Research Assistant FAQs

Why Become a Research Assistant?

Applicants to graduate school encounter fierce competition for admission and funding. In order to increase your odds of acceptance, it is important to get research experience. However, regardless of whether you choose to attend graduate school or not, research experience, provides you with the opportunity to think, organize information, improve problem solving skills, and demonstrate your commitment, reliability, and capacity for a job after graduation. As a research assistant (RA) you will have the opportunity to do the research and get important experience that will make you stand out in the graduate admissions process.

What Does a Research Assistant Do?

Expectations for you as a research assistant will vary by faculty member, projects, and disciplines. However, some general tasks that can be expected are:

  • Collect data by administering surveys, interviews, or running research protocols
  • Conduct general library research including literature searches
  • Score, code, and enter data into a spreadsheet or statistical analysis program
  • Use computer software such as statistical analysis programs or presentation and programming software
  • Maintain laboratory equipment
  • Feed and care for laboratory animals
  • Assist in preparing submissions for conferences and, if accepted, work on poster or oral presentations for conferences
  • Assist faculty in preparing a manuscript for publication

What Are Some Benefits of Being a Research Assistant?

Aside from the thrill of generating new knowledge, assisting a professor with research provides other benefits, including:

  • Gaining skills and knowledge that is not learned in the classroom
  • Developing a mentoring relationship with a faculty member
  • Earning outstanding letters of recommendation for graduate school or a job
  • Networking with other students that have similar career goals

How Do I Become a Research Assistant?

Opportunities for participation in original research projects conducted by UC psychology faculty are available for undergraduates on an individual basis. Research topics will vary in scope depending upon current faculty and graduate student research efforts. Time and skill requirements will also vary, as will the amount of academic credit received. Students interested in pursuing research opportunities should consult individual faculty members in their area of interest. Here are a few good steps:

  • Research the professors you might want to work with and read articles they have written and try to get an idea of what their current research program or lab looks like.
  • Contact the professors (one quick email) to see if they are taking students in their lab or if a graduate student needs an RA.
  • If a professor is not in need of an RA, contact another faculty member, even if their work is not as appealing, some research experience is better than no experience at all. This is crucial because not every professor in the department will take students each year.