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A research assistant is an essential part of the research process, especially if a research assistant works for a university where faculty members conduct research as part of their jobs. Academic institutions like colleges and universities, government agencies, and private and public organizations all conduct research on some scale, and research assistants can typically find work in fields that interest them. Many research assistants work for colleges or universities, or in a laboratory setting; however, some may find employment with writers, journalists and other professionals who need help gathering information.
The specific job duties of a research assistant depend on the academic discipline or business industry for which they work. For example, research assistants who work for a social sciences professor at a college or university have vastly different experiences than assistants who work for a novelist or a math professor.
Most research assistants will find themselves with job duties like:
• Conducting online or library searches for scholarly articles related to their project
• Searching legal documents
• Ordering literature and formulating a bibliography
• Collecting, coding and entering data by conducting experiments, interviews, surveys or focus groups
• Preparing and presenting research project results
Fortunately, research assistants may also be asked to provide their own thoughts on how to make a project more comprehensive. Research assistants with strong communication skills may be asked to contribute more fully to projects, sometimes even becoming co-authors of presentations or publications.
The projected job growth and employment prospects for research assistants are average to high compared to other occupations; career growth is directly tied to the field in which research assistants work. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of sociologists and economists to grow 10 to 15 percent by 2022, mostly because many fields use the findings of sociological and economic research. In that same vein, biological technician careers are expected to enjoy similar growth because of the necessity for medical technology improvements.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for a research assistant in the social sciences is about $39,000. In some cases, research assistants serve as part-time employees while taking graduate-level classes at a college or university; a stipend for work contributed is often part or a student’s scholarship or financial aid package.
Education requirements for research assistants vary. Assistants who are not enrolled as students typically need an associate degree in a relevant field of study, but a bachelor’s degree in scientific or social science fields is oftentimes preferred. A graduate degree may be required for jobs in academia.
Successful research assistants will possess strong communication skills, as one of their primary job functions is to speak and write clearly about their findings. Solid communication comes into play when research assistants are given detailed assignments and instructions. Additional necessary skills include:
• Accuracy and attention to detail: Collecting the data a researcher requests takes discipline and focus.
• Technical skills: It is advantageous to be skilled in word processing, database and spreadsheet management as well as to be capable in using statistical analysis software, since research assistants use these tools to gather information and report their findings.
• Critical thinking: Research assistants must be able to use conclusive reasoning to arrive at the best strategy for their work.