What is a Research Assistant?
Research assistants are involved in providing support to scientists or other types of researchers who are conducting experiments or gathering information in order to make new discoveries.
Specific duties can vary greatly depending on the industry in which they work and the type of research that is being carried out, however they will typically be required to:
- Plan research projects and coordinate roles within the projects
- Help conduct experiments and research alongside scientists
- Collect and log data collected
- Conduct data analysis and produce findings reports
- Present findings or produce presentations for researchers to present findings
- Maintain laboratory equipment
Why become a Research Assistant?
There are a number of reasons why one might want to consider getting this job, the main one being that it gives the opportunity to play a part in making pioneering, innovative discoveries that have the potential to change lives. Becoming a research assistant is also a great way to build on experience and skills learnt within university, which then enables you to progress onto more senior roles or roles within other parts of a business.
Types of employers
At present, most research assistants are working within the biotechnology sector as the sector continues to grow at a rapid rate. This is because biotechnology involves utilising living organisms in order to produce new products and processes, which is used heavily within healthcare and medicine. However, research assistants can also work for companies within industries including chemicals, biochemistry, pharmaceuticals, and proteins.
Within these industries, and more specifically, the types of employers that tend to actively recruit for this type of job include:
- Clinical research organisations
- Private hospitals and NHS trusts
- R&D organisations
- Health related charities
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Qualifications and experience required
To become a Research Assistant, a bachelor’s degree is usually required within a subject that is relevant to the field of research that is going to be carried out within the role, or the industry within which you are going to be working. Employers often value coursework or dissertations that have been completed as part of the degree, as these can be a good representation of the in-depth knowledge that you hold about the field of research.
Whilst prior experience is not always required in order to become a Research Assistant, practical experience within a laboratory and with the range of techniques typically used will greatly improve your chances when applying for jobs. This can be gained through a placement year during your degree, or summer voluntary work programmes. It is important to try to gain experience in both academia and in industry to help illustrate your competency, as well as inform your future career choices.
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A research assistant’s salary can vary based on location as well as the type of industry and company that they are working for. It can also vary greatly based on the qualifications (for example, BSc versus masters) and the level of experience held before joining the team.
Within the waste industry, salaries are likely to be close to minimum wage, whereas research assistants in the chemical industry, for example, could be looking at around £26,000. As requirements are fairly low for these roles, salaries will usually be basic until you have progressed into a more senior role or gained some experience.
How to become a research assistant
In order to become a Research Assistant, there are a number of basic skills that you should be able to demonstrate to an employer, including:
- Technical skills, as the role requires the use of lab equipment and innovative technologies
- Observational and analytical skills, as well as patience
- Problem-solving skills
- Good time-management and organisational skills
- The ability to communicate and network effectively
- Good scientific knowledge
Depending on the industry and type of employer you are aiming to work for, there are a variety of ways to search for Research Assistant jobs. University and hospital websites are a great place to start, as well as professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. Specialist recruitment agencies, such as CK Science, are another effective way to search for and land jobs, as they are able to offer tailored support and advice.
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As a Research Assistant, career progression is fairly fruitful. Through experience, undertaking many research projects and publishing work, you can aim towards becoming a senior researcher or professor leading your own team of individuals. This offers significantly increased responsibility as well as resources.
You may also want to look at progressing into other areas of the company or organisation that you are working for, such as media, management or consultancy.
- Laboratory Technician – supports complex scientific investigations by carrying out routine laboratory-based technical tasks and experiments, such as sampling, testing and recording results.
- Pharmacologist – conducts in vitro or in vivo research predict what effects new medicines might have on humans or animals so that they can be used and administered safely.
- Microbiologist – studies the microorganisms that cause infections, to understand how they work and how they can be used to enhance the quality of human life.