graduate inquiries

Frequently asked questions for graduate applicants

At this time of the year, we receive a lot of email inquiries about PhD applications. Here’s some answers to common questions.

Q. Please find attached my application to study for a PhD with you. When can I start?
A. Admission to our Ph.D. programs (and pretty much every PhD program in the world of which I am aware) is by a centralized application process, not by email to the individual lab. You can find up-to-date information about procedures and deadlines on the departmental web sites. Good luck!

Q. Are you accepting graduate students in the 2021 appliction cycle?
A. No, not directly. I overcommitted to PhD students in the last few cycles. But in my view this isn’t really the right question anyway. That’s because admissions to the PNI are to the program, not the lab. Students only join a lab after a cycle of several rotations. Moreover, Princeton is just an immensely collaborative place. We have a very large set of labs working on related topics and we often collaborate in many different subgroups. This is for a bunch of reasons including how the training programs are structured, and the fact that many of us collaborate in funded projects that span several groups. This is the best thing about Princeton, in my opinion.

So depending what interests you share with me, you probably also share them with many of Cohen, Niv, Griffiths, Norman, Pillow, Witten, Brody, Buschman, Tank, and Taylor — and these are just the faculty with whom I currently co-advise trainees. While I won’t personally be taking on new advisees this cycle, some of this group always are, and we often all end up working together in some fashion or another. (This is part of why I’m overcommitted!) So if you’d be interested to work with me, you’d likely also be a good fit to the broader program and I encourage you to apply.

Q. Which department’s graduate program should I apply to?
A. I am a member of both the psychology department and the Princeton Neuroscience institute, and these have separate graduate programs. Many students would be appropriate for both. Obviously, PNI includes more biological emphasis (e.g. in its coursework), which may or may not be your cup of tea, but the two programs largely overlap with respect to human cognitive neuroscience and computation/theory being very welcome in both. One main difference is how admissions work: some of what I said above (rotations, etc.) is true of PNI but not psychology. If you want to apply to psychology, you will need to have an advisor that ultimately sponsors you from the point of admission. And this year, I’m sorry that this won’t be me.

Q. I’ll be on campus / at conference X / available on Zoom next week; can we schedule a meeting to discuss my application?
A. Sorry, no. We have lots of PhD applications (and even more pre-application inquiries) and it wouldn’t be feasible or fair to have individual meetings at this stage. The right time for this is an organized, formal visit weekend that we host in the spring for shortlisted applicants. I look forward to meeting you then!

Q. What kind of background are you looking for in students?
A. Pretty much everyone in our lab, one way or another, is engaged in theory and computational modeling at least in part, and has strong quantitative interest and skills. Usually, students have some formal training in some technical field (computer science, economics, etc.), and almost everyone has had at least some experience and coursework in this direction. It would be very unusual for us to take on a Ph.D. student without such a background. Occasionally, we have worked with trainees, who bring some complementary expertise and wish to learn modeling. But in that case, if you’re not very interested in moving toward quantitative and computational approaches, our lab is not the right place for you.