Graduation with Distinction

The Graduation with Distinction Program (GwD) in Psychology & Neuroscience is intended for students who demonstrate academic excellence through the successful completion of a significant research project during their undergraduate career. This is especially important for students planning to pursue a graduate degree, but is highly recommended for any student with a strong interest in research.  Please read the information below, and note that there are separate processes for each major.

GwD Process for Psychology Majors

GwD Process for Neuroscience Majors


GwD for Psychology Majors

Who is eligible to enroll in GwD?

Open only to students graduating with a major in psychology. Students pursuing a minor degree in psychology as well as those pursuing IDM or Program II will be considered as part of GwD outside of the major

Students must have an overall GPA of at least 3.0 and a Psychology GPA of at least 3.5 by fall of senior year (GPA points are not rounded; psychology GPA does not include grades for Independent Study or GwD Course). Psychology majors may register for the Graduation with Distinction program without meeting these GPA requirements but will not receive Distinction if these GPA requirements are not met at the time of graduation. 

Participation in the program is noted on the transcript during the senior year and successful completion results in acknowledgment on the transcript and at graduation ceremonies. Exceptional theses may be nominated by the faculty mentor for consideration for the  Karl E. Zener Award, presented annually to an outstanding graduating senior in Psychology.

Summary of GwD Requirements

  • Enroll in two consecutive semesters of Research Independent Study (RIS) related to the project with the same faculty member (PSY 493 fall and PSY 494 spring). The faculty member supervising RIS will also serve as the faculty chair for the defense committee.
  • Students are required to obtain IRB approval for their projects before enrolling in the Distinction Thesis Workshop (PSY 496). Any exceptions to this policy require the approval of the Psychology DUS Office. Please note that obtaining IRB approval may require significant time and effort. Students are encouraged to learn what is involved very early in the process by visiting and/or speaking with one of the IRB staff members listed on the Important Contacts page of the 2021-2022 Graduation with Distinction Handbook.
  • Submit the GwD application form by the end of the regular registration period, November 8th, 2021.
  • Enroll in the PSY 496 Distinction Thesis Workshop  during spring of senior year.
  • Complete thesis defense in front of a three-person committee. Oral defenses are normally scheduled between the end of March and mid-April with date and time determined by students and their thesis committee members. In order to be considered for the Karl E. Zener Award, students must defend their thesis by April 13.
  • Present final work at Visible Thinking Undergraduate Research Symposium.
  • Submit electronic copy of final thesis paper to the Office of Undergraduate Studies in Psychology by the last day of exams in the spring.
  • Submit electronic copy of final paper to DukeSpace,  the open-access repository within Duke Libraries.

Additional information

  • Most GwD candidates will follow the requirements listed above. However, students who fall outside of any of these requirements should reach out to the Office of Undergraduate Studies to discuss their specific situation. If after reviewing this information you have additional questions, please contact the Office of Undergraduate Studies in room 235, Soc Psy or at 919-660-5719.
  • To learn more about specific deadlines, enrollment forms, and criteria for GwD, Psychology majors should refer to the 2021-2022 Graduation with Distinction Handbook. (Handbook is updated at the beginning of spring semester when exact deadlines are determined).
  • For general information on the University-wide Graduation with Distinction Program, please click here.
  • Funding support to cover expenses related to GwD thesis may be available through the Office of Undergraduate Research Support (URS).
  • Duke Libraries offer a variety of resources to support GwD candidates in their work including a designated librarian!


GwD for Neuroscience Majors

Graduation with Distinction (GwD) is an opportunity for senior neuroscience majors to expand their research further and present their findings via an oral defense, a written thesis, and a poster presentation.

Important dates to remember

GwD 2023

  • May graduates: applications are due in the Fall semester senior year, by 4:00pm on Friday during the first week of classes.

Neuroscience Graduation with Distinction Approval Form

  • February 24th-April 3rd, 2023: Turn in a draft of your Results & Discussion sections of thesis to your mentor for comments
  • Assemble defense committee list and email names to by 4:00 pm on Friday, March 3rd, 2023
  • Completion of final polished version of thesis must be submitted to committee members between March 20th-April 3rd, 2023
  • Oral defense period: April 3rd-14th, 2023. Your committee members have to be given your thesis a week prior to your presentation day. Completed form must be submitted to Tyler Lee April 14th, 2023
  • Poster Presentation: Tuesday, April 25th, 2023 at 4:30pm (set up at 4pm in DIBS)
  • Final Distinction paper due: Friday, April 26th, 2023 emailed to

Fall/December graduates must submit their application in the spring semester prior, by 4:00pm on Friday during the first week of classes.

Frequently asked questions for GwD in Neuroscience

What is the criteria for the selection of GwD students?

Neuroscience majors with a GPA of 3.5 or above in neuroscience courses may apply for Graduation with Distinction in Neuroscience. They must also maintain at least this level of performance in their neuroscience coursework (Gateway, Core, Statistics, and Electives) throughout the remainder of their studies at Duke. The written application form must include a summary of the student’s research topic, be endorsed by the student’s faculty mentor, and be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

What is the evaluative body?

You and your mentor should choose 2 committee members for your oral defense. One member of your committee (either your mentor or one of your two additional committee members) must be a neuroscience faculty member from an Arts and Sciences department, or be a faculty member who teaches regularly in the undergraduate neuroscience program. One member of your committee can be a postdoctoral fellow or an advanced graduate student who has completed their preliminary exam. Dr. Len White may be able to be the third person on your committee, but you must ask ahead of time so he can plan. You should form your committee as soon as possible but no later than March 3rd, 2023. Contact Tyler Lee to give her the names of your committee members along with the date, time and location for your defense.

Is there another program that could help with my GwD research?

Yes, Summer Neuroscience Program is an undergraduate summer program that allows students to strengthen their research and portfolio.

Are there special courses, other activities required, or other comments?

The thesis is usually based on at least two semesters of independent studies in neuroscience (NEUROSCI 493 and 494) with the same faculty mentor.

Students aspiring to graduate with distinction will register for NEUROSCI 499 Current Research in Neuroscience. This spring-term lecture course includes review of directed reading and research in both theoretical and experimental neuroscience, as well as discussion of the students’ independent study projects. Emphasis is placed on the development of the ability to critically evaluate empirical research and to construct mathematical or deductive/inductive models. The final project in this course includes preparation of a formal research proposal and a review of the role of ethics in science.

Graduation with Distinction in Neuroscience research projects will be presented as scientific posters in April during celebration of senior undergraduate research in neuroscience, on April 25th, 2023 at 4:30 pm, (arrive at 4:00 pm to set up your poster) LSRC; DIBS. The student will need to arrange poster printing of their work. Please contact Tyler Lee ( ) for more information.