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Most complex studies performed by universities or hospitals require some type of research assistant. Research assistants are hired by leading faculty members to assist with conducting research projects. They are needed to perform various duties related to the study and are typically well versed in the study’s subject matter. In order to become a research assistant, you usually need academic experience in the research subject area, knowledge of operating a database, and a specified minimum grade point average (GPA).
If you're interested in a research assistant position, it might be best to start by talking to a professor in your field of study. Most professors hire students to work as assistants if they are majoring in the field to which the study relates. For example, if faculty members are conducting research on the social psychology of business as it relates to marketing tactics, professors will most likely seek candidates who are majoring in sociology, psychology, or marketing. Many students seek out research assistant positions for class credit or project experience relevant to graduate school.
A strong knowledge of the subject matter generally is required due to the typical duties that research assistants perform. Assistants are often responsible for conducting literature reviews, collecting and analyzing data and preparing interview questions for study participants. They may also prepare materials for grant agencies, maintain interview records, manage project e-mails and prepare articles or presentations related to the project.
To become a research assistant, database skills may be required. Some professors may require research assistants to work in database programs, so knowing the basic software first can give you an advantage. Assistants may be responsible for compiling data and entering it into a database, and they may also need to filter and organize the data in a manner that is conducive to the focus of the study.
Candidates may also need to maintain a minimum GPA; many faculty researchers require a minimum 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 GPA scale, for instance. Students working as research assistants may get pass or fail credit, or they may volunteer to present their research in the graduate applications process. Most undergraduate students do not receive payment for their work as research assistants.
Graduate students working as research assistants usually receive a stipend for their work, but their duties tend to be more complex. They often take a more active role in the project, preparing them to lead their own projects after graduate school. Graduate research assistants are typically responsible for supervising undergraduate assistants, as well as compiling, analyzing, and summarizing the data being presented for the project.
If you are not currently enrolled in undergraduate or graduate school and want to work as a research assistant, you may want to contact local universities to ask if they do any outside hiring for research projects. Some universities will occasionally hire outside candidates with little experience to perform more mundane tasks, such data entry and filing. Most faculty researchers prefer to hire outside candidates who are seeking experiencing in order to apply for graduate school.