What Does a Research Assistant Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a stressed out woman sitting at a desk that's covered in papers, books, pens, pencils, a beaker, and random erasers. Text reads:

Image by Ashley Nicole DeLeon © The Balance 2019

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 Duties & Responsibilities

The job generally requires the ability to perform the following duties:

  • Carry out experiments and research according to protocols laid out by primary researchers
  • Collect and log experimental data
  • Conduct statistical analyses of data sets
  • Prepare graphs and spreadsheets to portray results
  • Create presentation slides and posters to help researchers present findings
  • Review print and online resources to gather information
  • Check facts, proofread, and edit research documents to ensure accuracy
  • Maintain laboratory equipment and inventory

Research assistants usually work under the supervision of primary researchers who lead research projects. They're responsible for assisting the main researcher in a number of tasks that support the research activities. Those tasks vary depending on the type of research that's being done and the field that they're in.

Research Assistant Salary

A research assistant's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and employer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides salary data for research assistants in the field of social sciences:

  • Median Annual Salary: $46,640
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $78,470
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $25,370

The BLS also provides salary data for biological technicians, which include research assistants in that field:

  • Median Annual Salary: $44,500 
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $29,330
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $71,440

Education, Training, & Certification

  • Education: Research assistants are usually required to have at least a bachelor's degree in the field of study that the research is in. Coursework varies greatly depending on that field.
  • Experience: Prior work experience isn't always needed to be a research assistant, but for scientific research, prior experience working in a laboratory, even during school, is often required.

Research Assistant Skills & Competencies

To be successful in this role, you’ll generally need the following skills and qualities:

  • Analytical skills: Research assistants are often asked to collect and analyze data and to manage and update existing databases. They might also conduct literature reviews or field research.
  • Technical skills: Research assistants may need to set up and operate lab equipment and instruments.
  • Observational skills: Research assistants need to be able to work in a highly accurate manner, paying close attention to detail and keeping records of their work.
  • Time-management skills: When dealing with data and statistics, it’s important to be able to meet project deadlines and manage your time to accomplish your goals.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for biological technicians, which include research assistants in that field, will grow 10% through 2026, which faster than the overall employment growth of 7% for all occupations in the country.

Work Environment

Research assistants typically work in laboratories and offices, but some may conduct fieldwork related to a research project.

Work Schedule

Research assistants can work full time or part-time. Their working hours usually depend on their employer and the field they're in, but they usually work during regular business hours.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People who are interested in becoming [job name] may also consider other careers with these median salaries:

  • Forensic science technician: $58,230
  • Chemical technician: $48,160
  • Medical and clinical laboratory technician: $52,330

How to Get the Job

Write a Cover Letter and Resume

Include the scientific research skills you have learned as an undergraduate or graduate student, any laboratory experience you’ve had, leadership or supervisory roles you’ve held, and published research to which you have contributed.

Apply

To apply to research assistant jobs, search sites such as Academic Positions, HigherEdJobs, and Indeed.

Research Assistant Cover Letter and Resume Examples

Research Assistant Cover Letter Example (Text Version)

Your Name
Louisville, KY 40202
myname@email.com
Mobile: 360.123.1234

Dear (Name):

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,

Your Name (signature)

Your Name

Screenshot of a research assistant job resume
©TheBalance 2018

Research Assistant Position: Resume Example (Text Version)

Ursula Applicant
999 Main Street
Louisville, KY 40302
(360) 123-1234
ursula.applicant@email.com

CAREER OBJECTIVE

Detail-oriented bench researcher with substantial background in immunology, molecular biology, and cancer research seeks an assistant researcher position with a major hospital, or chemical or medical corporation.

CORE QUALIFICATIONS

  • Eight years’ bench experience within academic research environments, with firm command of all laboratory setup, planning, research, and reporting protocols.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English and Mandarin Chinese leveraged to effectively describe research statuses and findings to 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.

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

UNIVERSITY OF LOUSVILLE, Louisville, KY
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, September 2016-Present

Coordinate and perform postdoctoral bench research in fields of immunology and molecular biology.

  • Manage lab operation, including training and supervising student lab assistants.
  • Published and/or presented research findings at national conferences.
  • Investigated modulation of responses to antitumor effector cells and tumor rejection.
  • Applied for and received two prestigious grants: National Institutes of Health Immunotherapy Training Grant and American Cancer Institution Training Grant.

NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, Evanston, IL
Graduate Research Assistant, September 2014-May 2016

Completed doctoral research within the Department of Molecular Biosciences.

  • Trained and supervised 10 lab workers and mentored three undergraduate lab assistants.
  • Completed well-received doctoral research on alternative pathways of T-cell phagocytic cell activation. (A forthcoming article will be published in the Journal of Molecular Research.)

EDUCATION

Ph.D. in Molecular Biosciences (2016); Thesis: “Two Alternative Pathways for T-Cell Activation.”
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

BS in Molecular Biology (2013); Contributed to faculty research of T-cell activation mechanisms.
Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China