Brain and Cognitive Sciences (Research-Master)

Faculty of Science



The Research Master's in Brain and Cognitive Sciences (MBCS) is an ambitious, two-year programme with a unique, interdisciplinary perspective on neuroscience and cognition. The programme trains a new generation of researchers that is able to combine deep expertise with a broad understanding of the field as a whole. Students in this programme focus on cellular neuroscience, neurophysiology, cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, computational neuroscience, behavioural research or a combination of these, while at the same time becoming knowledgeable about adjacent approaches.

MBCS has close links to the Amsterdam Brain and Cognition centre (ABC), a partnership of several UvA research institutes. The cognition research teams include psychologists, neurobiologists, psychiatrists, philosophers, behavioural economists, logicians and linguists.

Interdisciplinary approach

MBCS is an interdisciplinary research master, which strongly values crossing disciplines and integrating insights from a variety of fields. This is based on the premise that top-level training in one of the interrelated disciplines that span brain and cognitive sciences requires a basic understanding of developments in the others. For example, in order to understand a cognitive function such as human memory, neuroscientists need to be familiar with behavioural aspects of memory and developments in building artificial memory systems. Similarly, cognitive psychologists need a basic understanding of how information is coded in the brain.

To this end, the programme selects students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and offers them an environment in which they can both specialize in their approach of choice and broaden their horizons through coursework and exchange with each other. MBCS also trains students in interdisciplinary research explicitly, actively encouraging them to engage with the many areas of brain and cognitive sciences in an open yet critical fashion.




You will receive high-quality teaching at a university with a solid research record, ensuring that your studies will be relevant, scientifically up-to-date and challenging. The programme investigates fundamental questions about brain and mind, in an exciting, high-level academic setting.

The core curriculum starts with a kick-off week that sets out the milestones, promises and pitfalls of the fields as whole. Subsequently, you will do a methodological and a topical course that are connected to your prior education, followed by your choice of specialization and elective courses. A year-long course develops skills that are especially important for interdisciplinary research, such as collaboration, critical thinking and knowledge integration. In addition, you will conduct two research projects and a literature review, all on research questions of your choosing. The result is a curriculum that is tailor-made to your individual ambitions while guaranteeing training as a researcher.

Entry points

Entrance to the program is structured along three directions: behavioural neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience and cognitive science. These three entries exist to have the program connect smoothly to your prior education: they only differ in terms of the entry courses of the curriculum. Within the program, you can change direction, combining courses in a way that matches your individual preferences.

Behavioural Neuroscience

Behavioural Neuroscience studies cognition by looking at behaviour and the brain at the levels of cells, molecules and networks. It aims to provide a detailed view of the physiological mechanisms that underlie the functioning of the brain. This entry point is well-suited for students from biomedical science, neurobiology, life sciences, psychobiology or similar fields that emphasize biological processes.

Entering MBCS through behavioural neuroscience prepares you to perform research using a variety of techniques and skills suitable for the biological level (e.g. patch clamping, optogenetics, two-photon imaging, multi-electrode recordings) on topics that cover fundamentals in the cognitive sciences (e.g. memory, affect, perception, decision-making).

Cognitive Neuroscience

Cognitive Neuroscience studies cognition at a systems-level, uncovering the relations between brain structures and processes on the one hand, and behaviour and subjective states on the other. This entry point is well-suited for students from (neuro)psychology, psychobiology, cognitive psychology or similar fields that emphasize mental processes and their biological underpinnings.

Entering MBCS through Cognitive Neuroscience prepares you for research using techniques and skills that are suitable for this neuropsychological level (e.g. EEG/MEG, (f)MRI, TMS, DTI, behavioural task design, data analysis) and introduces the appropriate fundamental topics (e.g. multisensory integration, consciousness, addiction, decision-making).

Cognitive Science

Cognitive Science is the entry point of choice for those looking to understand higher-level cognition and its relation to information processing in the brain. It connects well to psychology, philosophy, linguistics, musicology, logic, behavioural economics or similar fields that seek to analyse mental processes.

If you enter MBCS through Cognitive Science, you are prepared for research using skills and techniques that are important for conceptual and computational understanding of mind and brain (e.g. computational modelling, data analysis, neuroimaging, EEG/MEG) and you will explore outstanding issues related to higher-order cognitive functions (reasoning, musicality, language, decision-making).

None of these entries fully determine your path in the program: for example, it is possible to enter through Cognitive Science and then gravitate towards topics and techniques of the other entries as you progress throughout the programme.


Within the master programme different types of courses are distinguished.

Entry Courses­

The entry courses are the compulsory courses that focus on your own subfield. These courses are offered in semester 1, period 1 and dive into the current topic in the field, as well as the state-of-the-art methods that are employed. The courses are

Behavioural Neuroscience:
1. Neuroscience: From cell to behaviour (5 EC)
2. Experimental Neurobiology (5 EC)

Cognitive Neuroscience:
1. Brain Organization + Cognition (5 EC)
2. Neurophysiology: Introduction in Electrophysiology and Imaging (5 EC)

Cognitive Science:
1. Cognitive Modeling and Data Analysis (5 EC)
2. Higher Cognitive Functions (5 EC)


Core Curriculum Courses:

­There is a core curriculum which is mandatory for all MBCS students. It consists of three plenary courses and one individual course in the master programme. ­The three plenary courses are:

1. Milestones, Promises and Pitfalls (2 EC)
2. Special Topic in Cognitive Science (6 EC) 
3. ABC Summer School (4 EC)

The individual course is the:
Literature Thesis Brain and Cognitive Sciences (12 EC)

Specialization Courses

You have to choose at least 6 EC worth of specialization courses. The choice of specialization courses is limited to:

Introduction to Matlab Programming for Data Analysis (6 EC)
Introduction to Neuroscientific Methods and Brain Anatomy (6 EC)
Cognition and Language Development (6 EC)
Cognitive Models of Language and Music (6 EC)
Foundations of Neural and Cognitive Modelling (6 EC)
Limited capacity: NeuroImaging: Bold MRI (taught at Psychology) (6 EC)

For student entering through behavioral neuroscience, the following options are available:
Limited capacity: Developmental Neurobiology of the Vertebrate Brain (taught at VU) (6 EC)
Limited capacity: Neuronal Networks in vivo (taught at VU) (6 EC)

Please note that the specializationcourses build on prior knowledge. If you are unsure about whether a course would fit your profile (e.g. if you want to do Cognition and Language Development without a background in linguistics) please contact the course coordinator and the study advisor.


You can choose 12 or 18 EC worth of elective courses. These elective courses have to be at a master level and related to the field of brain and cognitive sciences. All electives need to be approved by the board of examiners. For an up-to-date list of pre-approved electives, please see Pre-approved Electives.

Research Projects­

The research projects are also knows as internships. All students of the master Brain and Cognitive Sciences have to conduct two research projects. These are a mandatory part of the master programme in which you acquire practical research experience. The first year research project is 26 or 32 EC. The second year research project is 36 or 42 EC. You can only extend one of your projects with 6 EC and not both. This brings the total amount of credits for research to a minimum of 62 and a maximum of 68 EC in your master programme. See the course descriptions in this catalogue for more information.

1. Research Project 1 (26 or 32 EC)  
2. Research Project 2 (36 or 42 EC)

Published by  Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies

13 November 2017