Lots of things! For some students, studying cognitive science is an exercise in ‘pure’ science – with the goal of understanding the nature of human nature. These students often continue their study of the nature of mind in graduate school – either in a department of cognitive science, or in a traditional department of computer science, psychology, philosophy, linguistics, or neuroscience. Our majors have extremely good track records of being admitted into the top programs in such disciplines.
Other students use their training in cognitive science in the service of directly applied interests. In fact, for almost every cognitive process that some scientists study in a ‘pure’ way, others are attempting to capitalize on this newfound understanding by building artificial devices to either replicate these processes, or to aid their execution in humans. For example: (1) understanding object recognition may help to design satellites that can recognize what they’re looking at; (2) understanding language processing may help to design computers that can interact efficiently with their users via verbal interfaces; or (3) understanding attention may help to design aircraft cockpits which minimize distractions while simultaneously capturing pilots’ attention during emergencies. Students with such interests may thus head into industry research jobs after majoring in cognitive science.
Still other students may apply their training in cognitive science in a wide range of careers to other human activities which involve various cognitive processes, for example (1) using knowledge about how memory works to inform and reform practices in courtroom trials or witness lineups; (2) using knowledge about reasoning and problem solving to improve education and educational testing; or (3) using knowledge about attention and decision making to design more effective advertising and marketing.
Finally, several majors each year also complete Yale’s pre-med requirements, intending to complement their later training in medical school with the ‘big picture’ insights about human nature that they gain while studying cognitive science.