A scientific research assistant works as part of a research team but under the supervision of a manager or senior researcher. They collect and analyze data and also help plan, design, implement and evaluate research. They search for information, record information and maintain laboratory equipment. A research assistant is also responsible for interviewing others for information. This page offers a handy guide to help you create a good resume to get a job as a research assistant.
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Job duties of a research assistant
Research assistants in the sciences have a variety of duties to perform, including collecting and interpreting data. The research assistant’s job can be divided into several smaller assignments:
Researching as per the protocols set by primary researchers.
Collecting and logging experimental data.
Preserving the integrity of data and findings.
Maintaining quality control standards.
Conducting statistical analyses of data sets.
Preparing graphs and spreadsheets to portray results.
Creating posters and presentations to update research.
Helping senior researchers present findings.
Reviewing print and online resources to gather information.
Ensuring accuracy by checking facts, proofreading and editing research documents.
Scheduling and conducting interviews.
Research assistant median salaries
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a research assistant’s median salary varies from industry to industry. For example, a social science research assistant earns a median wage of $53,560 annually in the U.S.
Top skills for research assistants
Research assistants work in different industries, coordinating various biomedical or social-behavioral research projects and supporting the principal investigator and other support staff. Some of the tasks that research assistants perform include administering tests and questionnaires following protocols, tabulating and processing responses, compiling information and preparing material for inclusion in reports. Research assistants usually provide administrative support by assisting with participant recruitment and scheduling, maintaining complete and accurate data and source documentation and processing regulatory documents following legal requirements. Naturally, there are many skills involved in this role. Let’s explore more in-depth some of the skills you’ll need to be a research assistant.
- Administrative skills One of the primary responsibilities of a research assistant is to contribute to various administrative and operational duties, including administrative support for research posters and publications. Solid organizational skills and attention to detail are necessary to perform these tasks well, particularly for keeping on track with the scheduling of participants, the research assessment protocols, the maintenance and cleaning of equipment and the facility, the restocking of supplies and the maintenance of computer databases. It’s also vital that you master the software you’ll be using to perform all these tasks. At a minimum, you should have strong computer skills and be proficient with Microsoft Office.
- Documentation and data management Research assistants work with many documents and data sets. In this role, you’ll be assisting with completing all study documentation forms, including case report forms, clinical reports and other study-specific documents. This task extends to data entry and maintenance of study binders , including logging assessments and questionnaires as part of the research protocol. In short, research assistants must maintain complete and accurate regulatory documentation and subject data. Keeping detailed records may include collecting, extracting, entering data and preparing basic charts and graphs. You may also have to collaborate on submitting regulatory documents for the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and grant progress reports. In some roles, you may even participate in scholarly contributions as co-author on scientific abstracts and publications. In clinical studies, you’ll maintain an inventory of research specimens.
- Strong interpersonal and communication skills Since research assistants usually work directly with study participants, communicating tactfully and diplomatically with people is crucial. If you’re interested in speaking with a variety of people regarding various topical issues, you’ll be well suited for the daily interactions of the role. Your interpersonal and communication skills will extend into collaborations to identify research needs and support the investigator in recruiting and selecting study participants. It may be your responsibility to facilitate communication with key personnel and participants to maintain project study flow.
- Data analysis and reporting Research assistants are involved in collecting, compiling, documentation, entry and review of research data. This includes gathering qualitative and quantitative data, conducting statistical analyses on the collected research data, and translating complex data into simple textual and visual representations to summarize findings into presentations and reports. Strong knowledge of creating graphs and charts in software like Smartsheet, Excel or Numbers is necessary for most research assistant roles to organize and document findings.
- Participant coordination A research assistant is responsible for providing excellent care, service and communication to participants of studies. You must be familiar with fundamental research practices and maintain knowledge and understanding of assigned protocols. It’ll also be your responsibility to coordinate study appointments — including prescreening, scheduling visits and working directly with participants to ensure adherence to study protocols by the study team. In some cases, research assistants recruit study participants, obtain and review informed consent and conduct interviews.
- Adherence to laws and regulations When working with human participants, regardless of the type of study, it’s critical to complete all activities strictly following the law. There are many regulations you need to comply with, such as Good Clinical Practices (GCP), all relevant local, state and federal laws, regulations, guidance, policy and procedures developed by the Institutional Review Board (IRB), Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), and the International Conference on Harmonization (ICH), among others. One of the objectives of adhering to proper procedures is to avoid the risk of laboratory-acquired infection or sample-to-sample contamination. As a research assistant, complying with institutional requirements and policies is nonnegotiable. Thus, you must develop and maintain familiarity with the ethical conduct of research and the safeguards needed.
Educational requirements for research assistants
DegreeThe minimum requirement varies from role to role. For some employers, the minimum educational requirement is a high school diploma or GED. However, most commonly, it’s a bachelor’s degree in science, psychology, genetics, social or health science or a related field. Depending on the industry, a master's in finance, accounting, business administration or economics is preferred. Most employers look for candidates with a bachelor’s degree and at least one year of experience in a relevant role. Other employers also accept candidates who instead have an associate degree with at least two years of experience or, in the case of clinical studies, the candidates are registered nurses. There’s a wide selection of degrees you can select to work as a research assistant. Here are a few options to get you started on your search:
New York University (NYU) offers bachelor's degree fields in biology, anthropology, digital humanities and Social Science. Other science degrees related to the field would be Economics, Environmental Studies, Psychology, Social and Cultural Analysis, Sociology, Nursing, Public Health and Business.
CertificationsWhile employers don’t necessarily ask for any specific certifications other than the mandatory training the IRB requires for conducting clinical trials, getting certified in relevant skills to the role can be beneficial to your candidacy. Below are options you can look at to give you some ideas on certifications and opportunities that can enhance your qualifications.
Universities and colleges: Many universities and colleges offer certification programs as part of their continuing education departments. Berkeley Extension offers a certification program in Clinical Research Conduct and Management. NYU offers certificates in public health and Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern University provide certificate programs in clinical research.
Online education companies: Companies like edX have a broad offering of courses in various concentrations, such as Data Management. Coursera also has methods to develop your research skills, such as Understanding Research Methods, Introduction to Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis and Research Design: Inquiry and Discover.
Organizations and associations: The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) offers a wide selection of courses for professionals in clinical research. Insights Association offers the Professional Researcher Certification (PRC) for professionals at any stage of their career. They also have the Insights Association Certificate in Qualitative Research Principles. You can also consider becoming a Certified Research Analyst (CRA) available to college students and graduates with no experience in the field of research. That certification is from the International Institute for Procurement and Market Research (IIPMR). Also, the CITI Program provides training that is mandatory for anyone interested in working conducting clinical trials.
Internships: Internships and fellowships give participants hands-on experience to prepare them for working in the field of their choice. For those interested in working as a research assistant, the Wilson Center has an internship program you can consider. The Middle East Institute (MEI) also offers prestigious internships for research assistants in economics and intelligence analysis and international studies, to name a few. Stanford University is another option for internships, although it’s exclusive for community college students in the Social Sciences. If you’d instead intern in clinical trials, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has a list of programs you can consider. Columbia University, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Vanderbilt University all offer internship programs in clinical research.
Research assistant resume-writing tips
- Highlight key skills. Research assistant work requires hard skills to meet job expectations successfully. To prove your knowledge for the position, include a targeted list of skills with specific abilities and strengths on your resume. Some hard skills include:
- Data entry
- Statistical & graphical analysis of data
- Include the recognition and achievements. Include achievements in your resume to create a powerful impression. It will help you to show your potential. Include achievements like:
- Observed and analyzed cell changes with 99% accuracy.
- Collected data from 400 people in one day for general public awareness of finance.
- Begin with a robust summary. A hiring manager is always interested to see more than just your degree if you are applying for a senior or mid-level research assistant position. A professional summary will help you put your key accomplishments and skills upfront.
Which organizations are more likely to hire research assistants?
Organizations like universities and colleges, contract research organizations, privately funded research laboratories, municipal, provincial or state and federal government departments. You can look into private industries such as biotechnology, pharmaceutical,marketing companies, management, scientific and technical consulting organizations, or nonprofit organizations, such as social advocacy organizations.
Which states are most favorable from an employment perspective for a research assistant?
Research assistants can find employment easily with good pay but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, states like New York, District of Columbia, Georgia, California and Massachusetts offer the best employment opportunities with the highest pay.