Mathematical and Computational Psychology - Program Training

Students in the Mathematical and Computational Psychology program acquire a solid background in mathematics, psychology, and statistics to use as a base for creating mathematical models in a wide range of psychological areas.  Academic study within this area includes modeling of psychological phenomena (cognitive psychology, learning, memory, visual and auditory perception, and psychophysics), experimental design, probability, and applied statistics.  Student thesis research is preferably directed toward theoretical and/or methodological problems within a content area of psychology, such as experimental, social, clinical, or industrial psychology.  Students are also encouraged to take advantage of the excellent opportunities at Purdue to delve into neighboring disciplines such as artificial intelligence, neurophysiology, robotics, computer science, systems theory, and linguistics.

First Year Paper

During the first year, students will be given the opportunity to participate in an on-going research program, through either background reading, data collection, or data analysis and model fitting.  By the end of the Spring semester, students must submit a short research report (10 pages or more) that summarizes their work on this project.  In some cases, this report will be in the form of a research article and in others it may be a summary of the research literature relating to the student's current area of interest or a proposal/critique of a quantitative model.  The paper will be evaluated by a two-member committee composed of the student's advisor and one other member of the Area chosen by the student.  If the paper is unsatisfactory, the student must submit a revised paper before the end of the Fall semester of the second year.  Students who fail to meet the first year paper requirement by the end of the Fall semester of the second year will be placed on probation and may be dropped from the program.

Qualifying Examination

The course curriculum required for the Master’s degree is designed to help prepare the student for the Qualifying Examination, which is required for all students in the program.  

Students must arrange for a place in which to take the exam without interruptions for four continuous hours.  The exam will be open book and open notes.  Each member of the examination committee will contribute one or more questions designed to take no more than one hour to complete.  Exam questions will be based on material from the Area Core reading list, which is available from the Area Secretary, and from required courses taught by one of the faculty in the MCP area, taken by the student prior to the exam.   Students may wish to review Qualifying Examination questions given to other students in the program. Copies of these (questions only) will be available from the Area Secretary. The core list may be updated periodically by the Area.  However, students may choose between the most current list and any prior lists available starting from the year in which the student entered the program.  The committee head should ensure that all members have copies of the core reading list selected by the student.

In some cases, the committee head may decide that the student's handwritten answers should be retyped by the Area Secretary before they are distributed to the committee. Copies of answers to the exam will be distributed promptly to members of the committee by the committee head.  [Note: Copies of the examination questions should be given to the committee for approval before the exam and to the Area Secretary after the exam is completed.]

Preliminary Examination

The Mathematical and Computational Psychology Area have no set requirement for the preliminary examination.  Please process appropriate paperwork with the departmental Graduate Office to meet the Graduate School's requirement for this examination. 

PhD Candidacy

A student is admitted into Ph.D. candidacy after obtaining a M.S degree, passing the qualifying exam, and completing the forms for the Preliminary examination.

Final Examining Commitee

This committee must have no less than four members and must include the Major Professor (from the Mathematical and Computational Psychology Area).  Two or three of the remaining members must also be in the Mathematical and Computational Psychology Area.

Course Requirements

Specific Mathematical and Computational Psychology Area Requirements 

Students are responsible for satisfying Graduate School and Departmental requirements.  

A given course is able to satisfy only one requirement within the Mathematical and Computational Psychology requirements, though the course may also satisfy a Departmental requirement.  From the perspective of MCP it is permitted for a course to satisfy an MCP requirement and a requirement for another program (e.g., a Master’s degree in another program, or department/university requirements). 

A student working on a Master’s degree through the Purdue Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mathematics, or Statistics might be able to substitute courses satisfying requirements for such a degree in place of courses that are specific Mathematical and Computational Psychology Area requirements.  Approval of the student’s Master’s or Ph. D. advisory committee is required for such substitutions.  

MCP Course Requirements for Ph. D. 

To insure MCP students have broad training, the program requires course work in five topic areas.

  1. Computational Methods

Two courses are required from the following list:

CS 57800 Statistical Machine Learning     

ECE 66100 Computer Vision

ECE 59500ML Machine Learning 2  

PSY 51300 Intro to Computational Cognitive Neuroscience

STAT 54500 Introduction to Computational Statistics

STAT 54600 Computational Statistics

Substitution of courses should be approved by a student’s academic advisor in consultation with the Area members

  1. Mathematical Psychology

One of the following courses: 

ECE 51100/PSY 51100 Psychophysics

PSY 51400 Introduction to Mathematical Psychology

PSY 60700 Scaling and Measurement

A seminar taught by a faculty member of the MCP Area

Substitution of courses should be approved by a student’s academic advisor in consultation with the Area members

  1. Statistics

Students must satisfy the Departmental statistics requirement.  One further different course is required.  It may be any course offered by the Statistics Department numbered 51100 or higher, except Statistics Department courses that are seminars, directed study, thesis research, or consulting training. Courses that do not satisfy this requirement include:  STAT 51500 Statistical Consulting Problem, STAT 58100 Bioinformatics Seminar, STAT 58200 Statistical Consulting and Collaboration, STAT 59000 Internship Seminar, STAT 59700 Statistical Consulting Seminar, STAT 59800 Topics in Statistical Methods. 

  1. Mathematics

Students must take at least three mathematically focused courses, chosen from the following options: 

PSY 60700 Scaling and Measurement, 

MATH courses with numbers 50000 or higher

ECE courses with numbers 50000 or higher. 

Exceptions are seminars, thesis research, or similar, such as ECE 59500, Math 69900, Research Ph. D. thesis, or ECE 69200 Introduction to Graduate Research. 

Note:  PSY 60700 Scaling and Measurement cannot be used to satisfy both the Mathematical Psychology and the Mathematics requirements. 

  1. Psychology

The Department of Psychological Sciences Graduate Handbook requires three graduate courses outside the major area.  MCP students will typically satisfy the department’s requirement through topic areas 1-4. To insure depth within psychological sciences, the MCP Area requires that MCP students take three courses offered within the Department of Psychological Sciences that are not given by the MCP area.

MCP Course Requirements for Master’s degree. 

The Departmental statistics requirement must be satisfied.

In addition, one course is required from each of the other topics above, that is, from Computational Methods, Mathematical Psychology, Mathematics, and Psychology.


All doctoral students will complete a Ph.D. dissertation which will be an independent, but guided, effort of research scholarship in the candidate's field of interest. The student will stand examination on this research in the form of an oral dissertation defense.


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