Career Opportunity: Cognitive Science

An exciting multi-faceted career awaits those who explore a degree in Cognitive Science in their post-secondary education. Cognitive Science is a growing field of research that incorporates many disciplines and has its origins in the mid 1950’s, when intellectuals from various fields began to develop theories of the mind and its thought processes. As the complexity of this inquiry became apparent, collaboration between the disciplines of neuroscience, linguistics, artificial intelligence, psychology, and philosophy brought a more comprehensive understanding of how the mind works. Exploring the mechanisms and activities of the mind that affect thinking, information processing, and learning is a fascinating endeavor. New discoveries are then incorporated into the existing body of research which makes this field of study both challenging and exciting.

A major in cognitive science offers opportunities for graduates to find employment in various industries. These include information systems, government agencies, education and medical services, and non-profit agencies.  The goal of the education is to understand the principles of intelligence, which lead to a better comprehension of the mind and of learning. This expertise brings about the opportunity to develop intelligent devices and to extend human abilities. University programs in cognitive science in Canada are generally restricted to students in the Arts & Science degree program (B.A. / B.SC.). An undergraduate degree in cognitive science can help prepare students for a graduate program in the same, or in a related field. At the graduate level the programs are intended to train students to be professional cognitive scientists skilled in AI, computer modeling, linguistic analysis, and independent research.

A background in cognitive science can also be a foundation for a career in law, medicine, education, engineering, or business. The knowledge acquired from an undergraduate degree in cognitive science will enhance an understanding of human intelligence and the ways we acquire, represent, and use information. This in turn will deepen awareness of the relationships between computing, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology, as well as the interconnected nature of our universe. Some of the necessary skills developed through a cognitive science major are critical and analytical thinking, research and problem solving, and enhanced written and verbal communication skills. Hands on training in the use of technical and scientific equipment are yet another bonus. Today cognitive science has developed into the interdisciplinary study of cognition in humans, animals, and machines. This field of study integrates a great body of research with applications that focus on optimizing language acquisition, mathematical comprehension, and the processes that form behavior. The science of artificial intelligence is one branch of cognitive science that is growing at a break neck speed and will continue to provide high paying jobs for the most qualified applicants.

The blueprint is the human brain, how it processes information, how learning takes place, as well as exploring thought processes. One of the primary and most lucrative career options in cognitive science that is growing rapidly is machine learning, which is primarily how to create intelligent behavior, the ability to learn, and flexibility in machines. Web developers, programmers, technical writers, and post-secondary instructors all work in this field and are expected to experience faster-than-average job growth through 2024. The interests and experience needed to pursue a career in artificial intelligence are a familiarity with machine learning, statistical analysis, data mining, personal/academic projects and publications. Knowledge of one or more scripting language, a proven computer science background, and exposure to the higher maths are all a must.

The term AI covers a number of disciplines and tasks such as speech recognition, machine learning, deep learning, biometrics, text analysis, and processing. Given the level of specialization each requires, not many professionals can master more than one of these disciplines. AI engineers command the highest salaries. AI is not a discipline you can teach yourself. To participate in this rapidly growing field, a master’s degree or a PHD is required in order to even qualify for most of the available jobs. Knowledge of computer technology and mathematics are the backbone of artificial intelligence programs. Competence in the higher mathematics such as linear algebra, as well as a strong grasp of physics, engineering, robotics, and computer science are a must. So it’s easy to comprehend why there is such a high demand for employees with the requisite skills and why AI salaries are on the rise.

One example of such a job opportunity with IBM in Canada would involve joining a consulting team composed of other professionals to conceptualize, develop, and deploy cognitive solutions to solve the large scale problem of a given enterprise. Product managers, partners, data scientists, architects, and software engineers would tackle the challenge together, each bringing subject matter expertise, data science, and technical execution to the table. These collaborations have brought exciting breakthroughs to the field of cognitive science as a whole.

Artificial intelligence has been part of cognitive science since the beginning and is presently one of the fastest growing endeavors, generating widespread interest and recognition. The most impressive advances in AI come from the approach of deep learning. Breakthroughs in gaming, translation, and object recognition have extended the abilities of machines and people. Deep learning builds on the ideas of artificial neural networks and theoretical neuroscience using the human brain and intelligence as a model. The human brain has powerful mechanisms for learning from examples, and for learning actions that are reinforced by successes. Although deep learning has produced dramatic improvements in AI systems, it is not completely clear to scientists how it can be applied to certain aspects of human thought such as imagery, emotion, and analogy. There is still much to discover.

Salaries are high for artificial intelligence experts who are benefiting from a rapidly growing field and a scarcity of talent. For example, a machine learning engineer in San Francisco can easily bring home $169,930 per year. A Global News inquiry revealed that top graduates in Canada are increasingly crossing the six figure mark for entry level jobs. Salaries are generous if you have earned the credentials that a firm needs. One tenured professor was offered triple his $180,000 salary to join Google, which he declined for a different teaching position. Anything artificial intelligence related is in very high demand. The top companies in Canada doing the most hiring of candidates with AI skills are RBC, IBM, Scotiabank, Amazon, and TD Bank. Montreal and Toronto have become global hubs of AI study.

These jobs, though plentiful, mean working in the tech sectors which are often confined to just a few big and expensive cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, New York, and San Francisco. Another caution is that these six figure jobs often come with 15 hour days that can easily spill into the weekends. Still, opportunities are growing across the world in this ever expanding field of research. Glassdoor, a popular job search site, listed Facebook, NVIDIA, Adobe, Microsoft, and Accenture as the 5 best companies to work for in 2018 with job openings for AI positions at19%. Toronto’s tech industry is presently booming and has emerged as a hub for AI job opportunities. Overall, Ontario is home to 54 percent of these jobs.

As mentioned previously, a career in cognitive science begins with an undergraduate degree. The foundations needed to study cognitive science involve related disciplines such as linguistics, higher mathematics, computer science, philosophy, and neuroscience. In Canada, the universities that offer cognitive science programs are the University of Toronto, McGill, Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, and McMaster, to name just a few. Schools known for their excellence in cognitive science and machine learning in the United States are Carnegie Mellon, Stanford University, and the University of California-Berkeley. There is no degree to be had in data science or AI. Graduates taking up those jobs often have majors in mathematics, statistics, computer science or computer engineering. Candidates who have obtained a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in cognitive science can command the highest salaries in industry level research, software development, artificial intelligence, and post-secondary instruction. Competition is fierce for the brightest and the best students. Large corporations set up shop on university campuses each September in order to attract the top techies at the local science fairs. The labour market is tight, so recruiting becomes a two way street. Not only is it about finding the right people, but also convincing them to work for the company, rather than one of their competitors. Head hunters are looking for employees who can think on their feet, have a positive frame of mind and a good disposition. With the requisite skills, education, and temperament, the sky is the limit.

By Alison Zenisek