Learn the Primary Duties and Skills Needed to Be a Research Assistant
There are many different types of jobs available for people interested in research. Research assistants provide support to professionals who are conducting experiments or gathering and analyzing information and data. Common employers include medical research centers, think tanks, consulting firms, public interest groups, colleges, polling organizations, and market research firms. Duties will vary greatly based on the type of research setting in which they work.
Research Assistant Job Description
Research assistants review print and online resources to gather information. They check facts, proofread, and edit research documents to ensure accuracy. Research assistants conduct statistical analyses of data sets, and prepare graphs and spreadsheets to portray results. They create presentation slides and posters to help researchers present findings to clients and colleagues at meetings and conferences.
In scientific settings, research assistants or technicians maintain laboratory equipment and inventory/order supplies. They carry out experimental procedures according to protocols laid out by primary researchers. Research assistants collect and log experimental data.
Research assistants must possess mathematical as well as strong writing and editing skills. They must be highly accurate, well organized and have a facility with computer software.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for biological technicians are expected to expand by 10% from 2016 to 2026, faster than for occupations as a whole.
The BLS indicated in May 2016 that social science research assistants earned an average of $43,190. The top 10% earned at least $74,900 and the bottom 10% earned less than $22,090. Biological technicians earned an average of $42,520. The top 10% earned at least $69,590 and the bottom 10% earned less than $27,660.
What to Include in a Research Assistant Resume and Cover Letter
Whether you are applying for a research assistant position in a university, public, or private laboratory, there are certain qualifications that you should mention in your resume and cover letter. Chief among these, of course, are the scientific research skills you have learned as an undergraduate or graduate student. But you’ll also want to delineate the laboratory experience you’ve had, leadership or supervisory roles you’ve held, and published research to which you have contributed.
Showcase your specific research and technical proficiencies. Research laboratories need research assistants and technicians who are adept in very specific, state-of-the-art procedures, technologies, and software. Even though mentioning your research assistant skills may seem like you’re stating the obvious, go ahead and list these in a “Research and Technical Skills” section of your resume. Employers often use applicant tracking systems that are programmed with job-related keyword parameters; the resumes that list terms like “DNA extraction” or “Western blotting” will be ranked higher than those that do not.
Use quantifiable examples of your laboratory management and research skills. If you have authored or co-authored publications, be sure to list these in a dedicated section of your resume (preferably limiting your list to the last 5 years or so).
Similarly, you should mention any research grants or fellowships you have earned. If you have trained others in laboratory research or biosafety / hazardous materials handling protocols, this deserves mention as well.
Include mention of soft skills. Although research assistants need to have a strong scientific skill set, they also have to know how to work productively as a member of a laboratory team. Thus, it’s important to mention soft skills such as teamwork and oral / written communications. Again, let the job description be your guide as to which soft skills you should emphasize – often labs will list things like “willingness to work overtime” or “strong communications skills in English” as “Preferred Qualifications” in their position candidates.
Research Assistant: Cover Letter Example
Louisville, KY 40202
It is with much enthusiasm that I am contacting you regarding the Research Assistant position that has opened with [insert name of employer]. Please accept the attached resume as a sign of my deep interest in this role.
As a molecular biologist with more than 8 years’ experience in immunology and cancer research, I have demonstrated my aptitude for assay development and execution, biosafety, laboratory management, and documentation / reporting within academic research settings. I am now eager to apply these skills within a public or private laboratory environment. Expertise I bring to the table includes:
- Deft facilitation of all phases of bench research, to include experiment design and execution, laboratory management, compliance monitoring, and careful research documentation.
- An excellent knowledge of immunology and molecular biology research skills such as tissue sampling, culture, and processing, DNA gel extraction and quantification, western blots, PCR, qPCR, ddPCR, NGS, gel electrophoresis, reagent preparation, and light and fluorescence microscopy.
- A Ph.D. in Molecular Biosciences from Northwestern University, with publications in Journal of Molecular Research and Immunology and Cell Biology.
- Fluent written and oral communications skills in English and Mandarin Chinese.
- The flexibility to work weekend and overtime shifts as warranted.
Eager to learn more about your research program and project objectives, I would welcome the opportunity to speak to you in person about my candidacy for this position. Thank you for your consideration – I look forward to hearing from you soon. Sincerely,
Research Assistant Position: Resume Example
Louisville, KY 40202
Detail-oriented bench researcher with substantial background in immunology, molecular biology, and cancer research.
Areas of Expertise:
- 8 years’ bench experience within academic research environments, with firm command of all laboratory set up, assay planning, research, and reporting protocols.
- Excellent oral and written communications skills in English and Mandarin Chinese leveraged to effectively describe research statuses and findings to project stakeholders and at scientific conferences.
- Skilled in training undergraduate and graduate students in safe laboratory research and maintenance procedures.
- Willingly work weekends and overtime to ensure optimal project outcomes.
Research and Technical Proficiencies
Processes: Tissue sampling, culture, and processing, DNA gel extraction and quantification, western blots, PCR, qPCR, ddPCR, NGS, gel electrophoresis, reagent preparation, light and fluorescence microscopy
Software: Molecular Evolutionary Genetics Analysis (MEGA7), Zotero, Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow (Mo/20XX to Mo/20XX)
Coordinated and performed post-doctoral bench research in the fields of Immunology and Molecular Biology. Managed lab operations; trained and supervised student laboratory assistants. Published and / or presented research findings at national conferences. Key Achievements:
- Investigated the modulation of responses in antitumor effector cells and mechanisms of tumor rejection.
- Applied for and landed two prestigious grants: National Institutes of Health Immunotherapy Training Grant and American Cancer Institution Training Grant.
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Graduate Research Assistant (Mo/20XX to Mo/20XX)
Completed doctoral research within the Department of Molecular Biosciences. Trained and supervised 10+ lab workers; mentored 3 undergraduate research assistants. Key Achievement:
- Completed well-received doctoral research on alternative pathways of T-cell and phagocytic cell activation (forthcoming, Journal of Molecular Research).
Education and Training
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Ph.D. in Molecular Biosciences (20XX)
Thesis: “Two alternative pathways for T-cell activation”
Graduate Research Assistantship (20XX to 20XX)
Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China
BS in Molecular Biology (20XX)
As Undergraduate Research Assistant, Department of Molecular Biology, contributed to faculty research of T-cell activation mechanisms.
Illinois Academy of Sciences, Molecular and Cell Biology
The Society for Molecular Biology & Evolution (SMBE)
The Biochemical Society
1. Last name, First Name (20XX). Two Alternative Pathways for T-Cell Activation. Journal of Molecular Research. Forthcoming.
2. Wu, H., Johnson, A., and Last name, First Initial. (20XX). A novel trigger of Polyclonal B Cell Response in mice. Immunology and Cell Biology. 123:2345-2362.
Research Assistant Job Skills
Employers typically look for soft skills, in addition to technical skills, in their research assistants. Soft skills may include written and spoken communication skills, the ability to focus, critical thinking, excellent time management skills, personal integrity, and a willingness to maintain confidentiality. Sought-after technical abilities may include any of the following:
As a research assistant, you may be asked to collect and analyze data or to manage and update existing databases. You might also conduct literature reviews or field research, including running focus groups as well as fact-checking proposals and statements. All these tasks are critical to the proper functioning of a research facility:
- Administrative Support
- Analyze Statistical Data
- Data Analysis
- Data Collection
- Data Entry
- Data Integration
- Data Integrity
- Data Management
- Data Review
- Empirical Research Methodology
- Evaluating the Validity and Reliability of Related Research Studies
- Fact Checking
- Field Research
- Literature Reviews
- Problem Solving
- Program Evaluation
Administrative skills are usually tasks that support the work of senior researchers. These tasks include bookkeeping, managing the equipment and supply inventories, preparing mass mailings, and ensuring that deadlines are met. You may also be asked to transcribe handwritten notes and audio files or to perform basic data entry. Related administrative skills include:
- Meeting Electronic Mailing Deadlines
- Meeting Paper Deadlines
- Preparing Mass Mailings
- Inventory Management
- Transcribing Handwritten Notes
- Transcribing Tapes
Computer skills represent a kind of bridge between technical scientific work and more generalized communication and organizational tasks. If you have coding skills, you may be asked to create the systems that your senior colleagues use to collect, analyze, and manage data. In some fields, new forms of computer-based analysis have triggered breakthroughs in scientific understanding. This trend is expected to continue in the future.
If you do not have coding skills, your work on computers might still include a variety of activity. This activity might include the use of statistical software, the creation of visual presentations and illustrations, the use of database and spreadsheet programs, and the creation of records and publications using programs like Microsoft Office. If you have an expertise in all these areas, then you possess a very marketable skill. Valuable computer skills include:
- Computer Programming
- Illustration Packages
- Scrubbing Data
- Writing Code
- Visuals for Presentations
Research assistants need to be able to work in a highly accurate manner, paying close attention to detail. When dealing with data and statistics, in addition to ensuring the information is accurate, it’s important to be able to meet project deadlines and manage your time to accomplish your goals. There are some of the attributes employers look for:
- Detail Orientation
- Decision Making
- Facilitating Focus Groups
- Meeting Deadlines
- Presenting Research Findings to Groups in a Compelling Manner
- Recording Results Precisely
- Time Management
- Take Responsibility
Research / Project Skills
Your role may involve administering tests, data entry, online and library research, and creating graphs and charts of results. In addition, you may be asked to develop tests and questionnaires, locate and screen research participants, keep track of laboratory materials, and assist with presentations. Skills related to research include:
- Carrying Out Qualitative Analyses
- Compiling Information
- Composing an Abstract Summarizing Studies
- Constructing Surveys and Questionnaires
- Data Analysis Techniques
- Data Analysis Tools
- Data Collection
- Data Interpretation
- Data Management
- Designing Research Methods to Test Hypotheses
- Developing a Thesis Statement
- Project Design
- Qualitative Research
- Quantitative Research
- Project Management
- Project Support
- Program Design
- Relational Databases
- Research Design
- Research Methods
- Research Support
- Statistical Packages
- Statistical Analysis
- Survey Design