What is MAPS? How did it start?

MAPS is a new program, started by CAPS in 2010, as a way to help undergraduates learn the process of doing original research before getting to the senior-thesis-writing stage. We at CAPS have for several years heard juniors and seniors talking about wanting to write a senior thesis, but feeling like they didn’t have enough experience, or didn’t know where to begin. This often meant that, when they applied for research funding, they didn’t get the grants they needed. The awards available to undergraduates for thesis research and writing demand a thoughtful and well-considered research question. But if you’ve never done original research, it’s hard to know how to formulate a good question. We at CAPS conceived of the MAPS program as a way to help give undergraduates some experience and training in question-development and original research before they get to the thesis-writing stage.


How did I get selected to be invited to join MAPS?

MAPS undergraduates are nominated by someone who has been in a position to observe their work, either as a professor or TF or director of undergraduate study (DUG) in their program or department. If you have not been nominated, but would like to be, ask a professor, TF, or DUG to nominate you to the MAPS coordinator, Katie Derzon (kderzon@fas.harvard.edu).

Who is nominated to join MAPS?

MAPS is not just for the top one or two students in each cohort. Rather, we conceive of MAPS as useful and appropriate for bright, thoughtful undergraduates who are intellectually curious and interested in doing original research – but who, for whatever reason, may not know where to begin or have the resources and confidence to undertake original research on their own.

How much work is involved? How long will it take?

MAPS is a program designed to help undergraduates develop skills in original research. Any research project will involve some nontrivial amount of time and effort. However, MAPS is not a class or a thesis, and will not take as much time as either of those. It’s also fairly self-directed, so the time and work involved can expand or contract, according to what you are willing to put into it. In large part, the time and work involved depend on the scope of your research question and design. If you don’t have much time but still want to do MAPS, you can work with your mentor to design a project that won’t overburden you but will still give you the chance to explore doing some original research. MAPS mentors can help you design a flexible research program for yourself.

What’s in it for me?

MAPS is a program designed to help you learn the process of original research *before* you get to your senior year. We at CAPS have found that most undergrads don’t get much chance to engage in their own research until their senior thesis, usually. We want to help you prepare better in your early college years by giving you access to a grad student mentor who can help you figure out what it means to formulate a good research question, design a research methodology, perhaps collect data, and produce a final product of some sort, like a paper or short report. The experience you get will increase your abilities and confidence about doing original research in the future, for a class, or for a senior thesis, or in graduate school (it is great, when applying to graduate school, to be able to show some evidence of research of your own, like this).

What can I expect?

Once you are nominated and accepted into the program, you will be contacted by the MAPS Coordinator (Katie Derzon, kderzon@fas.harvard.edu), who will interview you briefly about some potential research topics you might like to explore. Based on these topics, Katie will match you with a graduate student mentor. You will then sit down with this mentor to meet, make sure the match is a good one, and then hash out a research question for your project. The graduate student mentor will be able to help you transform a general topic you have in mind into a good research question. Then you two should figure out how to answer your question (what method to use, what kinds of data to collect, what readings you’ll need to do). In many ways, this process will be like a mini-class, but you get to set the pace and the topic. By the end of the project, you will be asked to submit to the MAPS Coordinator a description of your research and its result, in some form (can be a paper you write, or a short report, or an article you might want to get published somewhere). Your mentor and the MAPS Coordinator can help as you prepare your final report, as well.

How much is my stipend, and what is it for?

Each MAPS undergraduate will receive up to $250 as a stipend. This can be for any number of things, provided CAPS approves your budget. You could use the stipend to take a short research trip (if you need to get to a particular library, or archive, say). Or you could use it to do a small survey or experiment, or to buy books you’ll need for your research, or to purchase data. The money should go to research in some form, but the form is flexible (your mentor can help you figure out a budget).

What if I don’t know how to do original research?

Well, of course! That’s what we’re trying to help you learn – we certainly don’t expect you to know it already. All you need to start with is a positive attitude, a willingness to learn, and an idea or two of something you’d want to research. Then once you get assigned a mentor, you and s/he can hash out the next steps together.

For potential graduate student MAPS mentors:

How do I sign up to be a MAPS mentor?

If you are interested in mentoring, please let the MAPS Coordinator (Katie Derzon, kderzon@fas.harvard.edu) know! Please also let her know if you have previous advising or TF-ing experience.


How much work is involved, and what is the stipend?

The work involved is mainly meeting one-on-one (at least one meeting like this, and possibly several) and emailing with your undergraduate mentee. They will need help figuring out how to make a topic into a good research question, and what methodology to use, what data to collect, how to test their hypotheses, that kind of thing. The main goal is just to help them learn the research process. The focus is less on what they produce at the end, and more on their own learning journey. The stipend for graduate student mentors is $500. 

How do I nominate a student to be invited to join MAPS? Who should be nominated?

CAPS is looking for especially attentive and curious Harvard undergraduates in fields relating to American politics. This could include Government, Economics, Sociology, Social Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, African and African American Studies, Ethnic Studies, Psychology, History, perhaps History of Science also – we’re actually fairly flexible, as long as the student’s project relates in some way to American politics or society. To nominate a student, please send their name to MAPS Coordinator Katie Derzon (kderzon@fas.harvard.edu), with just a quick line about why you think they would do well in this program. Thank you for your nomination(s)!