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.
A. I’m sorry, this is really just not how you apply for a PhD. Admission to our Ph.D. programs (and pretty much every PhD program of which I am aware) is by a formal, centralized application process, not by cold email to an 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 2023-24 application cycle?
A. No.

I am sorry that my lab already has as many PhD students as we can accommodate.

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, Taylor, Crockett, Tamir, and Graziano — and these are just the faculty with whom I currently or recently have co-advised trainees. Thus, 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 already so 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 the main topics of my lab, e.g. 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. Can we schedule a zoom meeting to discuss my application?
A. Sorry, no. Our program has 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 appropriate time for these types of conversations is an organized, formal visit weekend that we host in the spring for shortlisted applicants. (But do say hi if we cross paths at a conference or something!)

Q. Am I a good fit for your lab? What kind of background are you looking for in students?
A. Pretty much everyone in our lab is engaged in theory and computational modeling at least as one aspect of their research, and has strong quantitative interest and skills. Almost always, students have formal training in some technical field (computer science, economics, etc.), and at minimum have had 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 at the postdoctoral level who bring exceptional expertise in some complementary area and wish to collaborate on learning to bring computational methods to bear on their area. 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.