MEi:CogSci: curricular architecture

Middle European interdisciplinary master programme in Cognitive Science

The curriculum is organized vertically into 2 phases (temporal structure) and horizontally into 3 columns (functional structure), see figure 1:

Curriculum architecture
Figure 1: Temporal and functional organisation of the curriculum. Details see below.

Temporal Organisation

The curriculum consists of 2 phases: the introductory phase and the phenomenon-oriented phase consisting of 2 semesters each.

Introductory Phase (Semesters 1-2)

The introductory phase enables students to orient themselves in the field of cognitive science and provides a foundation for interdisciplinary research.

Students entering the program differ greatly in terms of their disciplinary backgrounds and research interests. A central challenge of the program is not only to bridge the different disciplinary approaches thus enabling communication and cooperation among the students but also to turn these differences into a potential for interdisciplinary cooperation.
In the first year, students become familiar with theoretical concepts as well as research methods from the core disciplines of cognitive science and get accustomed to different scientific cultures.
Moreover, students are introduced to the current work of research groups from Vienna as well as the Mei:CogSci network.
The introductory phase will mainly take place at the students’ home institutions.

Phenonmenon Oriented Phase (semesters 3-4)

The phenomenon oriented phase builds on the interdisciplinary foundations laid in the first year. Students gain specialised knowledge of a chosen topic focusing on a cognitive phenomenon through the integration of research methods and perspectives from multiple disciplines.

Based on their research topic chosen individually, students select one of the universities participating in the network (student mobility) in line with the areas of expertise of the respective partner universities.
In addition, students consolidate their knowledge and skills in cognitive science enabling them to keep track of the current developments in the field.

Functional Organisation: the 3 column architecture

Program modules are organized in 3 columns that are mutually interconnected. The disciplinary column and the tools column provide students with conceptual, practical, and cultural experience of the disciplines in cognitive science. The integrative kernel serves as a platform for collaboratively reflectig upon, relating and integrating these experiences, as well as providing training in cognitive science.

Disciplinary column

Students attend courses in several core disciplines of cognitive science at the respective departments. In addition, they participate in small research projects supervised by researchers from that discipline. Thus students do not only gain knowledge of the issues, concepts, and methods relevant to a specific discipline but are also immersed in the scienctific culture of the respective discipline and learn to communicate and collaborate with members of the community.


In an interdisciplinary study program scientific tools play an especially important role as first hand experience of methods is crucial for understanding and relating research programs of different disciplinary approaches.
In the course of the program, students become familiar with basic mathematics and statistics (if not already part of their background) as well as with a variety of research methods from the field of cognitive science (e. g. computer simulation and modeling, programming, empirical methods from neuroscience and behavioral sciences, philosophical argumentation, etc.)
In the second phase these skills are expanded and enhanced: students develop mastery of research methods pertaining to their chosen topic of specialisation and apply them in the course of their master’s thesis.

Integrative Kernel

Through the integrative kernel, students are introduced to key concepts of cognitive science in their historical context. Subsequently, students collaboratively work on current issues that are debated in the cognitive science community, thus enabling them to develop an (additional) academic identity as cognitive scientists.
In addition, basic concepts of philosophy of science are introduced. Against this background, a conceptual framework is developed collaboratively with the aim of relating and integrating disciplinary approaches and concepts.
The integrative kernel also provides a platform for communication, interaction, and cooperation between students and offers assistance in overcoming disciplinary and cultural barriers.

Brief description of modular structure

A more detailled view of the curriculum is given in figure 2 by “zooming in” on the basic architecture described in figure 1 to reveal the modular structure.

Curriculum architecture
Figure 2: The modular structure of the curriculum. Semesters and phases are arranged horizontally, the functional structure is shown vertically in columns. Modules are shown as boxes; the size of the boxes corresponds with the number of ECTS of a module (5 or 10 ECTS, 25 for the Master’s Thesis). The brightness of the boxes denotes their level, light boxes being of basic level, intermediate boxes of advanced level, and dark boxes denote specialised level.

Introductory phase

Disciplinary column

In the first year, students are introduced to 2-4 new disciplines and have the opportunity to attend advanced courses in up to 2 disciplines depending on their background and interests.

Tools column

Students receive training in basic maths and programming or acquire other skills such as statistics if already part of their background.

Integrative kernel

Students get to know the concepts and the culture of interdisciplinary cognitive science in lectures and exercises, as well as in an interdisciplinary seminar and teamwork (student club) which serve as a platform for communication and cooperation between students.
Furthermore, students become familiar with the current work of researchers from different disciplines by means of a lecture series and excursions (“Into research 1” – spanning all 3 columns) and gain first-hand experience with practical work at a particular lab / research group (“Into research 2” – spanning all 3 columns) which is supplemented by relevant additional methodological courses (tool column). Students present their work as a poster at a joint student conference to be organised by the consortium at the end of the first year.

Phenomenon-oriented phase

Disciplinary and tools column

Drawing on their respective interests, background, and experiences of the first year, students choose a research topic focusing on a cognitive phenomenon. As students will most likely choose the third semester for academic exchange (student mobility), they will select a partner university in line with their research project.
Students configure their special topic of interest to include practical research and advanced courses from multiple disciplines. To this end, students can dedicate 10 or 15 ECTS depending on whether they choose to fully concentrate on their primary topic or pursue a second one to take advantage of the opportunities offered by their host university. They are free to spend another five credits on enhancing their methodological skills, their topic of interest, foreign language courses, etc. to meet their individual needs.
Students then pursue their master’s thesis either staying at their host location or back at their home university. The master thesis builds on and extends the conceptual and practical research done in the third or second semester.

Integrative kernel

At their new host university, students have the opportunity to interact with their peers from all over the MEi:CogSci network. Students collaboratively develop their interests by presenting and discussing their individual interdisciplinary projects taking advantage of their respective backgrounds and expertise.
Furthermore, students conduct a regular journal club and attend a seminar exploring the implications of current trends in cognitive science.
In the forth semester, students present and critically discuss their projects in the master’s thesis seminar culminating in the defense of their finished master’s theses at a joint student conference organized by the consortium.