“COGS 402 – Research in Cognitive Systems” is one of the weirdest courses I took in university. Instead of learning from lectures, you learn from apprenticeship. In other words, it’s a glimpse of real life disguised as a course.
Here’s the official description of what COGS 402 is: Students in this course must pursue a supervised, collaborative research project in a laboratory or research environment relevant to your interests. Students are expected to independently seek out a laboratory in which to volunteer, and contribute to the ongoing research or to instigate a project that integrates with the research goals of the supervisor/laboratory.
From the outline, you’ll see that you get assessed on:
After doing COGS 402 myself and supervising students on their COGS 402’s, I might be able to give a bit more guidance…
Officially, the only prerequisite is COGS 300. COGS 401 is recommended because it prepares you to form research ideas and create projects. I also recommend doing COGS 303 before you do your 402 because 303 prepares you to evaluate and critique your own methodology as well as established methodologies.
1. Don't limit yourself when selecting projects
This is one of the things you don’t want to wait till the last minute. At least start thinking about it in your 3rd year. I was looking for potential places I might want to do my 402 in back in 3rd year, and joined two labs when I entered 4th year (I ended up doing my 402 in one of them).
Some people did their 402 project portion (the actual working-for-12-weeks part) a term or two before they officially took 402. (I mention this because COGS 402 class sizes are growing rapidly and sometimes not everyone fits in a section).
What kind of place would you like to volunteer in? Explore your own interests – what would you want to fully nerd out on for three (or more) months? Figure out what kind of people who you like to work with. Different labs have very different personalities, management styles, and working environments. For example, some labs have established projects, and might be prescriptive in the way they assign you tasks (run and analyze conditions X Y Z). Other labs might have projects that are just starting up and you might get involved in creating a larger-scale plan. And finally, there are some labs that can help make your own project idea become a reality (I went down that path). Established projects are tempting to do because you don’t have to do the work of coming up with a project from scratch – but you might find the final presentation & deliverable more difficult. This will be addressed in my fourth point. In any case, make sure you work in an environment you feel comfortable in because you’re staying there for a while!
Lastly, note that the research doesn’t have to be at UBC (although it can be riskier - if your supervisor has no idea how a 402 runs, there will be a higher likelihood of your project not being scoped properly). I know some people who did projects with industry and that worked out well. The main point of 402 is to get experience doing research on something (the domain isn’t as critical as the activity itself).
2. Document your journey so you can refer to it later
Try to document everything that’s relevant, which may include (and are definitely not limited to):
3. During your stay... clarify, clarify, clarify
Don’t hesitate to ask questions – especially methodology and analysis-related questions. Even if this endeavor is for a course and even if you’re volunteering, you’re still involved in research, and it is your duty as a researcher to make sure that things are done right. You are responsible for the work you put into the world.
If you suspect that you might’ve found a bug in the code or errors in the analysis (e.g. a good friend of mine was working as a lab technician at a microbiology lab and stomped a bunch of Excel bugs), clarify with your supervisor or research assistant.
4. Evaluate your own work in the final deliverable
In addition to:
*If your project doesn’t reach a result or closure at the end (mine didn’t!), don’t worry about it because it’s how your journey unfolds that’s important.
Now after all this rambling, here’s a disclaimer – I took 402 back in the Spring of 2011, so some of the things I’m saying might be obsolete. Get a second opinion from someone who took it more recently!
I'm Candice and I doodle with the intensity of the doomguy.