cog sci alumni panel Q&A notes, design.ucsd

Two months ago, three fresh graduates from the cognitive science program came to speak to the design club at school. Along with conventional advice like “do more than just your classwork” and “make reading a regular habit”, here are three main points that still stick out to me.

Don’t follow the rules. (or: just ask)

Exceptions are made, and more often than you would expect. Success is not guaranteed, but you have nothing to lose from asking.

  • Coursework:  For UCSD’s cognitive science program, you must take a class in research methods before taking a class in distributed cognition. I wanted to take distributed cognition, but I haven’t taken the pre-requisite yet. I e-mailed the major counselor about it, and she let me in the same day (provided that I promise to take both classes eventually).
  • TA’ing opportunities: One of the alumni just missed the GPA requirement required to be a teaching assistant. He went up and asked the professor anyway, because he had a lot to give to the class. He got in.
  • Internship/work opportunities: Maybe the company will write that they are looking for someone who has 3+ years of design experience, but you have less than 1. Apply for the job anyway, and show what you can offer. You may not get the position you originally applied for, but perhaps there are other ways you can give to the project.

Disillusionment happens when someone follows all the rules (i.e. do your work, get good grades, do a couple of extra-curricular activities), but they still don’t get the results they want.

Be a better friend / work partner.

Many future opportunities will come through the students you meet and work with in college.

That’s not anything groundbreaking, but the alumni really hammered this in. That’s actually how some of the people got their jobs — one person was a hiring manager, the other was an applicant, and they both happened to work on the same project in the past, so one guy could vouch for the other.

GPA is irrelevant. Be a better friend instead.

Soft skills > hard skills

Technical skill is important, but soft skills like communication are even more so. As a designer, you’ll be integrating insights from other disciplines. How will you handle inevitable disagreements? Can you reach a compromise without compromising quality? And can you do this while being someone people can look forward to working with?


Special thanks to Kenna Hasson, Alan Tran, and Joshua Morris for the ideas.