Information about Opportunities for Involvement
For Undergraduates
Cognitive Scientists
Computer Scientists

For Graduates
Present DCS Students
Other Rutgers Students

For Postdoctoral Research

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There's lots going on at THE VILLAGE, and if you're an enthusiastic student or researcher with insights about cognition and human-computer interaction that you'd like to explore here, we would love to have you join us! This page lays out the ground rules for joining our lab; you will learn what to expect and what you should plan to do here. It's information you need to make a real contribution to our research that you find enjoyable and rewarding. Use the table on the left to navigate to the description you need.

Undergraduate Work and Research

At Rutgers, undergraduates have the choice either to take on paid work assisting with the conduct of experimental research or to pursue independent study in intellectual activies related to university research for course credit. At THE VILLAGE, we make opportunities of both kinds available to a number of undergraduate students every year.

Paid work gives you the chance to earn some much-needed cash in the rewarding and comparatively upbeat and challenging setting of a working lab. It involves fixed commitments of time per week, although hours are typically flexible; at the same time, it demands reliability, good communication ability and some well-developed useful skills - whether they be artistic, psychological or programming. Work is one way to get a strong professional reference and even some external contacts for employment after Rutgers.

Independent study gives you a way to immerse yourself in your intellectual obsessions. The basic framework is to find some interesting challenge and bang your head against it until you meet the challenge or, often enough, discover something important about the challenge that shows that the way you were thinking of it to start was much too simple and naive. It may sound frustrating, but there's a positive side, too: it's an opportunity to give free rein to your curiosity and to explore ideas that you really care about in close contact with world experts. By the end of an independent study, you'll have a really good sense of whether graduate research is for you and, if it is, a personal academic reference that can attest to your creativity and drive for research.

That's the big picture. The descriptions that follow give some sample ideas about what there is to do at THE VILLAGE and how to do it.

For Artists

We are always looking for artists with experience with 3D modeling and animation software to work with us in helping to design characters and interfaces for interactive systems. Contact Doug DeCarlo with questions and applications. For example, currently we have a prototype face animation system and rough sketches for a face to animate; we need an assistant to realize the sketches as a 3D model, and to create the expressions that this face can make as it moves.

THE VILLAGE can also provide a setting for interdiscplinary students to study relationships between art, cognition and computation. Writing a computer program can be a way to explore questions such as these:

  • What ways are there to describe a design or a work of art precisely?
  • What ways are there to describe the processes involved in art and design precisely?
  • How does understanding art depend on the viewer's knowledge or on their perceptual abilities?
Take a look at the project Shawn Patton did in spring 2000 to get an idea. Take a look at the computer science blurb to get a sense of the background required to undertake such a study.

For Cognitive Science and Psychology Majors

VILLAGE research increasingly involves experimentation. When we mock up, refine or evaluate interactive systems, we can find ourselves making use of methodologies pioneered by psycholinguists, psychophysicists and other cognitive psychologists. That means, of course, that we have some of the same kinds of work opportunities for undergraduate lab assistants as you'd find in a psychology lab. Contact Matthew Stone for more information.

For students who want to do an independent study in cognitive science centered around the theme of face-to-face conversation, THE VILLAGE is a great venue. We welcome potential questions that address how people speak and understand one another - from the theoretical standpoint of linguistics, the empirical standpoint of psychology, or the applied standpoint of computational modeling. These studies are open to students with a wide range of backgrounds; the background just has to match the question you're interested in. For example, independent studies in THE VILLAGE have addressed the nonverbal signals people provide in conversation - and have done so from a variety of points of view, such as linguistic analysis of videotapes and computer programming of animations.

For Computer Science Majors

Maintaining and putting together our interactive systems offers some work opportunities for undergraduates with good programming abilities. In general, our software is written in C or C++ on a UNIX platform; the kinds of simple tasks we need help with include writing low-level functionality for this software, such as interfaces to equipment, or writing very high-level routines, such as those that connect different research modules. It's not something you'll be qualified for as a Rutgers undergraduate unless you've gotten obsessed by hacking at some point in your life; you'll know if this applies to you.

Most computer science students interested in research at THE VILLAGE should aim for independent studies. Any topic related to computer graphics, computer vision, computational linguistics or intelligent interaction is a possibility. In the past, students have worked on such applications as game-playing programs, automated graphical design, and animated conversational agents.

Our experience is that students find these studies more rewarding and successful when they undertake them after an appropriate computer science class - perhaps 428, Introduction to Computer Graphics; perhaps 440, Introduction to AI. These classes are only offered in fall semesters, and are listed with substantial prerequisites. Don't worry. We know that it can be valuable to get involved with an independent study by the end of the junior year, whether to fulfill General Honors requirements (now, wish lists) or to make an informed decision about graduate school. If you're eager to get underway, we will see about getting you into the relevant classes in the fall of your junior year, waiving prerequisites if necessary; get in touch with VILLAGE faculty. We much prefer to arrange this than to take on a student for independent study in computer science without the background coursework.

For Prospective Graduate Students

For graduate study in THE VILLAGE, apply to the graduate program in the computer science department. In addition, if you are an American citizen (or permanent resident) with interdisciplinary interests, you should also declare your interest in cognitive science fellowships through the RuCCS NRSA program. Read the section for computer science graduate students to get a sense of what you should expect once you are admitted.

All admission and financial aid decisions are made by the computer science department's graduate admissions committee (or by the cognitive science center's NRSA steering committee), not by individual faculty members or research groups. Admission decisions are based on the student's academic record, which includes test scores and grades, but especially depends on recommendation letters.

As a result, we cannot reasonably answer questions like "Am I likely to be accepted?" or "Will I receive financial aid?" or "Should I apply?"   In addition, we already spend a lot of time reviewing applications to our department (for the graduate admissions committee), and we unfortunately cannot afford to spend additional time to review the files of potential applicants. The decision on whether to apply is entirely your own.

Of course, we welcome questions and comments regarding our research, and hearing your feelings about how your interests overlap or complement ours. We are always looking for good, enthusiastic students. Once you have actually applied, we encourage you to contact an appropriate VILLAGE faculty member so that both we and the graduate admissions committee are aware of your interests.

If you wish to receive additional information about the admissions process, please contact the computer science graduate secretary, Shirley Hinds (

For Current DCS Graduate Students

THE VILLAGE is connected with a number of activities that are open to all computer science students - indeed, they are open to everyone in the local research community. You can find these events on THE VILLAGE home page; they include events such as talk series and reading groups. You don't need anyone's permission to come to these (though when you intend to come to smaller events, it's polite to let the organizer know). Your attendance at such events is an expression of your intellectual curiosity and commits neither you nor VILLAGE faculty to joint research.

For full members of THE VILLAGE, research assistantships may be available. Research assistantships presuppose that the supported student has

  • a specific research conjecture that they are investigating under the supervision of specific VILLAGE faculty
  • solid background in the research methods they will use to address the conjecture
  • a specific plan of work involving carrying out the work and documenting the work for submission for publication in an appropriate workshop, conference or journal
  • a definite sense of how the work contributes to an eventual computer science dissertation and lays the groundwork for a possible teaching or research career (in industry or academia)
RAs are expected to work to plan, attend and present at lab meetings, meet regularly with their supervisors, and maintain a visible presence in THE VILLAGE space and at VILLAGE-sponsored events. These aren't just our requirements; they are the requirements of the agencies and organizations that furnish the RAs to us. We hold you to them so that we will continue to be able to get RA positions in the future.

Obviously RAs are a possibility only for students who have already invested substantial effort in understanding the kind of research questions and methods investigated in THE VILLAGE, and who have developed a good working rapport with VILLAGE faculty. How can you do this?

  1. Take the intitiative to get the background you need as quickly as possible. Enroll in VILLAGE light seminars and come to as many talks as you can stand. Take background classes for VILLAGE research, such as AI, graphics, vision and natural language; and make doing the classwork and mastering the material a priority.
  2. TA with VILLAGE faculty. Find out what it's like to work for us, and show us what you're like to work with. We're conscientious about not overburdening you with drudgery but we demand efficiency, responsiveness and good communication. If the class you TA happens to be related to your areas of interest (as is often possible), you will find the experience gives you a solid understanding of the area and points up open questions you want to work on.
  3. Do an independent study or informal project in THE VILLAGE. Get some practice and expect to make some mistakes with research before you understand the real pitfalls of naive or sloppy work. Come to lab meetings and start learning how to contribute to discussions about ideas and how to present your work to a scientific audience. You may be able to apply for fellowships to relieve you of TA duties as you do this.
By and large, these steps build on one another. Moving forward requires mutual agreement between student and faculty.

Contact appropriate faculty as soon as your interests are piqued but be prepared for a realistic answer: start working the next stage. We want nothing more than for you to become innovative, well-respected and influential scientists. But there's no jumping the gun, and there's no letting you off the hook.

For Other Rutgers Cognitive Science Graduate Students

For other Rutgers graduate students, the formal framework for joining THE VILLAGE is the cognitive science certificate offered by RuCCS. In many ways, the certificate allows a cognitive science student to obtain an experience of computer science research in the small. The certificate begins with general coursework, including the cognitive science proseminar and in this case most likely continues with an artificial intelligence class, to get preparation in some methods of computer science. It concludes with an independent study with the potential of obtaining a scientific result in computational cognitive science of intrinsic interest. Obviously, such an endeavor is feasible for a student only if the proposed project significantly leverages their existing research interests and background. We hope to provide an environment where a wide variety of students from linguistics, psychology, philosophy and information science can indeed gain a computational perspective on their own research. But students must meet for individual discussions with VILLAGE faculty in order to design an project which has such potential for them.

Postdoctoral Research

At THE VILLAGE, we are committed to incorporating the latest research results and research methods from cognitive science into the development of interactive systems. In part, that commitment takes the form of collaboration with and supervision of postdoctoral researchers who have cognitive science backgrounds (broadly conceived) and who have an interest in computation and human-computer interaction. For example, through the RuCCS NRSA training grant, we were able to bring in Jennifer Venditti for 2000-2001, to investigate processing of intontation in discourse from both psychological and computational perspectives. The NRSA program is continuing - see our announcement of positions - and VILLAGE faculty are prepared both to sponsor new postdocs and to lend our enthusiastic support for candidates that will work primarily with other RuCCS researchers but also aspire either to interact with VILLAGE projects or to develop an explicitly computational perspective on their own research.