Distinction Program

The department offers a Distinction Program to select majors with high academic achievement.

The Distinction Program in Psychology is designed to prepare psychology majors for graduate work in the field and provide an opportunity to complete an independent research project. Students in the Distinction Program work closely with a faculty member to design a research study, submit an IRB application, collect and analyze data (or analyze archival data), and write the results in APA format. The most successful projects are typically aligned with a faculty member’s ongoing line of research. In addition to a written thesis, students will also gain experience presenting their findings as a poster presentation and give a brief (10 min) oral presentation. Students in the B.A. or B.S. track are eligible to participate in the Distinction Program. It is not required, but students considering the Distinction Program are encouraged to complete the B.S. track and to have taken Advanced Quantitative Methods in Psychology prior to enrolling in PSYC 4393. Requirements for the Distinction program must be completed before April 30 of the senior year to graduate with Distinction.


The Distinction program involves two courses:

PSYC 3393: Preparation for Departmental Distinction Thesis

  • This course is taken as pass/fail
  • Course description: The first course in a course sequence for the psychology distinction program. During the term, students develop their research question and hypothesis, design their study, write the Introduction and Methods section of their paper, and prepare their IRB application. Prerequisite: Instructor approval.
  • At the end of the course, students will have a draft of their introduction and methods completed (along with references in APA style), and students will have written and submitted their IRB proposal. If a student is using archival data for their distinction project, then they should also include a preliminary analysis section (descriptive information, correlations)

PSYC 4393: Departmental Distinction in Psychology

  • Students receive a letter grade. A grade of B or higher is required for PSYC 4393 in order to earn Distinction in Psychology.
  • Course description: The second course in a course sequence for the psychology distinction program. Over the course of the term, students complete their research projects and prepare them for dissemination. Prerequisite: Instructor approval.
  • During this course, students will collect their data (if doing an original data collect, although see note below) and complete the thesis paper (abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, references, tables/figures).
  • Students will create a poster presentation of their project and present at SMU Research Day (proposed projects are appropriate for presentation if the project is not yet complete) and give a brief oral presentation during a Friday Research Colloquium in Spring semester.

For each course, students will meet individually on a regular basis with their faculty research mentor. Deadlines for completion of course requirements throughout the semester will be set by the faculty mentor.

The student learning outcomes (SLOs) for the Distinction Program are:

  • Students will be able to review and synthesize scientific literature, develop hypotheses based on that literature, and design a test of the hypotheses.
  • Students will implement their study design by collecting and analyzing research data, or analyzing archival data.
  • Students will become proficient at presenting their findings in both written and oral formats.

The pre-requisites for admission to the Distinction Program are:

  • One semester of independent research training with a faculty member, with a grade of pass. Students may choose from PSYC3099, 3199, 3299, or 3399, with consultation from their faculty mentor.
  • Sponsorship by faculty member to mentor the Distinction project (it is expected the student completes their project in same lab that they completed their research credit)
  • Overall SMU GPA of 3.5
  • Psychology GPA of 3.5
  • Complete Application for Distinction Program and submit to DUS

Timeline for Completing the Distinction Program

Students should begin the Distinction Program in their Junior year. The timeline for completing the pre-requisite research credit and completed the two courses is provided below. This is strongly encouraged for students who wish to collect their own data.

  • Research training (PSYC 3099, PSYC 3199, PYSC 3299, OR PSYC 3399) completed Fall semester of Junior year or earlier
  • PSYC3393 completed during Spring of semester Junior year
  • Collect data during Fall semester of Senior Year. Students may register for research training to receive credit for data collection.
  • PSYC4393 completed during Spring semester of Senior Year

Alternatively, it is possible to complete the Distinction Program in the Senior year, IF students use archival data for their distinction project. The timeline for completing the program would be as follows:

  • Research training (PSYC 3099, PSYC 3199, PYSC 3299, OR PSYC 3399) completed Spring semester of Junior year or earlier
  • PSYC3393 completed during Fall semester of Senior Year
  • PSYC4393 during Spring semester of Senior Year