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Graduate Research Assistant Duties and Responsibilities

Although graduate research assistants can work in a variety of academic fields, most share several essential duties:

Gather Research Data The central responsibility of a graduate research assistant is gathering data related to their projects. This aspect of the role depends largely upon the field in which the assistant is conducting research. A scientific researcher, for example, may gather data from experiments and test subjects, while a psychology researcher may conduct interviews with research subjects.

Analyze Findings Data analysis is also central to this role. Graduate research assistants may use both qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze data, and some may use advanced data modeling technologies to derive insights from the information they have gathered. In any case, graduate research assistants analyze information to determine whether their working hypotheses are correct.

Prepare Reports and Paperwork Throughout the research process, graduate research assistants prepare reports related to their activities and findings. This can include information about test subjects and results, for example, or transcripts of subject interviews. Generally, graduate research assistants provide these reports to the professor or researcher in charge of the project, who may request further information or more detailed analyses.

Maintain Databases Many graduate research assistants also maintain project databases throughout the research process. In some cases, this can require familiarity with one or more programming languages or subject-specific database programs. Graduate research assistants may receive data from several sources and use database programs to maintain and update records related to project participants and findings.

Verify Data Along with entering data into research databases, graduate research assistants also ensure accuracy by verifying data that they work with. This can involve comparing reports to raw data to reduce errors and make sure that all information is up to date and as complete as possible. Graduate research assistants may need to follow up with research subjects or other researchers to verify information.

Direct Undergraduate Research Assistants In many research settings, graduate research assistants also direct the activities of undergraduate research assistants. In this aspect of the role, the graduate research assistant may identify tasks that do not require a high degree of knowledge or specialization and assign them to teams of undergraduate researchers. They may also answer questions and directly supervise the assistants' work.


Graduate Research Assistant Skills and Qualifications

Graduate research assistants provide direct support to professors and researchers involved in ongoing projects. Workers in this role have completed their undergraduate degrees and tend to have the following skills:
  • Subject matter expertise - graduate research assistants should be thoroughly familiar with their chosen subject matter, and should be able to use this knowledge to support their current research projects
  • Analytical thinking - data analysis is central to any graduate research assistant's role, so they should be able to rigorously assess data sets and derive conclusions based on their findings
  • Attention to detail - graduate research assistants must possess a high level of attention to detail to ensure that they correctly gather and record research data and provide accurate information to their supervisors
  • Time management - in this role, graduate research assistants manage ongoing projects and competing deadlines, so they should have strong time management and organization skills
  • Problem-solving skills - graduate research assistants should be excellent problem-solvers, since they frequently need to respond to changing circumstances and shift their hypotheses while researching
  • Communication skills - effective written and verbal communication is vital when collaborating with other research assistants and supervisors and preparing reports

Graduate Research Assistant Education and Training

Graduate research assistants are students who have successfully completed an undergraduate degree in their field and are working toward an advanced degree, such as a master's degree or PhD. Generally, graduate research assistant positions provide hands-on training and knowledge-building opportunities that research assistants can use in their own research or to assist with job searches after graduation. Graduate research assistants also frequently receive credit in publications related to their research, which can also help with future career growth.

Graduate Research Assistant Salary and Outlook

Graduate assistants typically work in exchange for a stipend or tuition reimbursement, so average salaries can be somewhat difficult to estimate. Glassdoor estimates that graduate research assistants earn an average salary of $29,083 per year based on 37,981 submitted salaries, while PayScale provides an estimate of $26,000 per year on average. Neither of these sites provides information on whether these salaries include tuition reimbursement, however. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide employment outlook data for graduate research assistants, particularly since this role can exist in a number of different academic fields.

Helpful Resources

If you're interested in learning more about working as a graduate research assistant, we found several resources on the web for further reading and information:

"15 Steps to Good Research" - this list provides a useful set of guidelines for researchers in any field, with a focus on developing a thesis, writing effective research questions, establishing methodologies, and gathering data

Research Methods: The Essential Knowledge Base - this book explores various research methodologies, highlighting the benefits and risks of each method and providing guidance for researchers designing studies and gathering data "Being an Exceptional Research Assistant" - read this blog post to learn how to stand out as a graduate research assistant and gain more responsibility and trust through active planning, reliability, and relationship building

Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches - graduate research assistants can read this book to learn more about qualitative and quantitative methodologies and how to design research activities that incorporate both

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