Distinguished Majors Program


The Biology Distinguished Majors program is a research oriented program allowing the opportunity to conduct a significant body of independent research culminating in a formal written thesis and oral presentation at the end of the spring semester. Students participate in a weekly seminar where they discuss recent advances in biology, attend biology seminars and interact with seminar speakers, explore the philosophy and practice of science, and learn skills in oral and written research presentation. Students may choose research mentors from the Biology faculty, from selected laboratories in the UVA Medical Center, or from other laboratories conducting biologically related research.


We do not expect undergraduates will be allowed to work in research labs during the fall 2020 semester. Research labs are following a 3 step, phased, reopening process established by the Vice President for Research. All labs are currently in phase I which limits them to a minimal number of essential personnel who can be in a lab at the same time. The process to move to phase II which expands the number of personnel who can work in labs, has not begun and given significant increases in new COVID-19 cases, there is currently no timeframe for when phase II will begin. Undergraduates cannot work in research labs until phase III and the VPR has informed us that it is extremely unlikely that this will occur by the start of the fall semester. Moreover, undergraduate access to research labs even in phase III is likely to be limited. We know this significantly impacts those of you who already are, or who are planning to participate in the Biology Distinguished Major Program during the 2020-21 academic year. DMP candidates will be able to pursue virtual research projects at the discretion of, and under the direction of, faculty research mentors and receive credit for BIOL 4910/4920 for the fall semester. Examples of such virtual projects could include, but are not limited to, critical analyses of pertinent scientific literature, computational modeling, or database analyses. Additional details can be found at: https://bio.as.virginia.edu/undergraduate/research

Winners of the 36th Annual Richard D. Katz Undergraduate Research Symposium:

Left to Right: Tess Gibson (1st Place Winner), Julia Boehling (2nd place winner), and Torun Carlson (3rd Place Winner)



Application to the Biology Distinguished Majors Program is at the end of the 2nd or 3rd year.  Applicants should have a serious commitment to research, with completion of at least one semester of Biology Independent Study (Biol 4911) and an overall grade point averageof 3.400 after completion of at least three semesters of 3000 or above Biology including at least one Biology Core class (Biol 3000, 3010, 3020). Earlier application may be made in exceptional cases. An overall GPA of 3.400 is required by UVA for graduation with distinction, but research potential will be a major consideration for admission to this program. For students initiating a research project during the summer prior to their fourth year, application at the end of the summer will be considered.

Applications for the DMP should be emailed to the Director of the Distinguished Majors Program, Professor Sarah Siegrist. The application package should include a 2-3 page research statement (including a description of both the candidate's research experience and of the proposed research project), a CV, and an unofficial transcript. In addition, the candidate's research mentor must email a separate letter of support directly to Dr. Siegrist. Finally, please include a brief statement (1 paragraph) of your career aspirations. This is not taken into account when admitting students to the DMP. Rather, it is a way for us to learn the future goals of our potential students so that we can plan activities for the subsequent year that align with our students' ambitions.

Update regarding DMP applications for 2020-2021

Due to COV-19 and ensuing academic changes, the deadline for submission of applications to the DMP program for next year, 2020-2021, will be extended by 1 month. We will now be accepting applications until Friday, May 22nd. If you feel that your independent research project suffered significantly during school closure or feel that you will not have a project of significance for a thesis, please contact Sarah Siegrist to discuss further. Accommodations can and will be made.
For students initiating a research program during the summer, applications are currently still due by 5:00pm, Friday, August 7th, 2020.


1. Demonstrated evidence of a serious commitment to research as evidenced by exceptional performance in Biology Independent Research, BIOL 4911-4918. Students may enroll in additional semesters of independent research in accordance with Biology undergraduate degree policies (University of Virginia Undergraduate Record/Biology).

Distinguished Major candidates conducting independent research in the Biology department should enroll in BIOL491x using the faculty mentor's instructor number. Candidates working with faculty members outside of Biology should enroll using the instructor number of the Director of Biology Independent Research (Professor Martin Wu). Grading will be determined by the Director of Independent Research based on the recommendation of the student's research mentor.

2. All DMP candidates must attain a minimum GPA of 3.400 overall in the University.  DMP candidates pursuing a B.A. degree must attain a 3.400 GPA in the 22 credit hours presented for the B.A. degree, exclusive of grades in BIOL 4810 and 4820. DMP candidates pursuing a B.S. degree must attain a 3.400 GPA in the 33 credit hours presented for the B.S. degree. BA/DMP students will require a total of 27 hours.

3. Completion of 27 credit hours of Biology courses (or approved equivalent) at or above the 3000 level for the BA/DMP; completion of 33 such credit hours for the BS/DMP.

4. Successful completion of BIOL 4810/4820, Seminar in Biological Research.

5. Completion of a written DMP Thesis and an oral presentation of the research project at the Richard D. Katz Undergraduate Research Symposium. The Katz Symposium is held at the end of the Spring term and gives DMP candidates an opportunity to present their research findings to Biology students and faculty.  The DMP thesis and Katz Symposium presentations will be evaluated by the Undergraduate Committee.  On the basis of these evaluations the Undergraduate Committee will recommend to the Chairman and Faculty of the Biology Department that one of the following degrees be awarded:

     1) without distinction 

     2) with distinction 

     3) with high distinction, or 

     4) with highest distinction

The decision of the Biology faculty regarding each candidate will be forwarded to the Committee on Special Programs and to the University Registrar at least ten days before commencement.   Students will be notified of their degree status by email prior to commencement.


Sarah Siegrist, Director