Interdisciplinary Major in Computer Science

Distinguished Majors Program

Summary

Bachelor of Arts Computer Science majors who have completed 18 credit hours towards their major and who have a cumulative GPA of 3.4 or better may apply to the Distinguished Majors Program. Students who are accepted must complete a thesis based on two semesters of empirical or theoretical 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. 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 a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.4 and have completed 18 credit hours towards their Computer Science major by the end of the semester in which they apply. These 18 credit hours can can come from: (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.

Please note: CS 4998 was known as CS 495 in the three-digit numbering system. They are interchangeable.

When To Apply

Students must apply by the third semester prior to graduation. Spring graduates must have 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.

How To Apply

We urge students to apply for the distinguished majors program in consultation with one or more faculty members. 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, including what type of research they will complete (e.g., empirical, theoretical, analytical, etc.) and what the final product will be (e.g., thesis, tool, etc.). 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; the advisor and the Distinguished Majors Program Director must be satisfied.

  2. Enlist a thesis advisor and second reader.

    Next, students must secure a thesis 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 year at UVa.

    The thesis advisor should be selected from the computer science faculty. (Exceptions to this rule may be granted at the discretion of the Distinguished Majors Program Director.) Research and general (teaching) faculty are equally acceptable. The selected faculty should sign the application form after approving the project proposal. The student and the advisor should discuss the proposed research together; questions such as "what makes good research in this field?" and "what intermediate output should I deliver and when?" should be decided between the student and advisor.

    Westley Weimer will help interested students to find thesis advisors.

    Your thesis advisor may be able to help you select a second reader based on your interests and your project proposal.

    The second reader should be a faculty member most suited to assess the quality and context of your work. If possible, a non-CS faculty member from the College of Arts and Sciences should be chosen. However, CS faculty members are also acceptable. A third reader can be selected from any field if it would be beneficial to do so (for example, for a highly specific thesis topic that would be most thoroughly understood by someone in that field); this third reader serves in an advisory capacity but does not formally evaluate the student's work.

  3. Submit.

    Complete the application form:

    Submit the application form to the Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science Distinguished Majors Program Director. Materials may be delivered to Westley Weimer in Olsson 219 or left at the Olsson Hall Front Desk. 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. Second-year students and third-year students in their first semester should talk to advisors and faculty members about DMP projects and undergraduate research.

Students are encouraged to take CS 290, the Computer Science Seminar. Taking CS 290 is not required, but it should be useful to students looking for research ideas and thesis advisors.

DMP Thesis Deadlines

The thesis must be completed and submitted to the thesis advisor and reader at least thirty (30) days prior to graduation. The thesis advisor should specify and approve the format for the thesis. 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 SEAS Senior Thesis (e.g., made in conjunction with STS 401-402). Compared to a SEAS thesis, there are few formal guidelines. Instead, the DMP focuses on a creative student research project as 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.

(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 determine if the individual applicant has done sufficient work.)

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 an Arts and Sciences Registrar 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 secondary reader. It is the student's responsibility to make sure that the advisor and reader turn in an evaluation to the DMP Program Director (Westley Weimer) by three weeks before the Final Exercises date on the academic calendar. As noted above, the Thesis must be turned in at least 30 days before the Final Exercises Deadline. Some concrete dates are listed below:

Note that in order for the evaluations to be in by this deadline, the student's DMP Thesis must be turned in significantly in advance.

Funding Opportunities

Most undergraduate research does not require funding. The Distinguished Majors Program does not offer any funding. However, funding opportunities are available.

The Arts and Sciences Council offers a CLAS Undergraduate Research Grant. Each year up to five students receive up to $1,500. To apply, students must already have advisors and a research topic. Applications must be submitted electronically by the middle of February.

Previous Distinguished Majors

2012

2011

2010

2009

Computer Science Major
University of Virginia
weimer@cs.virginia.edu