors engineering
  • Government health and military research institutions, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Air Force
  • Office of Scientific Research, the Army Research Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and so forth.

Through close interaction with mentors, opportunities for program customization, and extensive quantitative training in statistics, computational modeling, and computer methods for research, ACBS graduates excel in the competitive job market. Information about other relevant career possibilities can be found on the American Psychological Association website.

ACBS Program Overview

Drexel University’s PhD in Applied Cognitive and Brain Sciences (ACBS) program is a use-inspired, basic-research program in cognitive psychology and/or cognitive neuroscience. The program offers no clinical training. Graduate students already in Drexel’s ACBS or Clinical Psychology programs may not transfer from one to the other of these programs, except by applying for admission to the other program through normal channels.

PhD Program Curriculum

The ACBS program is research-oriented with minimal course requirements to maximize time for research and program customization. The required courses emphasize quantitative and analytical skills and methods that are directly applicable to students’ research efforts. Required coursework is typically completed during the first two years of the program, including time for elective courses and research credits. In addition to required courses, other relevant courses are offered by the psychology department (e.g., Judgment and Decision Making, Psycholinguistics, Learning and Memory). Other departments, colleges, and schools within the University also offer relevant courses.

Required coursework:

  • PSY 560: Teaching of Psychology (1-credit course);
  • Core ACBS courses: PSY 512 (Cognitive Psychology) and PSY 812 (Cognitive Neuroscience);
  • Core data analysis sequence: PSY 610, 710, & 711 (Data Analysis I-III);
  • Advanced statistical methods (at least one such course is required): PSY 811 (Multilevel Regression), PSY 865 (Data Mining), or another advanced course, with approval;
  • Advanced computational research methods: PSY 611 (Computer Based Research Methods) and PSY 532 (Introduction to Computational Modeling).

Prerequisites for Admittance to the PhD in ACBS Program

Students are expected to have an undergraduate degree in a relevant area, such as psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, computer science, etc., as well as significant experience doing empirical research. Although a major in psychology is not required for admission to the ACBS PhD program, it is highly desirable that an applicant have demonstrated interest in cognitive and brain sciences via coursework or research experience in cognitive psychology, cognitive science or cognitive neuroscience. The person should also have a solid background in college-level mathematics, science and computer skills.

The program acknowledges that some individuals may have followed alternative educational and career paths. Therefore, applicants who feel that they have prerequisite knowledge and experience that would enable the successful completion of the ACBS program, even if they do not meet the above criteria, should document in their application essay their relevant experience and motivation. Interested individuals who may not yet have all the qualifications for the PhD program may instead apply to the MS program.

Program Structure

In addition to required coursework, by the end of the second year, students must complete and successfully defend a master’s thesis and must pass the ACBS doctoral qualifying exam. The qualifying exam entails preparation of a literature review article on a topic mutually determined by the student and his or her mentor. This review article must be approved by the mentor and at least one additional faculty member and should be suitable for publication in a refereed journal (e.g., Psychological Bulletin or Trends in Cognitive Sciences). The student may write the MS thesis and literature review article on two different topics or the student may write a review article on the topic of the MS thesis. Upon completion of these milestones and required coursework, the student becomes a doctoral candidate and thereafter focuses most of his or her time on research.


All doctoral students are typically offered financial support. Historically, this support has included tuition remission, health insurance, and a baseline stipend from the psychology department, and may also include additional stipend funding from other sources (e.g., advisors’ grants, Dean’s or Provost’s Fellowships). Financial support is offered for five years of residency in the program contingent on satisfactory progress toward the degree. A description of the support package accompanies offer of admission to the program.

Teaching Fellow Policy

The College of Arts and Sciences regards training in pedagogy and instruction to be core to the mission of doctoral education. Therefore, all PhD students in the College are required to perform significant teaching duties (defined over multiple terms) during their pursuit of their degree. These activities may include, but are not limited to:

  • Supervising teaching labs
  • Running course recitations
  • Teaching as the primary instructor
  • Running student seminars
  • Training junior researchers in core research methods
  • Running or actively participating in pedagogical seminars or conferences

Alternate fulfillment of this requirement is at the discretion of the program director and the head of the student's home department.

Prospective Student Inquiries

Please send inquiries to or call us at 215.895.1805. We look forward to hearing from you.