Cognitive Systems - Master of Science (MSc)
Our cognitive functions allow us to interact with objects and persons in our environment, to smoothly adapt and react to external influences, and to gain knowledge. We do so by using various senses and relying on previous experiences from other contextual situations and our ability to learn, reason and plan future actions. Technical systems that implement or imitate the cognitive skills of humans are what we call cognitive systems. In order to implement such functionalities, systems must be equipped with capabilities for
- perception and cognition,
- learning and memory,
- planning and reasoning for action control and problem solving, as well as
Master of Science (MSc)Type of study
- next winter semester: 01.10.2020
- restricted (for further information see 'Application')
120Standard period of study (semester)
More about the course
The master's programme "Cognitive Systems" at the University of Ulm is completely taught in English. The programme introduces students to the theoretical and empirical foundations of cognitive skills, which serve as the basis for the development of models. These models allow for connecting neuro-biological mechanisms, theoretically well-founded concepts, and cognitive behaviour and for analysing this in psychopysical studies and psychological tests. The results build the foundation for various applications, e.g., for the development of a new generation of assistance and companion systems, of intelligent robots or vehicles, intelligent gadgets and games, or even intelligent cities, with the goal of supporting and improving human performance.
What are Cognitive Systems?
Cognition involves the processing and analysis of information within a system to control its behavior. Cognition summarizes the combination of perceptual processes, mental processes and (motor-driven) actions that occur unconsciously or consciously. Using the example of humans, such processes can be studied in detail. Our cognitive abilities allow us, for example, to interact with objects and people in our environment and to react flexibly to external influences, to develop creative solutions to problems and to acquire new knowledge. We do this by using different senses, drawing on experiences from similar contexts, and by our ability to learn, reason, and plan actions. Systems that collectively provide such cognitive performance are referred to as cognitive systems. These can be realized in an organism as well as implemented in the form of a technical artifact. We call the latter cognitive technical systems.
The study of cognitive systems and their properties is an inherently interdisciplinary field of research at the intersection of different sciences, e.g. computer science, in particular artificial intelligence and neural information processing (Neuroinformatik), physics and engineering, psychology, biology and neuroscience, and various clinical sciences such as psychiatry. Philosophy also provides the framework for a critical examination of the assumptions and methods of scientific research on cognition and discusses ethical framework conditions and consequences.
In order to achieve such functionality, systems shall be equipped with mechanisms that provide capabilities to implement
· perception and cognition,
· learning and memory,
· planning, decision-making and reasoning, and
In the English Master of Science (MSc) course "Cognitive Systems" at Ulm University, the theoretical and empirical basics of such cognitive abilities are presented and models are developed. These models make it possible to investigate and evaluate mechanisms of cognitive systems - both biological and technical. To this end, theoretically grounded concepts and behavioral functions are linked and investigated in psychophysical studies and psychological tests. The results form the basis for the further development of theories and models of cognitive functions as well as for diverse applications. Such applications range from, e.g. new generations of assistance and companion systems, intelligent robots or vehicles, intelligent devices and games to intelligent cities, with the aim of supporting and improving human performance.
What can I do with an MSc degree in Cognitive Systems?
The profile of this course of study qualifies graduates for work in scientific research as well as in industrial areas with career fields where the seamless interaction of humans and technology plays a central role. Cognitive systems are extremely important to information technology in intelligent systems development and to scientific investigations of human-machine interaction with a focus on human capabilities and system’s adaptability to user preferences. Such domains and contexts reach into the automobile industry, medical technology, design and evaluation of intelligent systems components, and to all high-tech fields in general. Other potential career paths include research and development in cognitive ergonomics, multimedia, e-learning, interface design or, for instance, prosthetics. Specific tasks in such fields include the conception and development of hardware and software solutions or the implementation of improvements on the basis of market research or in the context of usability engineering. In all, Cognitive Systems combines several disciplines: cognitive science (the study of minds’ processes), computation (the technology utilized by computers and technology), and intelligent systems development (design and realization of intelligent systems with capabilities of learning, reasoning, and memory).
What distinguishes a degree in Cognitive Systems from a corresponding degree in Computer Science, Media Informatics or Psychology? The qualification in the undergraduate subjects of Computer Science and Psychology is focused on the disciplinary core topics and offers a broad spectrum of activities in industry. For interdisciplinary questions, which are located at the interface between these subjects, graduates with knowledge from both scientific fields are required, experts with interdisciplinary methodological knowledge. While graduate students in Media Informatics supplement the computer science basics with basics of design and media technology, the focus in Cognitive Systems is on the combination of empirical and functional analysis of cognitive processes. These range from sensory processes, knowledge-based planning, reasoning and decision-making, to motor performance, e.g. in navigation, haptic manipulation and others. The investigation of learning processes of declarative and procedural knowledge as well as the control of working memory are core topics of the investigation and development of cognitive systems.
The career opportunities for graduates with an interdisciplinary education from both the area of psychology and computer science are already excellent, but the demand will likely grow even further. Several companies in Ulm and the surrounding region are potential employers for graduates of the master's course Cognitive Systems. For example, the research area of automotive technologies offers various domains in which cognitive functions of future technological solutions are mandatory. Self-driving cars with non-monitored driving capabilities (level 3 to 5) require surround sensing and analysis, autonomous planning, and decision-making function. Such functionalities and mechanisms are at the core of cognitive systems research. Research and development branches of automotive, sensor and intelligence, and communication and telecommunication have settled in the Science Park Ulm or in the surrounding regions of the city of Ulm. Furthermore, topics such as cognitive ergonomics, interface design, or usability are highly relevant for several small and medium-sized enterprises in the Ulm region, who work in the areas of transport technology, mechanical engineering, or auditory perception and speech recognition technology.
Graduates with an MSc degree in Cognitive Systems also have the best prerequisites for a subsequent academic career. The interdisciplinary training prepares graduates for doctoral positions in projects or graduate programs. This applies to interdisciplinary topics, for example, in the life sciences, neurosciences, interactive technologies or intelligent systems.
The disciplines of computer science, engineering and psychology are organized within one faculty at the Ulm University. Due to this special situation graduates of the course also have excellent opportunities for pursuing further interdisciplinary research careers regarding cognitive systems in Ulm, but also in other research institutions.
The MSc program in Cognitive Systems combines an academic approach with opportunities for scientific investigation of theoretical and computational modeling of cognitive processes, the experimental investigation of different cognitive/behavioral functions and their evaluation, as well as the application of methods and techniques in various technical areas. It provides an ideal foundation of theoretical and methodological knowledge to enable students to keep pace in a dynamic field that is, and will continue to be, characterised by constant development and change.
The four-semester program is divided into four subjects - Basic, Interdisciplinary, Special and Applied - and is completed by the Master's Thesis. The table below shows a possible structure of the division of the courses in the different semesters (colors designate the four subjects). The different subjects comprise different modules, of which those in Basic and Interdisciplinary Subject are mandatory, the others are selectable from different offerings.
The compulsory courses (Basic and Interdisciplinary Subject) include introductions to the research area of Cognitive Systems and their interdisciplinary facets, essential subject-specific basic courses as an introduction for students with a bachelor's degree from other disciplines, as well as theoretical and practical basics for modelling processes of cognitive systems. In addition, a research-oriented colloquium is offered, in which invited speakers report on the latest developments in various aspects of the subject area and show students at an early stage the possibilities of choosing a perspective focus, as well as enabling them to make contact with scientists from this subject area. The modules of the Special and the Applied Subject are essentially freely selectable, whereby rules of the selection of offers from different areas must be kept. The rules of choice for the elective modules are defined in the study and examination regulations (Studien- und Prüfungsordnung). The modules in the Special Subject bundle lecture and seminar offers for the further deepening of methodical contents and specialization in the context of Cognitive Systems. The modules in the Applied Subject are all organized as projects and thus offer the opportunity for various practical work in close cooperation with the scientific institutions supervising the study program. For further details, please take a look at the Study Plan Cognitive Systems (Study and Exam Regulations 2017).
For their master's theses, students work in interdisciplinary research groups which support the course program of Cognitive Systems. In addition, such theses can also be carried out at external institutions, as long as the topic in question is of sufficient content for the field of cognitive systems. For this purpose, a formal academic supervisor from the Master's program is to be consulted, who supervises the topic and accompanies its content.
The MSc program in Cognitive Systems at Ulm University provides a unique study and research environment with Computer Science and Psychology in one faculty. We can, therefore, offer our students unique combinations of subjects and interdisciplinary courses being taught by experts in the field. The content of these courses is initially based on the established foundations of the respective subjects and also provides in-depth information on the latest scientific research and technological developments in cognitive systems. Students acquire the theoretical knowledge and practical skills that enable them to investigate cognitive systems along different directions of research and application. Drawing on their experience from the required introductory – basic and interdisciplinary – coursework, special and applied coursework as well as research-oriented specialisation modules, students acquire a solid grasp of the merits and limitations of current methodologies and where these are best applied. They are familiar with the most important theoretical and methodological principles of the subjects of the technical discipline which is complementary to their prior training: for students with a bachelor degree in psychology or related fields we provide an introduction to the fundamentals of computer science; for students with a bachelor degree in computer science, media informatics, a natural science or technical field we provide an introduction to the general psychology and experiment design. Students also understand the fundamental concepts of cognitive systems, their underlying computational mechanisms, and get an overview of different approaches on formal modeling to investigate functions of cognitive systems. For complete information on the course objectives and a list of the individual modules, please refer to the official program of study and examination regulations (Studien- und Prüfungsordnung).
Graduates are able to, e.g.,
- apply the problem-solving strategies they have learned to new situations and to develop these strategies further;
- acquire new knowledge and skills independently;
- collect and analyse relevant information and derive factually and scientifically validated judgements from it;
- formulate scientific positions and solutions and defend these with justified arguments.
Overall, the graduates will be able to apply their expertise skills in their own scientific research or in innovative areas of research and development in industry.
Students are trained in reading technical literature, communicating orally and in writing, as well as making scientific presentations. The program's interdisciplinary projects and applied coursework requires students to work in teams, become familiar with group dynamics and build strategies for maintaining a productive work environment. The MSc Cognitive Systems program provides an international study and education environment with students from numerous countries worldwide in an English-language study program.
Requirements for Applicants
The core of the Cognitive Systems program is characterized by its focus on system functions of cognitive mechanisms which require a formal description. For that reason, applicants should have a solid mathematical background (analysis, algebra, statistics) and be prepared to extend their knowledge and skills broadly. If you are unsure about the required knowledge level, we recommend to visit the website www.ombplus.de. You find the online course OMB+ that is intended to refresh the high school level mathematics knowledge as it is expected from German applicants.
Applicants will benefit from having practical experience in programming with some higher-level programming language. We do offer an introduction to computer science for applicants with non-computer science background which provides an overview of the scientific field of computer science as a structural and engineering scientific discipline. It introduces basic algorithmic and computational principles which are realized in programming languages as well.
How to Apply
German applicants and applicants enrolled in an Ulm University programme apply directly via the university's online application system. Other applicants apply online via uni-assist. For details, please check the application website.
Application period for the winter semester: 15 April to 01 June (cut-off period)
The precise legal rules for the application process are defined in the admission statutes (Zulassungsordnung). For your convenience, we explain the most important points here; if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Be sure to include the following documents to demonstrate that you are qualified to enroll in the MSc Cognitive Systems. All documents must be in English or German.
- An official copy of your BSc degree in Psychology, Computer Science, Cognitive Science or a related degree. For the latter, your course contents should to at least three quarters overlap with those of the listed degrees. The BSc course duration should at least have been three years. The grade of your bachelor's degree must be 2.6 or better. If you did not yet complete your bachelor's degree, you must already have achieved 125 ECTS with an average mark of 2.9 or better. Note that the Admissions Statutes require 140 ECTS, but the amount of required ECTS is temporarily reduced due to Corona pandemic.
- An official copy of your “diploma supplement” document, which lists all the courses you have taken for your first degree. The list must specify the grade and number of credit points for each course.
- A declaration that you have never been expelled from an MSc degree program in Germany.
- If you are not a native English speaker and you have no university degree completely taught in English, we require a proof of an adequate command of English of level C1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) through Test of English as a Foreign Language, TOEFL, with at least 88 points in the internet-based TOEFL; 570 points in the paper-based TOEFL; or 230 points in the computer-based TOEFL; or any comparable proof such as IELTS with a minimum of 6.5 points.
Please note the temporary change in the application for winter semester 2020/21 due to Corona pandemic: For the application phase until 1 June 2020 it is now also acceptable to submit an adequate command of English at level B2 of CEFR, TOEFL ibt with at least 71 points, IELTS with a minimum of 5 points or any comparable proof. In the case of an admission the proof requested in the Admissions Statutes (e.g. level C1, TOEFL ibt of 88 or IELTS of 6.5) may be submitted upon enrolment.
- If your documents are not in German or English, please provide a certified translation.
When we have more applicants than we can enroll, we will rank applicants according to their grades of their BSc degrees. You can add additional points through the following qualifications. Please enclose the relevant documents with your application if you wish us to consider them.
- Proficiency in practical computer science (with programming in higher level languages) of 6 ECTS.
- Participation in interdisciplinary projects or professional experience (at least six months) with a thematic connection to the program.
- Substantial periods of study or research abroad.
- Expertise relevant to the course through previously attended lectures.
Each qualification raises your average degree by 0.1 points (programming skills by 0.2 points). The overall improvement is limited to 0.3 points.
Interested students who have submitted their application documents will be examined according to the documents in the admission procedure. A ranking list for the restricted study program is drawn up from the documents and the assessment of further criteria. The regulations for admission are laid down in the admissions statutes. The statutes of the English-language MSc Program Cognitive Systems, as amended on March 8, 2016, can be found at the following link (Ulm University Admissions Statutes for the Consecutive English-taught Master's Program in Cognitive Systems of 8 March 2016).
For general inquiries on Cognitive Systems
Dr. Markus Maucher
Study Commission Computer Science
Phone: +49 731 /50-24106
WhatsApp: +49 152 /22543165
Fax: +49 731 /50-24102
Room: O27 3206
Dr. Sandra Mann
Tel.: +49 731 /50-24214
Room: 027 3216
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