Although the term research may bring to mind laboratories and scientists, research assistants do not always work in a lab. Research assistant jobs are also found in sales and marketing departments, government agencies and classrooms. Research assistant careers can provide opportunities in a variety of work settings including scientific, academic and business.
A large number of research assistant careers are found in the scientific community, with many positions available in hospitals and university or private laboratories. Medical research assistants can work for a head researcher or as part of a research team. Research assistant jobs in the science field may focus on one specific research project or involve ongoing investigations into a variety of data.
The social sciences also require research assistants, though not in a lab setting. Research assistant careers in the social sciences often involve collecting and analyzing statistical data for use in social circumstances. Social research may be used for determining societal growth patterns, tracking population changes and gathering facts that guide decisions regarding education, transportation or housing in a particular area. Government agencies frequently use research assistants in this regard.
Some research assistant careers aid the business community, typically with sales and marketing. A market research assistant gathers information about activities and trends in certain business segments. This data is analyzed and tracked to find solutions to problems, anticipate behavior and guide future projects.
In the academic world, research assistants generally work with university professors on both research and teaching. Many college research assistant jobs go to graduate students who may teach entry-level courses or run study groups for lower-level college students. Graduate research assistants may also work in a lab on a particular project. Many times, the research is part of a graduate degree program.
Most research assistant positions require a bachelor’s degree or at least some college. Although the major is not always particularly important, research assistants often come from the social science or science fields. Research assistant jobs typically call for very good math skills along with computer knowledge, possibly including programming. Statistics experience is also helpful in many research assistant careers.
Besides requiring statistical and analytical abilities, a research assistant should be a highly efficient communicator with a solid knowledge of language. Critical thinking and the ability to listen accurately are beneficial skills for research assistants, especially when interviewing and data gathering are involved. Positions in the social science field often require university-level knowledge of psychology and human behavior.