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Structured PhD in Perception, Cognition and Action
Visit the University’s Courses Page for information on how to apply, entry requirements, career options and assessment.
2.1 Aims of the course
3.1 Entry criteria
3.2 Minimum and maximum number of EU and non EU applicants
3.3 Course Entry and Registration
4. Structure and content of the proposed course
5. Course Committee
6.1 Semester 1: Research Skills Electives (5 ECTS)
6.2 Semester 2: Research Skills Electives (5 ECTS)
6.3 Semester 1: Content Focused Electives (5 ECTS)
6.4 Semester 2: Content Focused Electives (5 ECTS)
6.5 Research Methods (10 ECTS)
6.6 Other Courses
6.7 New Courses
The study of perception, cognition and behaviour (action) represent central scientific foci of the discipline of Psychology, having their origins in the very first psychological laboratory in 19th Century in Leipzig and in the early American and Russian schools of behavioural science founded in the first quarter of the 20th Century. A central question in Psychology concerns the mechanisms guiding our perception and behaviour. For instance, we need to sense (see, hear and feel) the world around us, make decisions about how to act and enact those decisions. Psychologists break down the processes necessary for this into three major divisions: perception, cognition and action. Perception refers to processes that allow us to identify objects in our world and where they are. Cognition is the activity of reasoning and making sense of our world and what we would like to achieve. Action concerns our interaction with the world around us and is concerned with enacting decisions and learning from the consequences of our actions. For many years, it was assumed that perception preceded cognition which preceded action, but current research has shown that these systems are much more tightly integrated than once thought (we sometimes act before we think). This PhD will train students in the detail of these three areas of research and also introduce them to cutting edge research that examines the interaction of these processes in behaviour and in the brain.
The 3 empirically-based disciplines mentioned here are not only foundational but constitute important elements of the modern cognitive neurosciences, which globally account for the major part of scientific research in and related to the discipline of Psychology. The cognitive neurosciences also link major disciplines within the brain and clinical sciences with Psychology and are an area of research of better-than average impact and with potential for the closer inclusion of research in psychology at Galway, with global research groups and state-of-the-art research agendas.
The structured PhD in Perception, Cognition and Action seeks to align research at Galway with global researchers and global research agendas with the eventual aim of producing graduates and graduate research of the highest quality and maximal impact in the broad field of experimental psychology and the cognitive neurosciences. It adopts a unique structure within the guidelines for structured PhDs agreed at the NUI Galway College of Arts special meeting of 15.05.2009. That is to say, while it comprises 70 ECTS of modules [40 ECTS Discipline (or Student) specific and 30 ECTS Transferable Skills modules], a number of necessary core skills are obligatory, these being a Research Assistantship, one of a suite of elective Research Skills modules and a Seminar and Workshop Attendance Module. The aim of these modules is to allow the development of specific skill-sets appropriate to experimental psychology and Perception, Cognition and Action. For this reason and to allow identification of our graduates with these skills, those graduates should receive a PhD in Perception, Cognition and Action.
Members of other Disciplines and Schools in NUI Galway as well as at third-level institutions in Ireland and abroad have also signaled their interest and willingness to participate in the delivery of the course [e.g. Staff of Speech and Language Therapy, Electronics Engineering, Psychiatry at NUIG, INSERM; France, Universities of Salzburg (Austria) and Padova (Italy). Accordingly, it is envisaged that the proposed course will be delivered by the School of Psychology NUI Galway and with the support of leading individual academics and researchers from other Irish third level institutions and internationally.
The aims of the PhD programme are:
1. To prepare graduates from a range of disciplines to conduct research of high impact, international standards in the subject areas of perception cognition and action (behaviour).
2. To increase capacity in relation to the broad field of experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience research in Ireland.
3. To establish Galway as a location of research excellence in these fields.
Prospective students will be invited to interview by a Course Committee comprising 3/4 course Directors. Applications and the recommendations of the Interview Panel will subsequently be submitted to the School Postgraduate Research Committee for approval. Successful applicants will then be invited to register. Prospective students are expected to have no less than a first-class honours degree in psychology or a discipline related to experimental psychology (e.g. cognitive science, computer science, engineering, physiology). Study to Masters level, which includes a research-based project is highly desirable.
Non-national and non EU students are welcomed assuming they meet university approved proficiency measures in the English language.
Application deadline is July 31st each year. Application to the course may be made according to standard University admission procedures. The course is the beginning of the autumn semester in each academic year.
4. Structure and content of the proposed course
The programme will extend for four years with thesis submission due no later than the end of the fourth year of the course. In Year one, students will take various modules as part of the taught elements of the programme (see below for further details) and to a limited extent in Year 3. In Years 2 to 4, students will concentrate on the preparation of a substantial research project and thesis, initiated in Year 1. Students may leave the programme at the end of Year 2 with the equivalent of Master’s degree by research (MLitt) is they have competed 120 ECTS of research project activity and on submission and successful examination of a research dissertation.
Each student will be allocated one or more research supervisors from within the School of Psychology alongside a Thesis Committee comprising research supervisor(s), Head of School of Psychology and two other experts in the proposed field of enquiry. These experts may be drawn from outside of the School. In general, the composition, activity and authority of these committees will adhere to the most recent Guidelines for Research Degree Programmes approved by the School of Psychology School Board [current guidelines (which may be subject to change) are published by the School.. Students will also be eligible for any teaching duties as specified by University regulations which may be detailed under http://www.nuigalway.ie/graduatestudies/.
Modules will be taught in a combination of active seminar-based learning lab classes and by making use of self-directed learning strategies. Self-directed learning was agreed as appropriate to successfully instill the active, problem-solving approach required for success in subsequent research-based activities.
There will be no less than 6 tutorials offered in each of 2 Research Skills and 2 Content Focused self-directed learning modules, alongside 12 x 2 hour, seminar attendance or lab classes in other modules. These include a Research Methods module extending over 24 hours and comprising 5 mini modules, 2 core and 3 chosen as electives from a suite offered by this and other structured PhD programmes in the School of Psychology. Core mini modules include basic statistics and a module leading to the completion and submission of a research ethics proposal to the University Research Ethics Committee. Both Research Skills and Content Focused modules will be chosen from a suite of electives provided by various contributors (see below). In addition, it is envisaged students will attend one module offered outside of the discipline and offered within either the generic College of Arts structured PhD or one of the structured PhD programmes offered by other Disciplines or Schools. This will conform to University regulations regarding the award of 5 ECTS for a 10th level course and will be chosen to be as specific to the area of study in the PhD research as possible. A minimum of forty-eight lab-hours will be spent in research assistantship throughout the year.
Students will also undertake generic skills training in the context of (the equivalent to) 4 x 5 ECTS offered either via (i) a suite of stand-alone courses included in the generic College of Arts structured PhD, or (ii) 8/9 2.5 ECTS options from the Certificate of Postgraduate Studies offered by the College of Arts. Finally, 5 ECTS will be awarded for Research Seminar and Workshop Attendance, with the requirement that 25% of these seminars are from outside of the discipline. This aims to encourage students to maintain a broad perspective on intellectual pursuits during their PhD studies and a sense of collegiality by virtue of their participation in University-wide, scholarly activities. In addition, and contributing to this module, it is envisaged to run no less than 2 workshops annually, dealing with advanced data analysis of EEG and other time-series data sets. These workshops will be delivered by experts from outside of the School and will make use of ERASMUS mobilities.
The total ECTS credits for taught modules will amount to 70, with 40 ECTS of Discipline (or Student) Specific modules [consisting 2 x 5 ECTS Content Focused modules, Advanced Research Methods (10 ECTS), Research Assistantship (10 ECTS), Research Seminar and Workshop Attendance (5ECTS) and 5 ECTS for a 5 ECTS elective module from outside of Psychology]. Thirty ECTS will derive from Transferable Skills modules of which Research Skills and Advanced Research Skills (2 x 5 ECTS) are obligatory elements. In addition to these either elements of the Certificate in Postgraduate Studies equivalent to a 4 x 5 = 20 ECTS or 20 ECTS of Transferable Skills Modules included in the generic College of Arts structured PhD. The majority of the 70 ECTS (60/70 ECTS) will be credited following studies during the first year of the doctorate. This is to enable rapid development of a relevant research skills set and thereby enable rapid and productive research activity over the following 3 years. The remaining 10 ECTS of taught modules will be taken in Year 3 and will consist of 2 x 5 ECTS (or 4 x 2.5 ECTS) of Transferrable Skills Modules. This allows the student the opportunity to win credit for activities likely to be credited within the generic modules provided within the College, such as published work and/or oral presentation.
So as to enable withdrawal at the end of Year 2 with award of an MLitt, and thereby recognition of research activity, 30 ECTS will be awarded in Year 1 for work undertaken on the research thesis proposal. A further 90 ECTS for research activities will be awarded at the end of Year 2 leading to the accumulation of 120 research-specific ECTS. This number is required for successful completion of an MLitt.
Thirty ECTS will be awarded upon successful completion of a research proposal to be submitted to the School Postgraduate Research Committee by April 1st of the year following admission to the programme. This is included in a total of 290 ECTS awarded for the research dissertation/thesis, with the remaining ECTS divided 1 x 90, 1 x 80 and 1 x 90 ECTS for Years 2, 3 and 4, respectively.
Years 2 to 4 will thus focus almost exclusively on the research leading to thesis production. The 80 or 90 ECTS allocated to the research project in Years 2, 3 and 4 will be awarded pending approval of a yearly progress report by the School Postgraduate Research Committee.
It is aimed for students to undertake one or more research placements in external laboratories as part of the programme in Years 2 – 4. Placements are likely to be secured in leading institutions abroad as a part of current ERASMUS agreements to support postgraduate mobilities with Salzburg and Padova.
- Year 1
- Outline of Modules delivered in Semester 1:
- Research Skills elective (5 ECTS) (Transferable Skills)
- Content Focused elective 1 (5 ECTS) (Discipline/Student specific)
- Content Focused elective 2 (5 ECTS) (Discipline/Student specific) or Introduction to Research (5 ECTS from 2012-2013)
- Outline of Modules delivered in Semester 2:
- Research Skills elective (5 ECTS) (Transferable Skills)
- Content Focused elective (5 ECTS) (Discipline/Student specific)
- Outline of Modules delivered across Semesters 1 and 2:
- Research Methods/Advanced Research Methods 2 x core + 3 x 2 mini electives (4 + 3 x 2 = 10 ECTS) (includes Research Ethics submission) (Discipline/Student specific)
- Research Assistantship Module (10 ECTS) (Discipline/Student specific)
- Seminar and Workshop Attendance Module (5 ECTS) (Discipline/Student specific)
- Transferable Skills Modules (2 x 5 ECTS) (Transferable Skills)
- Research Project and Thesis (Proposal 20 ECTS)
- Outline of Modules delivered in Semester 1:
- Years 2 and 4
- Research Project and Thesis (90 ECTS in each year)
- Year 3
- Transferable Skills Modules (2 x 5 ECTS) (Transferable Skills) or Student Mobility: External Laboratory Placement Module (10 ECTS from 2012-2013)
- Research Project and Thesis (80 ECTS)
Both Discipline/Student Specific and Transferable Skills modules offered in direct support of the structured PhD in Perception, Cognition and Action will be assessed by a combination of attendance/participation and end of semester/module assignments. It is anticipated that students will complete (i) a single stage by stage assignment for each Research Skills elective leading, for example, to the successful compilation and execution of analysis or experimental software; (ii) oral examination by way of a research presentation for each Content Focused elective; (iii) attendance, 3 stage by stage assignments and 1 research ethics submission for Research Methods/Advanced Research Methods; (iv) a written paper, in publishable format detailing the experimental assignment undertaken for the Research Assistantship; (v) signed attendance certificates for 12 research seminars, alongside submission of seminar diary detailing students notes taken whilst attending the seminar concerned. Seminar diaries will include sections rationale and background, empirical methods, results or conclusions and a section on the student’s opinion/evaluation of the presented research.
Thirty ECTS will be awarded upon successful completion of a research proposal to be submitted to the School Postgraduate Research Committee by April 1st of the year following admission to the programme and will be awarded following an oral presentation of the research proposal between Months 6 (April) and 8 (June). Failure at this stage will result in re-examination of a revised proposal no later than the last day in Month 10 (August), with failure leading to recommendation that the student complete in Year 2 by submission of a research dissertation of 40,000 – 60,000 words for award of an MLitt. Assuming the student continues with their doctoral studies for the remaining 3 years, 90 ECTS will be awarded following approval of annual progress reports in Years 2 and 4 and 80 ECTS in Year 3. Approval will be given by the School Board or Postgraduate Research Committee via the Student’s Thesis Committee.
All students must complete a major dissertation (50,000 – 100,000 words). Dissertations will be examined by an internal examiner and an external examiner. At least one doctoral supervisor will be a member of the academic staff of the School of Psychology at NUI Galway
(offered as Transferable Skills modules outside of the structured PhD in Perception, Cognition ad Action)
PS460 Introduction to Programming in Matlab (Dr. M. A. Elliott): This course will introduce students to the Fortran/C hybrid programming language used in support of the mathematical and statistical software package Matlab. This software can be readily applied to the creation of data analysis software and computer-based protocols for experimental psychology. Students will learn from basic to advanced programming syntax while being guided in the step-by-step development of data analysis and visual presentation software.
PS462 E-Prime and PsyScope for Behavioural Experimentation (Dr. Denis O’Hora): This module introduces the student to two experiment generation systems, E-Prime and PsyScope. E-Prime is a PC-based and PsyScope is Mac-based and both provide relatively easy options for experiment generation while also providing high quality output (e.g., temporal resolution).´
PS463 Visual Basic Programming for Experimental Psychology (Dr. Ian Stewart): This course will introduce students to the Visual Basic programming language, a powerful tool for the creation of Windows software, which can be readily applied to the creation of computer-based protocols for experimental psychology. Students will learn significant keywords and syntax of the Visual Basic language while being guided in the step-by-step development of a standard matching to sample protocol.
(offered as Transferable Skills Modules outside of the structured PhD in Perception, Cognition and Action)
PS464 Analysing Nonlinear Dynamics in Psychological Responding Using Recurrence Plots (Dr. Denis O’Hora): This module will introduce cross-recurrence and joint-recurrence plots as a method of identifying and measuring nonlinear dynamics in time series data. Dynamic systems change in time in ways that are often seem unpredictable. However, it is not unusual for systems that are unpredictable at one level of analysis (e.g., will it rain today?) can demonstrate stable patterns at another (e.g., is it usually hotter in summer than winter?). This module introduces the student to recurrence plots. These plots allow the student to characterise the change in a responding over time in order to identify periodicities within responding. They also allow the student to examine how different types of responding coordinate in time. Some experience in Matlab is required to participate in this module.
PS465 Advanced Programming in Matlab (Dr. M. A. Elliott): This course will progress students with knowledge of basic programming in Matlab to advanced program design within a series of self-directed learning stages. Students will be required to produce GUI-based experimental and/or advanced data analysis software.
PS466 Structural Equation Modelling (Dr. M. Hogan): This course will introduce students to AMOS, a powerful tool for structural equation modelling of cross-sectional and longitudinal data. Students will learn the theory and practice of structural equation modelling, working through a series of increasingly complex analyses from factor analysis, to path analysis, and full structural equation modeling of cross-sectional and longitudinal developmental data.
(offered as Discipline/Specific Skills Modules outside of the structured PhD in Perception, Cognition and Action)
PS531 Skill Theory and Skill Development (Dr. Michael Hogan): This course will introduce students to Skill Theory and related research examining skill development. Skill Theory is a powerful conceptual framework that has generated a body of empirical work which describes the process of cognitive, emotional, and social development. Students will learn the fundamentals of theory and research practice in this area and explore the different ways in which an understanding of skill development can be applied in context. Module to be offered as a Discipline/Student Specific module. Dr Hogan is on sabbatical leave in 2009 and this course will be offered from 2010 onwards.
PS532 Functional Contextualism in Psychology (Dr. Ian Stewart): This seminar based course will investigate functional contextualism as a distinctive philosophical world view whose assumptions underlie behaviour analysis as an approach to psychology. The historical development and current instantiation of this approach will be explored through the study of a number of writers including C. S Pierce, Ernst Mach, B. F. Skinner, S. C. Pepper, Sam Leigland, Edward Morris, Mecca Chiesa, Linda Hayes, Steven Hayes, Hayne Reese and Dermot Barnes-Holmes. Students will be assigned topics which they will be required to prepare and to present to the group.
PS533 Goals and Goal-Directed Behaviour (Dr. Denis O’Hora): Much of human behaviour is goal-directed. Aristotle described man as a goal seeking animal. In organizational psychology, goal setting is one of the widest used and most effective interventions that can be used to increase employee performance. This module will employ a self-directed teaching approach to introduce the student to a wide range of theories of goal-directed behaviour and to a thirty-year history of empirical research on applied goal-directed interventions.
PS536 Language Acquisition and Reinforcement (Dr. Denis O’Hora): This module introduces the student to theories of first language acquisition and focuses on the controversial role of reinforcement in language learning. The module uses a self-directed teaching methodology and covers a range of theoretical and empirical literature in psychology. Stemming from historical disagreements between noted theorists BF Skinner and Noam Chomsky, theories of children's acquisition of language has been divided between those that argue that language is mostly learned from parents and the early environment and those that argue that language mostly develops because of biological changes as the child grows. A central focus of this dispute concerns the role of reinforcement in first language acquisition.
PS534 Introduction to Psychological Time (Dr. M. A. Elliott): This course introduces the basic research agendas concerned with understanding psychological time and the psychology of time. Using self-directed learning this course examines the relationship between psychophysical measures of time and experienced time, differentiates internally determined psychological time from time governed by event-structures and provides a critique of the range of theoretical models describing psychological time. The course asks how can psychological time be examined using experimental methods.
PS535 Perception and Phenomenological Structure (Dr. M. A. Elliott): This course asks how we structure our visual environment, which mechanisms and principles are involved and what are the consequences of these in terms of our experience of visual structure. The course uses self-directed learning strategies and explores basic Gestalt grouping, neurophysiological processes and applied Gestalt principles, in the form of structured works of visual art. The course also examines relationship between phenomenology and neuronal function and asks how can these issues be examined using experimental methods?
(offered as Discipline Specific Skills Modules outside of the structured PhD in Perception, Cognition and Action)
PS537 Theoretical Principles in Dynamical Cognitive Science (Dr. M. A. Elliott): This course uses self-directed learning strategies towards answering some fundamental questions concerning the dynamic structure underlying perception and cognition. The course asks: What are these structures? How can they be best described statistcally? and what are the relationships between phenomenology and neuronal function? What is neurophenomenological equivalence? How can experimental methods in the psychological and psychophysiological sciences be used to advance our knowledge of the interface between dynamic brain systems, perception and cognition.
PS483 Empirical Study of Derived Relational Responding (Dr. Ian Stewart): This seminar based course will focus on the empirical investigation of derived relational responding, a phenomenon of key importance in modern behaviour analytic research. Key papers on derived relational responding will be studied, presented and critically discussed by students. These will include key empirical papers (e.g., Sidman, 1971) as well as core theoretical papers (e.g., Barnes, 1994). Core findings, theoretical debates and methodologies used to investigate DRR will all be examined. Students will be assigned topics which they will be required to prepare and to present to the group.
PS538 Time and Serial Memory (Dr. Denis O’Hora): This module introduces the student to concepts in serial memory and the study of time using a self-directed teaching methodology. In order for us to remember when an event happened, we must record some information about the event in memory that allows us to locate the event in time. One possibility is that we remember the sequential position of the event relative to other events that we have experienced (i.e., the event of interest happened before or after other events). An alternative possibility is that we remember the time when an event occurred relative to a relatively stable internal process that acts as an internal clock (i.e., each memory is stamped with an internal clock time which orders our past experiences).
PS539 Relational Frame Theory and Language (Dr. Ian Stewart): This seminar based course will familiarize students with the modern functional analytic approach to language adopted by Relational Frame Theory (Hayes, Barnes-Holmes & Roche, 2001). RFT is a comprehensive behavioural approach to language that models key phenomena of higher functioning as learned patterns of contextually controlled relational responding. The RFT empirical approach to a number of key areas of higher functioning including, for example language development, analogical reasoning, rule governed behaviour and categorization will be examined in depth. Students will be assigned topics which they will be required to prepare and to present to the group.
PS540 Probabilistic Theories in Cognition (Dr. Stanislava Antonijevic): This module will provide basic introduction to Probabilistic Theories and advance by demonstrating application of those theories on studying cognition. Through self-directed learning strategies students will be encouraged to understand the main concepts of the mathematical theory of probability and discover the way they relate to neourophysiological basis for registering probability, statistical learning, language acquisition and processing. As probability plays important role in conectionist models, variety of those models that consider cognitive processes will be discussed. Finally, students will have an opportunity to discuss application of Probabilistic Theories on their research design and posibilities it would offer for data analysis.
PS481 Advanced Research Methods in Perception, Cognition and Action (Dr. M. A. Elliott and others): This module will provide from basic to advanced level instruction in research methodology needed for postgraduate research in experimental psychology. The module will extend over 24 hours and comprise 5 mini modules, 2 of which will be core and 3 of which will be chosen as electives from a suite offered by this and other structured PhD programmes in the School of Psychology. Core mini modules will include both basic statistics and research ethics with the latter designed to lead to the completion and submission of a research ethics proposal to the University's Research Ethics Committee. Electives will be designed to provide competence in a range of methods subsuming the spectrum of PCA research from which students will be directed to choose those modules most closely aligned with their research interests. They will include both lecture-based mini modules involving didactic instruction (e.g., single subject design) as well as practical laboratory-based modules for which students will be required to conduct and write up a small piece of PCA relevant research.
PS486 Research Assistantship Module (10 ECTS) (Dr. M. A. Elliott and others): In this module students will provide a minimum of 48 hours of support in ongoing research of direct relevance to their research project. It is envisaged that the majority of this work will be in running experiments, enabling acquisition of key research and laboratory skills, including time and general logistics management. The module thus prepares students for the management of their own research.
PS485 Seminar and Workshops Module (5 ECTS) (Dr. M. A. Elliott and others): This module is designed to introduce graduate students to active, cutting edge research within their own and other disciplines and to encourage participation and active review. Students are obliged to attend 12 seminars and/or workshops - no more than 6 within Psychology and should either contribute to those workshops or keep a seminar diary. Seminar diaries will include sections rationale and background, empirical methods, results or conclusions and a section on the student’s opinion/evaluation of the presented research. It is envisaged to run no less than 2 workshops annually, dealing with advanced data analysis of EEG and other time-series data sets. These workshops will be delivered by experts from outside of the School and will make use of ERASMUS mobilities.
Student Mobility External Laboratory Placement (10 ECTS) (Dr. M.A. Elliott and others): In this module students will visit and work in a university or research institute laboratory either in or outside of Ireland for a period of no less than 3 months. It is envisaged that the majority of this work will be in running experiments, enabling acquisition of key research and laboratory skills, including time and general logistics management. This research should contribute to the student's thesis. Module to be offered as a Discipline/Student Specific module - not to be offered outside of Psychology.
Attention (Dr. M. A. Elliott): Attention is a fundamental response to an organisms environment which serves a wide variety of psychological purposes. In this course we will concentrate on the relationship between attention and sensory or perceptual functioning with reference to visual and auditory processing.
Introduction to Electroencephalography (Dr. M.A. Elliott): This course will introduce students to electroencephalography (EEG) theory and practice. Students will be assigned readings that illustrate key EEG research findings in relation to perception, cognition, and action. Students will learn how to acquire EEG data and they will learn the basics of EEG analysis using BrainVision software and Matlab. It is advised to take this course in combination with PS460 Introduction to Programming in Matlab. Students will also work collectively to conduct an EEG research study.
Neurophysiology of Sensory Processes (Dr. M.A. Elliott): This course asks which brain systems we use to structure our visual environment and how visual and auditory experience might emerge from brain activity. The course uses self-directed learning strategies and explores topics such as basic perceptual and attentional processes from both physiological and neuroanatomical perspectives
Electroencephalography and neurofeedback (Dr. M.A. Elliott): This course will introduce students to basic electroencephalography (EEG) theory and the use of neurofeedback in practice. Students will be assigned readings that illustrate key EEG research findings in relation to neurofeedback and will be trained on specific neurofeedback systems/protocols. Students will also learn to evaluate the outcomes of neurofeedback protocols.
Other relevant modules are currently under development.