COGS 402

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

Projects can take a wide variety of forms, provided that they give you and opportunity to show off the skills you have built in the course of your degree.  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 Fall and Spring semesters, and as a single course that runs over both terms of the summer.  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 your project.  This project should be one that enables you to exercise and further the skills that you have acquired over the course of your undergraduate studies.  It need not involve the design or execution of an experiment: many projects are experimental, but many others involve the design and building of a computational system, or the exploration of a philosophical literature, or the implementation of a computational model.  Any form of scholarly or professional research is acceptable, provided that the point of it, and its relevance to the study of Cognitive Systems, is 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, which is at the bottom of this page.

Students should consult the course instructor 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 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 via the course’s canvas page 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 get in touch 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. It will be peer marked.  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.

The rubric with which your peers will be asked to assess your work will look like this:

For this part of the course, you will receive the median grade awarded by your peers.

Final presentations would normally be expected to last from five to seven minutes, and to be followed by three to four minutes of questions.  You must attend, and submit peer marks, for each of the other students who present in the same session as you. Attendance of presentations on other days is optional.

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.


The write up of your work 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.

According to the norms in the discipline to which you are contributing, it may be appropriate for your write up to include links to online repositories of code, or to include appendices of data.  Whatever those disciplinary norms are, all students must be able to provide an anonymized version of any raw data that their project generates, if this is requested by the course instructor.  Your data must be available for review by the course instructor even if your project was conducted in industry, and those data are commercially sensitive.  (In this case, the instructor will be happy to enter into a non-disclosure agreement.)  Any failure to follow the norms of ethical practice when storing data is a form of academic misconduct.

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.  A link to the form can be found at the bottom of this webpage.


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

  • Although COGS 402 is labelled an “independent study course”, it is not entirely independent – your work is expected to meaningfully contribute to the research agenda of the people with whom you work.
  • On the flip side, students should not 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.