How to Become a Research Assistant

How to Become a Research Assistant: Career Path Guide

If you want to become a research assistant in science, business, social science or any other area, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for this career.


Those who become research assistants are typically individuals who would either like to gain more research experience in their chosen field, advance their education in that field, or they may simply enjoy being part of a research team in the field of their interest. Regardless of their individual career ambitions, research assistants typically have a keen interest and an education in the area to which their work in research relates.


Research assistants must be comfortable working in an environment that relates to their field, such as a laboratory, library or an office setting. Research assistants must be trustworthy, punctual and very well organized individuals. They must also be comfortable taking directive from other research assistants and lead researchers, as well communicating their work to others.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a research assistant in the United States (and Canada) in any discipline. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Research Assistant

The educational requirements for becoming a research assistant may vary by field of employment, and by specific employer.


Research Assistants in Academia


Research assistants that work in academia are likely students that have already earned a bachelor’s degree in an area that closely relates to their field of work, and are in the process of earning a graduate degree in that field. For example, a research assistant working in the psychology department of a university likely has a bachelor's degree in psychology and is earning a master's or doctoral degree.


Some research assistants may be students that are in the process of earning their bachelor’s degree, although receiving credit towards their degree, rather than receiving financial compensation, usually compensates these research assistants.


Research Assistants in the Field of Business


To become a research assistant in the business world you typically need bachelor's degree related to your field of employment. For example, if you work as a marketing research assistant, you may need an undergraduate degree with a focus in marketing. If you want to advance to a position with more responsibility, such as project manager or principal investigator, you may require a graduate degree or additional career experience.


Although you typically need an education in a related field to become a research assistant, there are exceptions. Some employers both in the world of academia and the business world will occasionally hire outside research assistant candidates with little or no experience to perform simple tasks, such data entry and filing.


Please Note: Undergraduate students looking to work as a research assistant may need to maintain a certain grade point average (GPA).




Research Assistant Job Description

Research assistants are hired by principal researchers (also known as principal investigators, or project directors) to assist with conducting research projects (in any field; science, business, economics, social science, psychology and many others) by performing various duties related to a study.


Research assistants are typically well versed in the subject area of the project they work on. For example, marketing students and graduates may work for a researcher that is involved in a study related to marketing, while political science students and graduates may work for researchers involved in political science research projects and studies. 



Research Assistant Job Duties

• Assist with data collection

• Use computer programs to record and organize data

• Assist with data analysis

• Disseminate results of research activities

• Contribute ideas relating to improving research processes

• Work with other research team members and principle investigator

• Prepare reports of completed projects for publication in industry journals, or for agency funding or requesting project

• May be responsible for preparing grant proposals and other documents

• Manage project e-mails and other communications

• Prepare articles and presentations relating to project



How to Get a Job as a Research Assistant

If you're interested in a working as a research assistant while you’re an undergraduate student, speak with professors and faculty members in a field of study that interests you. Many professors hire students to work as assistants if they are majoring in the field to which the study relates.


Getting a job as a research assistant while you are a student has many benefits. It allows you to earn course credits towards your degree or financial compensation, as well as strengthens your resume and marketability by allowing you to gain skills and knowledge in the area of original research. This experience could prove to be invaluable if you wish to work in your field after graduation. 



Who Hires Research Assistants?

Research assistants are typically hired by organizations involved in conducting research in any field: marketing, economics, political science, psychology, biology and many others.


Organizations that hire Research Assistants include:


• Universities and colleges

• Contract research organizations

• Privately funded research laboratories

• Municipal, provincial/state and federal government departments

• Private industry, such as pharmaceutical, biotechnology and other companies

• Marketing companies

• Management, scientific and technical consulting organizations

• Non-profit organizations, such as social advocacy organizations




Skills and Traits Needed to Become a Research Assistant

In order to become effective in a job as a research assistant, you need to have certain personality traits and skills. These traits and skills will not only allow you to perform your job with competence, they will also allow you to endure the ups and downs of this career.


• Able to take direction from others

• Able to pay close attention to detail

• Must have a methodical approach to work activities

• Must be punctual and well organized

• Have a keen interest in the subject matter

• Well-versed in the subject area

• Must be patient in regards to work activities and project goals

• Must work well with others, and be motivated to be part of a team

• May need to be manually dexterous (if using specialized equipment in experiments)

• Able to use computer programs to gather and organize data



Research Assistant Salary: How Much Do They Earn?

The salary level of professional research assistants can vary depending on factors such as their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, the field they work in, their job title, the specific responsibilities of their job and many others.


For example, a research assistant with over 10 years of professional research experience and the job title "Research Assistant III" typically will earn more than a researcher with no professional experience and the job title "Research Assistant I".


Research Assistant Salary Alberta: According to data form the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, workers in the Post-Secondary Teaching and Research Assistants occupational group earn an average of $23.64 per hour.


Research Assistant Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary level for workers in the Post-Secondary Teaching and Research Assistants occupational group is $36,138 per year.


Research Assistant Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary level of workers in the Social Science Research Assistants occupational group is $40,760 per year.


Please Note: Undergraduate students that work as research assistants for a faculty member of their school may be compensated by receiving credit towards their degree, rather than receiving financial compensation. 



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Careers Similar to Research Assistant

Listed below are jobs that are similar in nature to Research Assistant, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Clinical Research Associate

Government Researcher

Market Researcher

Political Researcher



References: How to Become a Research Assistant

Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a research assistant.


Wages & Salaries in Alberta:Post-secondary teaching and research assistants.” (March 16, 2016). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 12, 2020.

Occupational Employment & Wages:Social Science Research Assistants.” (December 4, 2019). Bureau of Labor Statistics - United States Government website. Retrieved January 12, 2020.

Career Profiles:Graduate Research Assistants.” (n.d.). TRIUMF - Canada’s Particle Accelerator Centre website. Retrieved January 12, 2020.

Faculty Mentor Program:How to Become a Successful Research Assistant.” (n.d.) UC San Diego website. Retrieved January 12, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming a Research Assistant

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a Research Assistant can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Research Assistant: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a research assistant. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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