Cognitive Science at Carleton University

A Brief History

Cognitive Science became a self-identified research programme with its own Society and Journal in the late 1970s. By the late 1980s, teaching and research programmes were becoming fairly common in the United States and England. The very well-known UCSD programme began, for example, in 1987. Interest in this interdisciplinary study of the mind and the brain was increasing dramatically.

At about this time, conversations began about creating a cognitive science programme at Carleton. What made us a more plausible candidate to begin this work than most other universities in Canada is that we had members of faculty in each of the four departments usually considered the core of cognitive research who were interested. The four units were Psychology, the linguistics part of SLALS, Philosophy and the artificial intelligence people in SCS. The seven  people were Chris Herdman and Bill Petrusic (psychology), Ann Laubstein and Helmut Zobl (linguistics), Jean-Pierre Corriveau and Franz Oppacher (computer science), and Andrew Brook (philosophy).

In the winter of 1991, this group began its work. It was decided to create an honours undergraduate programme and distinguished lecture series first, then later a graduate programme. The inaugural lecture was given in the autumn of 1992 by Daniel C. Dennett and the first students were admitted in September, 1994. The first graduate of the programme was in 1996, Arshia Asudeh, who won the University Medal for Interfaculty Studies at Convocation. (He returned to the programme as a member of faculty many years later with graduate degrees from Edinburgh and Stanford.)

Planning for a PhD programme began in 1993. These pioneers were soon joined by Jo-Anne LeFevre, John Logan, and Jack Kelly (psychology) and Rob Stainton (philosophy, linguistics, and cognitive science), who was appointed in 1993. He was the first formal appointment to cognitive science and quickly won a Tier II Canada Research Chair.

The PhD programme officially began in 1997. It was supposed to begin in 1996 but was beset by delays by the province. Remarkably, four brave students intending to do PhDs in Cognitive Science came to Carleton in 1996 anyway and spent a year in PhD programmes in Psychology and in Computer Science: Zoltan Jakab, Kamilla Run Johannsdottir, Jerzy Jarmasz, and Ron Boring.  (They had more faith in us than we had in ourselves.) In 2000, Jakab became the first graduate of the PhD programme. He won the Governor General’s Medal at Convocation.

Since then, there have been many noteworthy developments.

  • In 2002 we welcomed the first brand-new faculty appointment to Cognitive Science, Dr. Deepthi Kamawar.  A graduate of the University of Toronto, she was cross-appointed with Psychology.
  • In 2004, the Institute of Cognitive Science was created, providing an administrative structure for the by-then substantial teaching and research programmes. By 2004, there were 11 faculty cross-appointed between Institute and the contributing academic units.
  • In 2006, Dr. Jim Davies was hired.  Dr. Davies graduated from Georgia Tech in Computer Science, but has an MS in Psychology and a BA in Philosophy. His appointment is 100% in Cognitive Science.  His expertise in AI has proven to be crucial to the continued success of the computational and modelling component of the undergraduate and graduate programs.
  • In 2007, the $28m V-SIM (Virtual Simulation and Modelling) Centre opened, providing a home for the experimental and modelling research in cognition at Carleton.
  • In 2007, the faculty component was further enhanced by two cross-appointments with linguistics, Dr. Ash Asudeh and Dr. Ida Toivonen. Graduates of Stanford University, they have greatly increased the breadth of the undergraduate and graduate programs.
  • In 2008, Dr. Robert West’s appointment with Psychology was changed to 50% with Cognitive Science. His modelling work is central to many of the ongoing interdisciplinary collaborations.
  • In 2009 we welcomed another new faculty member, 100% in Cognitive Science, Dr. Raj Singh. This brought the faculty strength to the equivalent of about 6 full time faculty and allowed us to offer all required undergraduate and graduate courses on a reasonable schedule.
  • In 2010 we welcomed the first cohort of students to the Master in Cognitive Science.
  •  In 2013, the B.A. degree in Cognitive Science was replaced with a new designation, the Bachelor of Cognitive Science (B. Cog. Sc).  This change was made to more clearly reflect the diverse and interdisciplinary nature of the undergraduate program.
  • As of September 2013, all incoming students were admitted to the B.Cog.Sc. In that year, our first year enrolment increased five-fold, from approximately 25 to 125 first-year students.
  • This remarkable level of interest in the program was matched in all subsequent years, such that between 2012 and 2016, the undergraduate program has grown from just over 100 students to almost 500.
  • As part of this growth, in 2014 we added Dr. Kasia Muldner to our list of 100% appointed faculty in Cognitive Science. Dr. Muldner is trained in computer science. Her research relies on interdisciplinary methods to extend understanding of the cognitive, meta cognitive, and affective factors that influence learning in a variety of settings. Dr. Mulder was formerly a post-doctoral fellow at Arizona State University.
  • In 2015, Dr. Myrto Mylopoulos joined the Institute. Her appointment is shared 50% with the Department of Philosophy. Dr. Mylopoulos studies philosophy of mind and of cognitive science, with a particular interest in Action Theory. Dr. Mylopoulos completed a post-doctoral year at the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris.
  • Dr. Andrew Brook, founder of the program, is now retired. However, as a Distinguished Research Professor, he continues to teach and supervise graduate students.
  • As of 2016, we had 100 graduates from the program (about 1/3 with the B.Cog.Sc degree), 34 graduates of the Ph.D. program, and 39 graduates of the M.Cog.Sc program. Many of our graduates have received medals at Convocation, attesting to the continuing excellence of our students.