You moved into your dorm. You are done with your midterms. You’ve (hopefully) figured out your sleep schedule. You finally stopped getting lost on campus.
Are you interested in research? Despite common misconception, research isn’t as boring and exhausting as it sounds. In fact, it’s a really good way to channel your academic interest with a degree of autonomy.
Things to know:
1. What am I getting into?
Undergraduate students normally work as research assistants in a professor’s laboratory or office. If you decide to commit to the position, you will be paired up with at least one graduate or doctorate student in the research team. Most of the research assistant jobs require 8-10 hours per week, though the exact work time may vary from field to field. Hours in office may vary, too, as some professors are perfectly fine with assistants working and turning in results via email and other software.
Keep in mind that research isn’t limited to STEM fields! Liberal arts professors, especially those in research-oriented universities, are constantly working on research papers and need help with data collection/ population surveys. It’s good to narrow down the specific field you want to pursue, but you don’t have to limit yourself in any way.
2. How do I start?
There are several ways to hunt down a research assistant job that fits you well. You have a better chance of getting a position during the beginning of each semester or school year.
A lot of universities have cleverly named research databases (e.g. Eureka at UT Austin), where you can search up research opportunities by field of research. These databases are usually the most useful tool when it comes to finding a position. Professors’ contact information will be given along with information about the research job. When you think you’ve found the one, you should contact them as soon as possible. Professors usually require you to provide a resume with your email. It’s convenient for both the professor and the research team if you also include a short paragraph of background information including the reason you are interested in the field of research.
If your school doesn’t have a research database, you can also email professors in your field of interest if you know they are working on a research project. You may have to be more specific and demonstrate a stronger interest if you decide to go this route. Don’t be discouraged if professors don’t respond—it will sometimes take many emails to many different professors to find the ideal research assistant position.
3. What are the perks?
Undergraduate research assistants usually get paid! For my research position, I record the number of hours I work each week in an online system and receive pay on a bimonthly basis. Schools also have scholarships and grants rewarded to students who are interested in or already participating in research.
Even though some positions are not paid, they are great ways to explore your academic interest or even narrow down what you want to pursue in the future. Interactions with professors and a professional research team are also beneficial to your academic growth as a college student.