COGS 402

The resumption of research activities at UBC is a gradual and ongoing process. Most research projects continue to experience disruption. There are some — such as those involving linguistics fieldwork, and those involving in-person contact with infants — that are likely to remain inadvisable for the foreseeable future. We do not know when it will next be possible to complete a COGS 402 project in these particular areas.  Happily, there are several other areas of research in which the disruption is less severe. A number of COGS 402 projects continue to proceed, more or less as normal. If you need to complete the course it should still be possible for you to do so. The course will be offered online in both the Fall and Spring semesters of the 20/21 academic year.

If you wish to take the course, you should look for a project that can be completed without face to face contact with human participants. There are various forms that such a project might take. It might, for example, be a literature review, a statistical meta-analysis, a philosophical enquiry, a theoretical proposal, a methodological critique, an historical survey, the development of a piece of software, or the building of a computational model.

If you can find a supervisor willing to supervise such a project then please go ahead and make arrangements with them in the usual way. If you need to take the course but can’t find any supervisor (even after a thorough search for one), then please contact Professor Mole by email. As with all 402 supervisory arrangements, you should do this in plenty of time before the start of the term.

The first and last presentations will take place online. You should plan for a presentation that includes slides, so that these can be submitted. Details will be available, via the Canvas site, to those who register for the course. A range of presentations times will be available, to suit those in different timezones, but a live presentation to an audience of your peers is an essential part of the course, so the final presentations will require synchronous online presence. You should ensure that you’ve sufficient internet connectivity to allow for this.

The progression of Covid-19 continues to be unpredictable, and the information on which our plans have been made continues to be updated.  If it is necessary for us to change these plans, we’ll post an announcement here. (This update: June 30, 2020.)

COGS 402 is an opportunity to gain first hand experience of conducting interdisciplinary research, and of presenting the results of that work in writing and in person.

Possible projects span a wide range of areas, such as designing effective visual displays, developing virtual reality systems, designing speech synthesis systems, understanding unconscious perception, investigating limits on the perception of computer animation, designing human-like avatars, and developing effective teleoperation systems for a variety of conditions.  Ideas and exemplars of past projects can be seen by attending one of the “Gearing up for 402” events, hosted by the UBC Cognitive Systems Society.

The course is typically offered in the Spring semester, and as a single course that runs over both terms of the summer.  It is sometimes offered in the Fall too.  Whereas lab-based projects are often easiest to find in the summer, supervisors for projects at the more philosophical end of the spectrum may be easier to find in the winter terms.

Finding a Supervisor

The most important part of the course is finding a lab, or other research environment, in which to complete a project.  Your project should be one that enables you to exercise and further the skills that you have acquired over the course of your undergraduate studies.  Its relevance to the study of Cognitive Systems should be clear.

If you are working with a supervisor who has not previously supervised a 402 project, they can find some more information in the Research Collaboration Agreement form, at the bottom of this page.

Students should consult the COGS Advisor if they are hoping to complete their 402 project with a research group outside UBC (or with a group within UBC, if that group is not headed by a UBC faculty member).

Identifying a Project

Students in COGS 402 must give at least nine hours of their time per week to the pursuit of a supervised, collaborative research project, running for the length of one academic term.

Once the student has found a researcher who is willing to supervise their work—and has agreed on a project that can be completed in the time available—both the student and supervisor must fill out a Collaboration Agreement Form. This form must be submitted here (you may be asked to log in with your CWL credentials. If it does not work, send the form to cogs.advising {at} by the end of the week in which the first presentations are given.  For projects that are completed in a UBC lab, we prefer to have this form signed by the Principal Investigator of that lab, even if this PI will delegate the actual supervision of your project to another member of their lab team.

First Presentations

At some point during the first weeks of the semester in which students take the course, all students must give a brief presentation—to the instructor and to other students enrolled in the course—outlining the methods and motivation for the project that they hope to pursue.  This first presentation should be of a few minutes in length (typically fewer than five).  It is marked on a pass/fail basis: those students who have not identified a satisfactory project at this stage in the course will be required to withdraw from it.

Students should plan to meet with the COGS 402 instructor at least once during the course of their project, typically around the middle of the semester, in order to discuss any ways in which their project has varied from their original plans.

Final Assessment


In the last week of the semester in which the course is taken, all students give a second brief presentation, explaining what they have done, why, and how, and taking questions concerning their project. 15% of your grade will be determined by this final presentation.  This part of your grade will be based on how successfully you communicate the content and significance of your work to an audience of your peers. You should therefore avoid giving a presentation that assumes more familiarity with the subject matter of your research than these peers are likely to have.

Final presentations would normally be expected to last from five to seven minutes, and to be followed by three to four minutes of questions.

Presenting work to your peers is an integral part of research. It is one of the things that this course requires, and one of the things on which you will be assessed. Participation in both rounds of presentation is an essential part of the course. In the normal course of events, permission to make these presentations remotely is granted only if the research that you have been conducting requires you to be absent, but while the university’s operation is restricted by measures to contain Covid-19, all presentations will be given online, using tools in the course’s Canvas site.


A short written report should be submitted at the end of the week following the last week of the teaching semester.  40% of your grade will be determined by the quality of your research, as detailed in this written report. 

The report is graded by the 402 course instructor, and not by the supervisor of the project that you have completed.  (This is intended to minimize the conflict of interest in cases where students wish to write a final report that includes criticism of that supervisor’s work.)  For the purposes of evaluation, your write-up will be considered as a contribution to the professional literature in the relevant area.  You should aim to write in the manner typical of that literature.  (It may therefore be helpful to consider the Author Guidelines for some of the main journals or conferences in the area in which you are working.)  The format of this report, its length, and its level of detail, must be appropriate to the presentation of professional research in the area in which your project has been done. If your studies prior to 402 have not made you familiar with the ways in which research in an area is disseminated, it may be best for you to avoid a 402 project in that area.

Supervisor’s evaluation

At around the time when your final report is submitted, your supervisor should provide an evaluation of all the work that you have done over the course of the semester. 45% of your grade will be determined by this supervisor evaluation.  Your supervisor will be asked to evaluate your skills as a researcher, where these include the communication skills of a successful team member, as well as the intellectual skills that are involved in designing research, and in analyzing its results.  As with the Collaboration Agreement Form, we prefer it if your evaluation form is signed by the Principal Investigator of the research group in which you have completed your project, even if this PI has delegated the actual supervision of your project to some other member of their lab team.  Your supervisor’s final evaluation form should be emailed, or sent via campus mail, to the course instructor.


Deadlines are important, and the skill of meeting them is an important one to acquire.  The timing of research can, nonetheless, be difficult, especially when the research involves human participants, or requires clearance from the university’s ethics review board.  In the event that it will be impossible to meet the deadlines for this course, it is imperative that you speak with the course instructor prior to the arrival of those deadlines.  Work that is received after the deadline will not be graded, unless prior permission has been given for its late submission, or an academic concession has been granted by the faculty in which the student is enrolled.

Points to Note

  • COGS 402 is not an independent study course. Your work is expected to contribute to the research agenda of the people with whom you work.
  • Nor should students merely lend casual labour to some larger academic endeavour. The work that you complete should lead, via a method that you understand, to the achievement of some result the significance of which you can explain at the end of the semester.
  • It is not permitted for students to be paid for the time used in completing this project.
  • For 402 projects that incur significant expense, it may be worthwhile applying for funding from one of the university’s undergraduate research competitions. The appropriate competition will depend on your faculty of study, on whether you are an international or domestic student, and on the area of your project. Information for Arts students can be found here, and information for Science students can be found here, but these sites do not exhaustively list the possible sources of funding.
  • Any intellectual property that is created in the course of your studies at UBC is governed by the University’s policies.