Why I Majored in Cognitive Science

Alexandra Werner ’22

Coming into Pomona, I really had no idea what I wanted to major in. Initially, it was biology, then art history, before finally deciding that cognitive science was where many of my interests intersected. The so-called ‘click’ moment for me was during Intro to Cog Sci with Professor Laura Johnson the spring semester of my first year. I was absolutely captivated by the range of subjects that cognitive science encapsulated, from philosophy to computer science to linguistics. I even decided to go a step further and minor in linguistics due to a rather niche reason. I am originally from London, UK and after coming to Southern California, I became acutely aware of my accent among everyone else, which prompted me to take some linguistics classes, and then some more, until I realized that I had fulfilled all the credits for a minor in the process (paired also with the fact that I found the material extremely interesting). 

I tend to be quite reluctant in narrowing down to a specific focus, but cognitive science was honestly the best option for me to explore a wide range of classes which still followed an interdisciplinary study of human cognition and language. Three classes which have been very impactful were: Linguistic Anthropology with Professor Cecile Evers, Cognitive Film Studies at Pitzer with Professor Timothy Justus, and Bilingual Cognition with Professor Megan Zirnstein. These topics are rather different from each other but the opportunity to take major credits from different departments across the 5Cs is exactly what drew me to the LGCS Department as a whole.

During summer 2020, I analyzed how emotion, bilingualism, and decision making interact in speech-sign bilinguals through Pomona’s Remote Alternative Independent Summer Experience (RAISE) program with Professor Zirnstein. The majority of research on bilingual cognition is conducted on unimodal bilinguals who know two spoken languages. The inclusion of speech-sign bilinguals offers important insights into how signed and spoken languages interact across modalities at the lexical and conceptual levels. To strengthen and inform my thesis, I interviewed some eminent researchers specializing in the field of bilingual cognition. This was an invaluable and exciting experience for me, especially over the summer of the pandemic.

I am taking advantage of the new major curriculum, where you have the option of designing your own concentration around three courses which cohere to a theme relevant to cognitive science. My proposed concentration focuses on user-centered design and how people interact with products, through the lens of language and cognition. The flexibility that the cognitive science major offers students is hugely beneficial and allows you to not only learn about the important cognitive functions of the mind but also how to apply the broader framework of human behavior to a multitude of disciplines.

Emily McClaughry ’22

I love the interdisciplinary nature of the major. Like most people at Pomona, I chose a liberal arts college because I wanted to explore as many different areas of study as possible. Cognitive science allows me to do that as my major! I love how diverse my schedule is—I study linguistics, anthropology, sociology, neuroscience and psychology all in one week!             

The LGCS Department genuinely feels like a family. I've worked with many of the professors and students multiple times, and I recognize friendly faces at every event, workshop, and LGCS class I take. And new people are welcomed in with open arms. Prospective students interested in the many opportunities afforded by this department will also be supported throughout their time at Pomona.

I have been working on helping Professor Michael Diercks with his upcoming class, Morphosyntactic Diversity, by looking through grammars of underrepresented languages for students to study. Currently, I'm creating a presentation on linguistic discrimination for a presentation workshop run by Professor Galia Bar-Sever. I hope to write my thesis on something similar, in the sociolinguistics field in general.

The cog sci major is so customizable! I'm creating a concentration in linguistics, I know someone creating a concentration in anthropology, and the possibilities are endless. I'd love to see more students become part of the LGCS family!