In the 2010-2011 academic year, the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University launched MAPS (Mentoring in American Politics and Society), a program designed to support undergraduate research. The goal of MAPS is to support original research by undergraduates in their freshman, sophomore, or junior year. CAPS believes that Harvard College students need greater opportunity and support to explore their own research interests before they get to the thesis-writing stage. MAPS fills what is currently a void by providing younger students with mentorship, research guidance, and financial support for early forays into original research.

The MAPS program works by pairing each undergraduate with an experienced graduate student in the social sciences. MAPS disburses financial support to both the undergraduate (as seed money for their research project) and to the graduate student mentor (as an incentive to devote time and energy to the undergraduate). Undergraduates are allowed to spend their stipend on research costs as they and their mentors see fit, subject to CAPS approval of their budget plan. They may use the money for a short research trip, to buy books or other research materials, to purchase data, to recruit and pay subjects for an original survey, or whatever other legitimate research costs they encounter. Ultimately, at the end of their semester of research, each MAPS student will submit a final research write-up to CAPS.

CAPS staff supports the MAPS researchers throughout the semester-long project. The MAPS coordinator, a graduate student employed by CAPS, is responsible for recruiting undergraduate participants, helping them develop a research topic (and the beginnings of a research question), recruiting graduate student mentors to pair with the undergraduates, ensuring a good match between undergraduate and mentor in terms of academic interest as well as personality and work habits, following the progress of each pair, monitoring and approving research plans and budget plans submitted by the undergraduates, and ensuring receipt and archival of a final paper or project from each MAPS undergraduate. The MAPS coordinator also intervenes to re-match students who need a new mentor, and to encourage undergraduates to publish and share their research findings more widely. In addition, MAPS holds an annual thesis writing workshop for three days over the Harvard wintersession in January, with exercises and presentations by invited guests on research methodology and best practices. 

MAPS provides a unique opportunity for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors at Harvard to undertake an original research project, where the question, methods, analysis, and final write-up are entirely of their own design. The support from CAPS staff and the careful guidance from the graduate student mentors helps the undergraduates learn the process of formulating a research question, developing a method of testing, gathering data, and applying their data to test their hypotheses. Usually undergraduates do not have the chance to join the world of original research until their junior or senior years; MAPS makes this possible for an ever-growing group of younger students. While this project is still new, the results and feedback from the students already have been exciting.

MAPS FAQs. For other questions about MAPS, contact MAPS coordinator Katie Derzon at