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Distinguished Major Program

Bachelor of Arts Computer Science majors who have completed 18 credit hours towards their major may apply to the Distinguished Majors Program.

Students who are accepted must complete a thesis based on two semesters of research. The Distinguished Majors Program features opportunities for students and advisors to collaborate on creative research; it is not a lock-step thesis program with strict content requirements, but an opportunity to work closely with a professor on a project that is interesting and exciting to you.

According to College rules, to earn a Distinguished Major, students must have a cumulative GPA of 3.4 or better. Upon successful completion of the program, students will likely be recommended for a baccalaureate award of Distinction, High Distinction, or Highest Distinction.

Distinguished Majors Program Requirements

Students applying to the DMP must have completed 18 credit hours towards their Computer Science major by the end of the semester in which they apply. Students typically apply during the Spring semester of their third year, but it is possible to apply earlier.

The 18 credit hours can can come from any course used to fulfill the “Major Subject Requirements”, “Computing Electives” or “Integration Electives” of the Interdisciplinary Major in Computer Science Curriculum. (Exceptions to the 18 credit hours rule may be granted at the discretion of the Distinguished Majors Program Director.)

In addition to the normal requirements for the computer science major, they must register for two semesters of supervised research (CS 4998 for 3 credits each semester). Students may apply to the DMP before completing this supervised research, but students must complete the supervised research to complete the DMP. Based on their independent research, students must complete, to the satisfaction of their advisor and the Distinguished Major Program Director, a project at least one month prior to graduation.

Please note: The CS 4998 DMP credits do not apply towards the credit hours required for the major. That is, they cannot be used to fulfill any requirement listed on the BACS curriculum.

When To Apply

Students must apply by the third semester prior to graduation. Spring graduates should submit their applications in by March 31st of the year before graduation. Winter graduates, must have their applications in by October 31st of the year before the winter graduation.

Note that applying to the program occurs relatively early in the research process. It is not necessary to have a fully formed research idea to apply for the DMP, although it is expected that you have found a research advisor to work with. It is not necessary to have a second reader identified when you apply to join the DMP.

How To Apply

Students seeking to enter the program should complete the following steps:

  1. Decide on a project.

    Before applying to the DMP, students should decide what project they would like to complete in the program. They should compose a general description of the project and what the goal of the research is. DMP project should be research projects that seek to answer some unknown research question; it is not enough to just build some interesting software or study an area in depth.

    The project proposal need not be very detailed as long as the essential elements are in place. All projects should include a review of relevant previous work and all projects should involve some original research. There are no formal guidelines (e.g., length, format, etc.) for what constitutes an acceptable project, it is up to the research advisor and the DMP Director to agree that a proposed project is satisfactory. Our expectation is that most DMP projects will result in a paper that could be published in a research conference or workshop, but alternative outcomes could also be satisfactory.

  2. Enlist a research advisor.

    Next, students must secure a research advisor and reader for the DMP project. Many students become involved in research well before the DMP application process — some as early as their first semester at UVA.

    The research advisor should be selected from the computer science faculty. (Exceptions to this rule may be granted at the discretion of the DMP Director, and it is often suitable to have an advisor from outside UVA or from another department.) The student and the advisor should discuss the proposed research together, and work together to develop the research proposal. The student should expect to meet regularly (typically every week) with the research advisor during the course of the project. The research advisor should sign the application form after approving the project proposal, indicating their committment to advising the student through completion the DMP.

    If you need help finding a research advisor, contact the DMP Director (David Evans) to meet to discuss the areas you are interested in working in and for advice on finding a potential advisor. It is a good idea to do this early, especially to increase the likelihood you'll be able to find a summer research position.

  3. Enlist a second reader. (optional to do this before applying)

    Your research advisor may be able to help you select a second reader based on your interests and your project proposal. It is not necessary to have the second reader identified when you submit the DMP application, but is important to find a suitable second reader early in the research.

    The second reader should be a faculty member most suited to assess the quality and context of your work. If appropriate, the second readers can be a faculty member from another university or from another department at UVA. However, CS faculty members are also acceptable.

  4. Submit the DMP Application.

    Print out and complete the application form: [PDF]. The application includes a very brief (expected to be no more than one page) research proposal describing your DMP project.

    Submit the application form to the DMP Program Director, David Evans in Rice 507. (If unavailable, applications can be submitted at the Rice Hall Front Desk, but you should also send an email to the DMP Director). After reviewing the proposals, notification will be sent out regarding acceptances.

Preparation

The most important preparation for students interested in the DMP is becoming involved in research early. Students need to be familiar with the problems and tools specific to a research area before they can make informed proposals.

Students are encouraged to start early. It is not too early to start talking to professors about research in your first semester, and one of the best ways to get involved in a research group is to impress a professor with what you do in class. Second-year students and third-year students in their first semester should talk to advisors and faculty members about DMP projects and research opportunities.

DMP Report Deadlines

The DMP report must be completed and submitted to the research advisor and reader at least thirty (30) days prior to graduation. The research advisor should specify any requirements for the DMP report, in consultation with the DMP director for any unusual situations. Reviews will be completed and a departmental recommendation will be sent to the Chair of the University Committee on Special Programs two weeks before graduation.

The Distinguished Majors Program is not directly comparable to a SEAS Senior Thesis or Capstone Project. Compared to the SEAS requirements, there are few formal guidelines. Instead, the DMP focuses on a creative student research project as advised and approved by an advisor.

By the time DMP evaluations are completed, diploma orders will already have been placed, so DMP students will receive a blank diploma at the Computer Science diploma ceremony. Actual diplomas will be received in the mail shortly after graduation.

Collaboration

In general, a Distinguished Majors Program thesis should represent the creative research output of a single undergraduate student, guided by faculty advisors. Each interested student must apply separately and produce a separate thesis. Formally, no projects involving groups of students are allowed. In practice, students may, for example, work with a research group or a graduate student in the completion of a project. The DMP Thesis should reflect and represent the student’s individual work, as guided by faculty advisors. The extent to which collaborative work (e.g., a peer-reviewed publication on which two students are co-authors) should be included is left to the discretion of the advisor and DMP Director.

(Intent: Collaboration is a critical component of creative research and scientific progress. The intent is not to limit research collaboration in any way, and collaboration with faculty advisors is expected. However, individual undergraduate students apply to the DMP program, and potential degree honors are conferred to individual undergraduates, so there must be a way to attribute work to an individual student.)

Evaluation

Students will usually receive a recommendation for a baccalaureate award of Distinction, High Distinction or Highest Distinction upon successful completion of the DMP. This award will be visible on the student’s diploma.

The thesis advisor and second reader will each give an independent rating to the thesis based on the following:

  1. marginal thesis
  2. good or acceptable thesis
  3. very good thesis
  4. exceptional thesis, in the top 10% of all DMP theses

The thesis advisor evaluation should not come as a surprise to the student, since the advisor and the student should be meeting to discuss the progress of the research. The student’s final cumulative in-major GPA will be also assigned a value as follows:

  1. GPA 3.4 – 3.59
  2. GPA 3.6 – 3.79
  3. GPA 3.8 and above

Students who fall below a 3.4 cumulative GPA or who obtain two thesis scores of 0 are no longer eligible to be distinguished majors. The 3.4 cumulative GPA is a College of Arts and Sciences school requirement, and it cannot be waived. There is no penalty beyond not receiving the award for students who are no longer eligible.

Eligible students who complete the program receive baccalaureate awards based on the Distinguished Majors Program Director’s assessment of their thesis advisor evaluation, second reader evaluation and GPA.

The student should give the evaluation form (DOC, PDF) to the thesis advisor and second reader. It is the student’s responsibility to make sure that the advisor and reader turn in an evaluation to the DMP Program Director at least three weeks before the Final Exercises date on the academic calendar.