What Does a Research Assistant Do?

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Updated August 4, 2020

A research assistant is part of an important process in the world of post-secondary education. Professors and instructors at post-secondary institutions are tasked with performing research in order to further academic study and understanding of fields ranging from psychology to education to engineering and technology. Graduate students often choose to become an assistant in these research projects to fulfill graduation requirements and to gain valuable skills and experience.

Proposals and Grant Funding

At the beginning of a research project, and sometimes throughout, research teams will develop proposals that require presentation of the objective of the research and proposed outcomes. These proposals are necessary in order to secure funding, which often comes from government agencies, non-profit organizations, and for-profit corporations. A graduate research assistant is instrumental in helping to develop these proposals and find grants or other funding sources.

More information on opportunities and processes for securing funding for research projects can be found at the National Organization of Research Development Professionals website.

Research Processes and Tasks

A research assistant takes part in each step of a research project, building skills and gaining valuable experience for research or project roles after graduation. In order to complete a research study, there are a number of steps that an assistant will help with.

At the start of project, scientifically-based primary research must be identified, planned, and performed. An assistant will often coordinate this part of the study. An example of primary research typically included is to perform observations, host feedback panels, or create and disseminate surveys. A pool of study subjects must be identified, and the plan of collection must also be instituted.

After primary research has been conducted, an assistant to a research study will take part in the evaluation and analysis of the data, using graphs, narrative written discussion, and charts or tables to highlight the key points of the research results.

To support these results, secondary research is also conducted through investigation of other studies, published findings in academic and professional journals, and other credible, reliable sources. These findings are combined with the primary results to reach final conclusions and recommendations for courses of action to be taken.

Presentation of Findings, Conclusions, and Recommendations

Once the results from the research have been found, recorded, and analyzed, reports and articles will be written in order to present the information to funding sources, post-secondary institutions, and professionals from around the world who are invested in a related field. The presentation of these findings, conclusions, and recommendations are published as both reports and professional or academic journal articles. An assistant in a graduate program who has participated in the study and research process is often an integral part of the writing of these reports and articles.

Graduate students likely will be given the choice to become a research or a teaching assistant in order to fulfill the necessary experience to graduate with a doctorate degree. As a research assistant, these students are able to build experience in performing research, gain resume-building skills, and put the knowledge of a field into practical application.

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