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What Is a Research Assistantship?

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An assistantship is a form of funding in which a student works as an "assistant" in exchange for partial or full tuition and/or a stipend. Students who are awarded research assistantships become research assistants and are assigned to work in a faculty member's lab. The supervising faculty member may or may not be the student's main advisor. Duties of research assistants vary by discipline and lab but include all tasks needed to pursue research in a given area, such as:

  • data collection, entry, and analysis
  • reviewing the literature and other library work
  • writing reports
  • copying, filing, and collating
  • organizing and/or cleaning the lab or office
Some students may find some of these items menial but these are the tasks that are required to run a lab and conduct research. Most research assistants do a little bit of everything.

Research assistants have a great deal of responsibility. They are trusted with faculty members' research -- and research is critical to academic careers. The benefits of a research assistantship lie beyond tuition emission or other monetary compensation. As a research assistant you will learn how to conduct research first hand. Your research experiences as a research assistant can be good preparation for your first major solo research project: Your dissertation.

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