Maryland Center for Undergraduate Rresearch at the University of Maryland

The What, Why, and When of Research

  • Introduction and Overview: How Do I Get Involved in Research?

    All undergraduate students wanting to get involved in research do so through their own initiative. MCUR cannot find a research opportunity for you, but we can advise you on a search strategy for finding opportunities and point you towards appropriate resources.

    When starting a search:

    • Think carefully about whether you can commit to spending six to ten hours per week during the semester to working on a faculty-mentored research project. Your course work should be your priority, so do not take on a research project if it will put your academic work in jeopardy.

    • Start by talking with people you already know—Talk to your current or past professors or your undergraduate major advisor.

    • Survey the research being done by faculty members in your department or major. (The Research in My Major page on the MCUR website includes links to faculty directories for each academic department and program).

    • Identify faculty members whose research looks interesting to you.

    Once you have identified some faculty members with whom you would like to work, send the faculty member(s) a personal email:

    • Do not wait until several weeks into the semester to contact faculty members about research opportunities. Research positions may fill up quickly, so start contacting faculty members before the start of the semester.

    • Be sure to use your official UMD email account and include a subject line mentioning your reference request. (This shows that you are a UMD student. Keep in mind that emails from commercial accounts such as Gmail or Yahoo often get deleted by spam filters).

    • Include a subject line in your email stating your interest in undergraduate research.

    • Your email should include the following:

      • Your major (if you've declared it) and academic year (freshman, sophomore, etc.)

      • When you would like to participate in the research (fall or spring semester, academic year).

      • A clear reference to the faculty member's research and what interests you about their research.

      • Highlights of coursework you have taken which are relevant to the research project.

      • Mention of any previous research experience.

      • Knowledge of skills or software that might be relevant to the research project or field.

      • Ask if you may set up a time to talk with the faculty member about available research opportunities.

    • Faculty members are busy people. If you have not received a response in a week or two, re-send your email.

    • You may also find information on research opportunities on MCUR's website:

  • What is Research?

    Research is the process of creating new knowledge. Used by all disciplines, research can take on many different forms, from scientific theory testing to artistic endeavors to building upon and revising existing knowledge. Depending on the field of interest, research may involve searching for information in libraries and archives, surveying and interviewing subjects, conducting fieldwork, creating models, performing computations, composing creative works, conducting laboratory experiments, and analyzing data sets. Undergraduate research uses these same disciplinary traditions to produce results worthy of communication to others. The colleges and disciplines at the University of Maryland support all forms of research through many formal and informal research programs, from interdisciplinary projects to honors theses.

    Undergraduate students at the University of Maryland are encouraged to experience the excitement of contributing new knowledge or creative works to the world by conducting research. By researching, undergraduates can make a difference to society.

  • What is a Research University?

    A research university is a university which considers research to be one of its primary purposes. The University of Maryland, College Park identifies itself as "committed to being a preeminent national center for research and for graduate education, and as the institution of choice for Maryland’s undergraduates of exceptional ability and promise." (University Mission Statement).

    As part of its efforts to reach its goal of being a premier research institution, the University of Maryland supports undergraduate research. The University encourages faculty to incorporate research into coursework and provides undergraduates with research opportunities outside of the classroom, enhancing and improving undergraduate education in terms of teaching and learning, as many students learn better from the discovery/inquiry process than traditional instruction. The University has made research a priority in the undergraduate experience, in an effort to train students to become educated consumers of research and the next generation of researchers.

  • Why do Research?

    Research is an exciting way to deepen your understanding of an academic field outside of the classroom.  Research will not only expose you to a discipline’s current practices and trends, but also provide you with an opportunity for personal and professional growth.  While learning more about the world and contributing to our knowledge of it, you may figure out what you want to do in it and gain valuable skills that will help you to accomplish your goals.  

    When you participate in undergraduate research, you will learn to:

    • Think critically
    • Integrate approaches to learning
    • Analyze and solve problems
    • Understand multiple approaches to problem solving
    • Examine problems and formulate research questions
    • Develop research problems on your own
    • Apply problem solving skills to different areas
    • Demonstrate research skills
    • Communicate the results of your research
    • Take responsibility for your own learning

    Moreover, your research will allow you to:

    • Discover what academic research involves
    • Explore potential career paths
    • Gain experience and skills you can talk about in graduate school applications, cover letters, and job interviews
    • Develop a relationship with a faculty advisor who may serve as a reference

  • When to do Research?

    You should become involved in research whenever you are interested in researching and have the time to do it. Throughout the year there are opportunities for students of all levels to participate in research and many students become involved early in their academic careers.

    Beginning research as a freshman or sophomore allows you to develop your research skills, preparing you for positions which require advanced skills. At the same time, starting research in the early stages of your college education allows you to explore different fields or several areas of one field and discover what interests you most.

  • Research Ethics

    Anyone conducting research must ensure that they work in an ethical manner. The University of Maryland has instituted a number of guidelines to help researchers work in a way which is honest, safe, and respectful of research subjects (human as well as animal).

    Academic Integrity and Plagiarism

    The University enforces a strict honor code to ensure that students do not plagiarize or fabricate their research.

    Hazardous Materials

    The Department of Environmental Safety at the University of Maryland offers training to students who will be working with hazardous materials.

    Human Subjects

    The University of Maryland’s Institutional Review Board assures the protection of the rights and welfare of human subjects. The IRB approves the initiation of and conducts periodic reviews of research involving human subjects.

    Not all research with people is considered human subjects research by the IRB. Journalism, creative arts, oral histories, reporting of current events, internal management projects, and secondary data from publically available sources are not considered human research. See the IRB's definition of human subjects research here.

    The University’s IRB provides online training to help researchers learn the requirements for esearching human subjects.

    Animal Subjects

    The Department of Animal and Avian Science at the University of Maryland monitors research conducted on animals to ensure that they are treated humanely. Prior to conducting research, students must file a Protocol of Research Form available on the department's Staff/Faculty Resources page.

    University of Maryland Research Ethics Resources

    • Institutional Review Board/Research Compliance Office oversees approval of studies on-campus involving human and animal subjects.

    • Responsible Conduct of Research Office, University of Maryland Division of Research: Look at series of links at the bottom of its homepage, under “Topics,” addressing research ethics issues such as Animal Welfare, Conflict of Interest, Human Subjects, and Research Misconduct; these are topics that the National Institutes of Health recommends for coverage in research ethics training. Office also schedules periodic training workshops.

    Further Resources

    • The Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC) is mandated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to provide information for improved animal care and use in research, testing, and teaching. It is located at the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland.

    • Bioethics Resources on the Web, sponsored by the National Institute of Health, is a resource for those interested in bioethics.

    • The National Science Foundation as well as the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)/U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) now require that all undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral researchers supported by NSF funding must complete online Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training.

    • The Online Ethics Center, funded by NSF, is a resource for scientists and engineers.

    Research Ethics Tutorials, Learning Modules, and and Study Guides

  • How Do I Ask for a Letter of Reference?

    Applications for on- and off-campus research programs, such as MCUR's Maryland Summer Scholars program and off-campus REUs (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) require letters of recommendation or references, usually from university faculty members. It is very important to ask faculty members for recommendation letters early. You should contact faculty members with your request for a reference at least three weeks (and preferably a month) before your application is due. This will also give you time to find alternate references in case a faculty member is unable to write for you.

    When contacting a faculty member by email to request a reference, be sure to use your official UMD email account and include a subject line mentioning your reference request.

    When a professor agrees to write a letter for you, provide the professor with:

    1. Your Resume

    2. A Draft of your Personal Statement

    3. A Copy of your Transcript (unofficial or official). Unofficial transcripts may be downloaded from Testudo.

    4. A List of the Programs to which you are applying and the application deadlines. You may also wish to provide URLs to the webpages of these programs.

    5. A Copy of the Major Research Paper/Poster/Project you completed in his/her course (if applicable)

    Remind your professors one to two weeks before the letters are due that they promised to write you a letter. They will not take offense at being reminded—they are very busy and will appreciate the reminder.

Maryland Center for Undergrauate Research at the Uniersity of Maryland

Maryland Center for Undergraduate Research
Phone: 301-314-6786  |  Email:
1201 Marie Mount Hall, University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742