Distinguished Majors Program in BN-BS

The Distinguished Majors Program (DMP) in Behavioral Neuroscience (BS) is an opportunity for majors with exceptional records to prepare a thesis under the supervision of a UVA faculty member during the student's fourth year. The resulting thesis may be based on empirical research conducted by the student, analyses using an existing database, or a critical literature review. There is also a required seminar for DMP participants, designed to enrich the thesis experience. An important feature of the DMP is the opportunity for students to have hands-on experiences in neuroscience research and work closely with scientists on their ongoing research projects.  Also, DMP students will most likely present their research findings at local events, including Reid Research Conference and UVA Undergraduate Research Symposiums, as well as at national meetings, including the Central Virginia Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience and the Annual Meeting of SFN. 

The DMP work spans two semesters, at the end of which a written thesis is evaluated by the student’s mentor and a second reader. Upon successful completion of the program, a Distinguished Major's degree may be awarded with Distinction, High Distinction, or Highest Distinction. The level of distinction is determined by the Undergraduate Committee and The Director of the Distinguished Major Program. 

Explore the sections below for more information:


Thesis and Deadlines

Students must prepare a thesis under the supervision of a faculty member, who maintains an active research program in a neuroscience-related field. The research lab may be located in any UVA division, including the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Data Science, School of Medicine, or School of Education. It is the DMP applicant’s responsibility, prior to application, to find a faculty advisor who agrees to serve as thesis mentor.

The thesis may be based on empirical research with data collected by the student or obtained from an existing database, or it may consist of a critical review or theoretical analysis of existing findings. The thesis work consists of 6 credit hours in the last two semesters before graduation. Upon completion of the thesis in the second semester, it is evaluated by two readers, and a grade is assigned by the thesis advisor. The distinction level is determined by the Undergraduate Committee and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. 

The topic of the thesis, identified by the student in consultation with the advisor, must be identified by the end of the first month in the program. A second reader must be identified by the end of the first semester.

The thesis must be completed and submitted to the thesis advisor and second reader no later than one month prior to the date of graduation. Two copies of the final thesis must be submitted to the Undergraduate Committee by the last day of classes.

Required Courses

The program includes a total of six credits (though they do not count toward the 56 required for the BS major) comprised by research culminating in a thesis (PSYC 4970 and PSYC 4980, six credits total).

Area Meetings

It is recommended strongly that DMP students attend the weekly lunch time area meetings held by the area to which their research is related (Systems and Behavioral Neuroscience, Cognitive Lunch, Quant Lunch ) for presentations of research or discussions of topics of interest. Presenters are faculty members, graduate students or visitors. Meetings are informal and offer a wonderful opportunity for the exchange of scientific knowledge. Distinguished majors do not enroll in these classes. Attendance at departmental colloquia and other neuroscience talks across Grounds is also encouraged. Announcements of area meetings and neuroscience seminars are sent on email to those in the DMP. DMP participants are required to attend a minimum of two research presentations each semester.


The College of Arts and Sciences requires that students complete their degree with a University grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.40 to graduate with distinction. Any student who completes the thesis but does not have the required overall GPA will receive a grade for the DMP course, but will not graduate with distinction.

The Application Process


Three criteria are required at the time of application: (1) A UVA grade point average of at least 3.40, (2) a grade of at least B from all Behavioral Neuroscience BS Core Courses completed by then, and (3) an agreement with a faculty member to serve as your mentor. Students lacking one or more of these criteria may submit a petition to the DMP Admission Committee Chair, and the Director of Undergraduate Studies). 

The College of Arts and Sciences requires that students complete their degree with a University GPA of at least 3.40 to graduate with distinction.

When to Apply

If planning a Spring graduation, the ideal application time is by March 31 of the third year, though applications will be considered as late as August--prior to the start of classes for the fourth year. If planning a Fall graduation, the application must be completed before the classes start in the Spring semester of the same year.  

How to Apply

Download and fill out the application form,  and email it to ([email protected]). DMP Admission Committee decisions are made on a rolling basis.  Applicants will be notified of the decision by e-mail.

Finding an Advisor

Any member of the UVA faculty who is maintaining an active research program in any neuroscience-related field, and located in may advise you. Typically, the applicants have worked in the lab of the thesis advisor at least one semester prior to the application.

You may peruse the [links] for UVA faculty with relevant research programs; this would be a great place to start if you’re a first- or second-year student thinking ahead about the DMP. Once you've identified a faculty member as a prospective advisor, you must initiate contact with them.  

Here are some things to keep in mind during your meeting:

  • Many faculty members are delighted to work with top undergraduates (which DMP participants usually are).
  • You want to convince a faculty member that there is something to gain from working with you. Plan what you will say. Be confident and tell this person why you would like to work with them.
  • A faculty member may decline your request if they are already spread over too many projects, will be on leave, or thinks your area of interest is too far from their own. Do not take this personally. Try someone else.

Selecting a Topic

Your advisor is there to teach and advise you. They have years of experience in conducting research. The process of developing a thesis topic is one of collaboration. Don't worry about getting an idea on your own. Talk to your advisor. They will help you find direction with a program of readings that will help you generate ideas. Whether you come in with a fairly clear idea of what you want to study, or you only know the broad area, your advisor will want to discuss the ideas and work with you to refine them. The final topic will probably be one in which both of you had some input. It will also be something in which both of you have an interest.

Thesis Resources

Research projects vary widely in their need for equipment, materials and supplies. If the equipment needed for a thesis is available in the department, it should be available free of charge. All arrangements for equipment are made through the advisor. Materials and supplies may be covered by the advisor if the research is conducted as part of a grant.  In the past, the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences has also offered a limited number of grants for amounts up to $500 in support of undergraduate research. Applying for such funding is also an invaluable experience.

Presenting Your Work:

The Reid Conference: In most cases, DMP students will present their findings at the Psychology annual research conference held in April.  Visit the Reid Conference home page to see examples of abstracts and presentations from last year's conference. 

CVCSN: The annual meeting of Central Virginia Chapter of Society for Neuroscience is held on March or April each year.

The DMP students should discuss other opportunities to present their work with their advisors.

Levels of Distinction Guidelines

Guidelines on the Awarding of Levels of Distinction
Consistent with University guidelines, recommendations for distinction are based on the following:

  • The quality of the student's thesis.
  • The student's overall work in the DMP.
  • The student's overall work in the major field of study.
  • The student's overall College record.

Departmental recommendations are submitted to the Chair of the University Committee on Special Programs no later than two weeks before graduation. This is typically after the diplomas have been submitted to the printer. Therefore, DMP students should expect to receive a blank "diploma" at the departmental diploma ceremony. Actual diplomas are mailed shortly after graduation.


Contact the [email protected] for questions and guidance.