Graduation with Distinction

The Graduation with Distinction Program (GwD) 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.

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.

Who is eligible for GwD in Psychology?

  • Students graduating with a major in psychology (AB, BS, AB2, BS2) or IDM related to psychology.
  • Students pursuing a minor degree in psychology as well as those pursuing Program II will be considered as part of GwD outside of the major


  • Overall Trinity GPA of at least 3.0.
  • Psychology GPA of at least 3.5 by fall of senior year. Use this tool to calculate GPA in the major. What is not included on the major GPA calculation: S grades and grades for Independent Study/Honors Thesis.
  • Complete two semesters of Research Independent Study (RIS, PSY 4931 and PSY 4941) related to the project with the same2 faculty member.
  • Obtain IRB approval for project before3 enrolling in the Distinction Thesis Workshop (PSY 496).
  • Complete PSY 496 Distinction Thesis Workshop during spring of senior year1.
  • Defend thesis in front of a three-person committee.
  • Present final work at Visible Thinking Undergraduate Research Symposium.
  • Submit electronic copy of final thesis paper to the Psychology DUS Office by the last day of exams in the spring.

This is a typical sequence. Contact the Psychology DUS Office if you plan a different sequence.

The faculty member supervising RIS will also serve as the faculty chair for the defense committee.

3 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 2023-2024 Graduation with Distinction Handbook (download below).


  • By the end of spring of junior year: Identify a faculty member to supervise your thesis and start working on your RIS proposal for fall.
  • Fall senior year: Enroll in PSY 493, obtain IRB approval, and identify two additional members for your thesis committee.
  • Between September 08 and November 13, 2023: Submit the GwD application form.
  • January: Start working on a date for your oral thesis defense and schedule a room using 25Live. Defenses are normally scheduled between end of March and mid-April.
  • Defend thesis by April 13: To be considered for the Karl E. Zener Award.
  • After your thesis defense: Work with your committee to make sure they submit all required forms to the Psychology DUS Office.
  • Mid-April: Present final work at Visible Thinking Undergraduate Research Symposium.
  • By the end of spring semester: Submit electronic copy of final thesis paper to the Psychology DUS Office.
  • Optional: Submit electronic copy of final paper to DukeSpace,  the open-access repository within Duke Libraries. Talk to your supervisor about whether doing so would be beneficial to you.

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 Psychology DUS Office to discuss their specific situation.
  • If after reviewing this information you have additional questions, please contact the Psychology DUS Office via email at, stop by Reuben-Cooke, R. 235, or schedule an appointment with our program coordinator at
  • To learn more about specific deadlines, enrollment forms, and criteria for GwD, Psychology majors should refer to the 2023-2024 Graduation with Distinction Handbook (download below).
  • 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!