So You Want to be a Research Assistant?

So you want to be a research assistant

Flickr user FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Facility

Depending on your field, research might be an integral part of your post-undergraduate life. Even if you don’t intend to go into research, it is often beneficial to be a research assistant. Doing so can increase your understanding of certain concepts being explored in your field. Participating in research can help to clarify the process, therefore making it easier to comprehend new literature that comes out in the future. Plus, researching an interesting topic and analyzing the results is just a fun time!

How does one go about becoming a research assistant? Sometimes there will be fliers in your building. If there is a central hub or corkboard for your major, it might be helpful to check there. The head of your department might email out an announcement about professors seeking assistants. You might be able to ask your favorite professor if they are currently working on any projects.

How to become a research assistant

The quickest way, though, is going to be searching your department’s website. If there are student research positions open, there is likely a “Research” tab or page that you can go to. Depending on how your department is organized, there might be specific sub-sections, or all the options will be displayed at once. Regardless, there should be a list of faculty members and what they focus on in regards to research. You can peruse open research positions until you find something to your liking.

You may need to enroll in a course

Remember that being a research assistant will take up just as much time as a class. You might actually have to enroll in something like a Research Practicum course so that you receive credits. You will be required to spend a certain amount of time in the lab, and it’s possible that you might have weekly or monthly meetings with the research team. Therefore, you have to be able to dedicate your time and focus. Understanding the requirements demanded of you is an important step in becoming a research assistant.

Start your search early

If you know that research is something you want to do as an undergrad, I would encourage you to look early on. Some faculty will specify that they only take students who can commit a minimum of two years to being a research assistant. Others will take you for a single year or semester. The requirements will vary by professor, project, and department. It could be that you need to maintain a certain GPA. It might be that you have to have taken certain upper-level classes in order to train as an assistant, and therefore you can’t even apply as a freshman or sophomore. But that is why you have to look early. Figure out who is researching in your areas of interest. Keep track of them, talk to those professors early, and figure out what they look for in their student researchers.

Keep in mind that you will probably be limited to tedious tasks, especially your first semester. You are there to be an assistant. You might be in charge of making sure participants can give their informed consent, or data collection. It all depends on what the professor needs from you. Understand that you likely will not be directly responsible for anything during the research/experiment.

But you get to be involved and see how your degree can have real-world applications. You will have a better understanding of how research is conducted. You will form a bond with the lead researcher, as well as your fellow assistants, which will help to network you later in your career. And if you are looking at graduate school, research experience is always a plus (and sometimes mandatory)!

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