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What is research, anyway? And how and why might a student get involved in research? 

Defining Research

Research involves creating new knowledge and understanding through a scholarly or artistic discovery process.


Depending on the discipline engaged, a research project may involve:

  • searching for information in libraries and archives,

  • conducting surveys and interviews,

  • painting portraits,

  • building computational or physical models,

  • reading texts through particular interpretive lenses,

  • or analyzing datasets, among many other pursuits.


What fundamentally unites the researchers pursuing these disparate activities is a commitment to bringing new insights into the world.

Getting Involved in Research as an Undergraduate

As an undergraduate student, you can get involved in research in several ways - some requiring more time and commitment than others

Modes of research involvement include:

  • Opportunities here at UMD (courses, programs, etc).

    You might first encounter the research process as a result of a course; if a faculty member asks you to produce a research paper, they are inviting you to gather evidence from sources beyond the ones listed in the course syllabus and to build an argument on the basis of this evidence.  Within the curriculum, students also gain opportunities to focus intensively on research through the completion of independent study courses and honors theses.

    You also have many opportunities to become involved in research outside your formal course of study. Many faculty members offer undergraduates opportunities to contribute to research projects as paid or volunteer research assistants.


  • Opportunities beyond UMD (national and international programs and opportunities).

    Beyond campus, numerous universities, research institutes, and government agencies sponsor summer research programs for undergraduates.


  • OUR programs and services (first year & summer programs, seminars, etc).

    OUR provides formal programs and services to help undergraduates get involved with research.


  • Presentation of your research outcomes

    Students conducting research have many opportunities to share their work on campus and beyond.

Why Research?

Working on a sustained research project can provide you with distinctive opportunities for intellectual and personal growth.

Relevance: Shifting from being a consumer of knowledge produced by others to a producer of knowledge in your own right can deepen your understanding of the research methods and approaches commonly used in your fields of interest and the limitations of these methods and approaches. It can provide new perspectives on the scholarly work you encounter in your courses.

Professional Development: Research by its very nature involves grappling with uncertainty, coping with unexpected setbacks, and making multiple attempts to resolve or address problems. This experience can help to cultivate persistence and habits of mind that will be useful to you throughout your career (regardless of whether it ultimately involves research), and in life more generally.


While research can pose useful challenges to you as an individual, it also offers an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with others.

Relationships & Mentorship: Undergraduates conducting longer-term research projects typically work under the supervision of one or more expert researchers who provide ongoing guidance and feedback. One of the significant benefits of participating in a sustained research project as an undergraduate is precisely this opportunity to work in dialogue with and learn from a more seasoned researcher. Frequently, more senior researchers become mentors to undergraduate researchers with whom they work, serving not only as an advisors regarding immediate questions related to research but also as a source of guidance regarding graduate school and career possibilities.


Research frequently provides opportunities to connect with fellow undergraduates excited by the process of exploration and discovery; for instance, you might work on a research team along with other undergraduates, or you might participate in an undergraduate research program that provides regular opportunities for participating students to meet and discuss their experiences.


Undergraduate research thus holds out the promise of the challenge and a community; combined, the two can make for a compelling life experience.

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