BCSC 153: Syllabus

Spring 2024

Time & Location

Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:00pm – 3:15pm
Morey 321


Marius Cătălin Iordan, Ph.D.
Office Hours: Thursdays 3:30pm—4:30pm & by appointment in Meliora 308

Course Communication

The main channels of communication between you and the instruction team are Blackboard and Slack. Please ensure that you have access to the class Blackboard page and please join the course Slack workspace, which will become available by the end of the day on Friday, January 19 (you will receive an email with instructions at that time).

All course materials (e.g., readings) and grades will be posted on Blackboard.

The course Slack has channels dedicated to different aspects of the course (e.g., exams, lectures, logistics, etc.). If you think that other students in the class would benefit from an answer to your question (and if your question is not confidential in any way), you are encouraged to post it to the appropriate Slack channel. The instruction team will strive to provide an answer within 24 hours (often much quicker, unless you post your question on a weekend of holiday, which may incur a longer response time).

If any of our class meetings conflict with a religious event or holiday, please let me or the TAs know so that we can make necessary alternative arrangements for you.

For any accommodation requests that are not handled through the Office of Disability Resources or another relevant University-related entity (e.g., additional exceptions to class policies, medical or family emergencies, etc.), please contact the instructor as soon as the need arises. All such requests will be handled on a case-by-case basis and students may be required to provide external documentation. There will be no make-up exam exceptions for students who have multiple exams on the same day.

If you have any questions about the course materials or lectures, please feel free to ask for clarification in class, ask us after class, email us, or come to our office hours. We are all friendly and happy to help

Your Instructor Has “Face Blindness”

Prof. Iordan has a condition called "prosopagnosia" or "face blindness", which makes it very difficult for her to recognize people, even if she’s seen them frequently before. Due to this, there is always a chance that she might not know who you are when you participate in class and/or come to office hours and/or when you run into her on campus – for the latter, please say hi! We will go over this condition during the “Faces” lecture on Feb 13, but she wanted to let you know in advance to prevent any misunderstandings during your interactions with her this semester.

TL; DR: Prof. Iordan may not be able to recognize you when she sees you. She promises she’s not being rude or dismissive, it’s just how her brain works (or doesn’t).

Course Learning Objectives

  1. Develop an understanding of foundational findings in major sub-topics of cognition and cognitive science, such as categorization, attention, memory, language, and learning.
  2. Demonstrate a working understanding, including their strengths and limitations, of methodologies commonly used in the study of cognitive phenomena, including behavioral (e.g., match-to-category tasks), neuroimaging (e.g., fMRI) and computational (e.g., neural networks).
  3. Explain how information about perceived external stimuli and internal mental states is encoded, represented mentally and/or neurally, and used by humans to understand and act upon the external world.
  4. (Optional) Demonstrate improved ability to communicate both orally and in writing about how the processes, mechanisms, and organizational principles of knowledge of human cognition impact and/or predict human behavior and actions.

Course Structure

Lectures (19): Most of the class will consist of lectures on cognitive science topics, e.g., concepts, categories, learning, attention, language, memory, neural network models. Some lectures may include brief, high-level descriptions of investigative methodologies (e.g., fMRI, EEG, TMS, etc.) and computational analysis + modeling techniques (e.g., SVM, HMM, etc.).

Guest Lectures (3): We will have three guest lectures during the semester on Feb. 27 (instructor: Prof. Chigusa Kurumada), Mar 05 (instructor: TBD) and Mar 07 (instructor: Prof. Elise Piazza). Please note that the material covered during these lectures may be included in subsequent quizzes and exams. Information about these lectures will be updated on the syllabus as it becomes available, and notification will be sent to students.

In-Class Exams (3): We will have three in-class exams on Thu Feb 22, Thu Mar 28, and Tue Apr 30. If you have known conflicts for these dates, please contact me and/or the TAs as soon as possible.

Exam Reviews (3): Before each in-class exam, we will have a review session to recap the material relevant to the current exam. Review sessions are not a substitute for attendance at the lectures. The review sessions are meant to be comprehensive, but not exhaustive, thus topics or questions may show up on the exams that were covered in class, but not in the review sessions.

Quizzes (4): The class will have four mandatory quizzes on Tue Feb 06, Thu Feb 15, Tue Mar 19, and Tue Apr 16. If you have known conflicts for these dates, please contact me and/or the TAs as soon as possible.

Discussions (6): Throughout the semester, we will have 6 seminar-style and/or small group discussions centered on topic questions listed on the syllabus. The discussions are meant to address practical and philosophical implications of the materials covered in the lectures. Students who consistently participate and/or contribute significant insights to class discussions may earn up to 3% total extra credit by the end of the course (increments of 0.25% or 0.50% extra credit will be awarded after each discussion and posted on Blackboard).


There is no required or optional textbook for this class. Instead, there will be two types of reading materials:

  1. Required readings, marked in green on the syllabus, must be completed *before* their respective class time. These can be found in the ‘Required Readings’ folder on Blackboard. Any material in the required readings (whether we cover it explicitly in class or not) may be included on quizzes and exams.
  2. Optional readings, marked in gray on the syllabus, expand on the material we will cover in class, and may be completed after class at your convenience. These can be found in the ‘Optional Readings’ folder on Blackboard. Material in the optional readings will not be required knowledge for quizzes and exams but may be useful for participating in class discussions.

Readings for each week (Tue + Thu) will be posted on Blackboard by the end of the day on the previous Friday (e.g., for the Jan 23 & Jan 25 class times, materials will be posted on Jan 19). Adjustments to the topics and readings listed on the syllabus may be made as the class progresses, but all posted readings are final.

Lecture slides will be posted on Blackboard by the end of the day after each lecture.

Course Requirements and Policies

Attendance is mandatory for all classes: lectures, guest lectures, quizzes, exam reviews, and exams.

  • Lectures:
    • reading the required supporting materials before class is mandatory
    • the sessions will not be recorded
    • slides will be made available after class, but may contain incomplete information
    • reading the optional materials is encouraged after class
  • Discussions
    • Active participation is expected in all class interactive activities
  • Guest Lectures:
    • material covered may be included in quizzes and exams
  • Exams & Quizzes
    • All exams and quizzes will be given in class, on paper, closed book, no devices allowed
    • please contact the instructor as soon as possible if you believe you cannot attend
  • Academic misconduct: All assignments, tests, and activities associated with this course must be performed in accordance with the University of Rochester's Academic Honesty Policy and the Student Code of Conduct.

Plagiarism, cheating, and any form of academic misconduct will be reported following the guidelines set by the University. Also, please be respectful when you post your comments/questions on Blackboard and Slack or respond to the posted polls and activities.

Special accommodations: If you need special accommodation (e.g., medical or family emergencies, observance of religious holidays/events, etc.), please let us know as early as possible. We will do our best to accommodate, but all such requests will be handled on a case-by-case basis and students may be required to provide external documentation. If you can’t take a test or submit an assignment on time for health reasons, documentations are typically required for make-ups or late submissions. Otherwise, late submissions won’t be accepted.

Mobile devices: Please silence your mobile devices. No cellphone / smartphone or any other entertainment devices are allowed while class is in session. Laptop / tablet use in class is allowed for notetaking and reading course materials only.

Inclusive Class Policy

This classroom respects and welcomes students of all backgrounds and abilities—including their race, ethnicity, religion, gender identification, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, disability status, affiliation, and national identity. As members of an inclusive learning community, we strive to model speech and behaviors conducive to authentic open discussion of frequently complex issues. Like all courses, this course also has its entry point into debate. It is important to understand that students need not embrace the course position to be successful in it. You are encouraged to speak up in class for optimal sharing and reflection on a diversity of individual perspectives, and I also invite you to talk with me separately (i.e., after class or by appointment) about any concern or situation that affects your ability to fully participate in class activities or to complete your work successfully


  • Participation: 20%
    • Discussion impressions (6): 4% each
      • Write-up: 100-200 words
      • Assessed as ✓- (no credit), ✓ (full credit)
      • Lowest score will be dropped
      • Due at 11:59pm the day before class (see syllabus; no late submissions accepted)
    • In-class participation (6): 0.25%—0.50% each extra credit
      • Significant and/or original insights during discussion will be awarded 0.25%—0.50% extra credit Determination for awarding extra credit will be made by the instructor with input from the TAs
  • Quizzes: 30%
    • In-class quizzes (4): 7.5% each
      • 20 min. at the beginning of class on the days listed on the syllabus
      • Multiple choice and true/false questions
  • Exams: 50%
    • In-class exams (3): 25% each
      • Full class time on days listed on the syllabus
      • Multiple choice, true/false questions, and short answer questions
      • Topics are not cumulative, but knowledge of earlier concepts may be necessary for exams 2 & 3
      • Lowest score will be dropped

All exams and quizzes will be on paper, in class, closed book, with no devices allowed. Any deviation from this policy will be considered an Honor Code violation.

Grades: Grades for all assignments will be posted on Blackboard. Please note that the points total shown on Blackboard is not weighted by each grading category. Please keep track of your own grades throughout the semester and let us know if you have any questions. The final grades (rounded up to the nearest integer) will be based upon the following scale:

  • 93-100 A
  • 90-93 A
  • 87-90 B+
  • 84-87 B
  • 81-84 B
  • 78-81 C+
  • 75-78 C
  • 72-75 C
  • 69-72 D+
  • 66-69 D
  • 60-66 D
  • 00-60 E

Instructions for discussion impressions: Before each discussion class, please read the required article carefully and write a short impression for it that includes: (a) 1 general comment about the article, e.g., did you like it and why? did you think it was interesting and why? etc.; (b) 1-2 questions that were most puzzling about the article, i.e., aspects of it that you did not understand or were not clear; and (c) 1-2 critical comments, e.g., things that you believe are missing in / wrong with the paper (and potentially how they could be solved). Your answers should be very brief (approximately 100 words per article, no more than 250 words total). Impressions are due at midnight, the day before each seminar (dates listed on the class calendar).

A potentially helpful guide on evaluating / critiquing a scientific paper is to keep in mind the following questions as you're reading:

  1. What are the questions/hypotheses that the article is trying to address?
  2. Why should we (or anybody) care about these questions/hypotheses?
  3. How did the authors try to answer the questions?
  4. What are the main results?
  5. What conclusions do the authors draw from their results?

Disability Resources

We encourage you to talk with the instructor and/or TAs about any concern or situation that affects your ability to complete your academic work successfully. Students requiring accommodations should contact the Office of Disability Resources in Taylor Hall (email: , web; phone: 585-276-5075).