Graduate programs usually train students in the theories, findings, methods and modes of argumentation of a single traditional discipline. A researcher’s orientation to a particular problem can often be predicted if one knows in which department the researcher was trained. How a problem is approached, which questions are of interest, what method of analysis is applied and the context in which a problem is placed differ across disciplines.
Cognitive Science, the study of cognitive systems, is a topic of study that cuts across a variety of traditional disciplines. At the University of Massachusetts, the Departments of Communication Disorders, Computer Science, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Psychology have been the most visible players in cognitive science. They have shared Sloan Foundation funding in cognitive science, their faculty share several Federal research and training grants, they host the ongoing Five College Faculty Seminar in Cognitive Science, and their graduate students frequently cross departmental boundaries to take courses and do research. Other schools in the Five Colleges also have a rich variety of offerings in cognitive science, and their faculty often participate in the training of UMass graduate students.
A number of other universities (see http://www.cs.indiana.edu/~rudesai/cogsci-prog.html) have chosen to establish graduate programs or departments of cognitive science in an attempt to encourage cross-disciplinary training. The departments at the University of Massachusetts that are most involved in cognitive science have chosen not to relinquish their degree-granting autonomy in favor of establishing a new graduate degree in cognitive science. Nonetheless, these departments recognize that pioneering work in cognitive science depends on identifying new questions and approaching them in novel ways. While this can be done within the bounds of a traditional discipline, contact with related disciplines may serve as a catalyst. It may equip a researcher with the skills needed to take on deeper issues than would otherwise be possible and to approach questions that are not highlighted within a traditional discipline, and contact with faculty and students in a department other than one’s own often has unforseen benefits to all involved.
The mission of the Cognitive Science Certificate Program is to promote such contact in a self-designed flexible but coherent program which draws on the unique strength of the resources at the University of Massachusetts and the individual interests and talents of particular students. The Certificate Program encourages graduate students to study outside the bounds of their home department and recognize the achievements of those who do so.