Working as a Research Assistant

Being a research assistant (RA) is not an unusual experience for research students. It is a great opportunity to learn how a research project is operated, allowing us to gain experience relevant to our CV and potential future funding applications.  It is also one of the best ways to support ourselves financially or to earn some extra money while maintaining our engagement in academic field. In this blog, Ivy shares with us some insights into RA work.

By Ivy Zhuo.

The opportunity

Chances for working as an RA is not rare at all. The key lies in paying attention to the emails circulating around in the department and the advertisement on Unitemps. Both of my RA opportunities were from the internal advertisement through emails, but the recruitment processes were both conducted through Unitemps. Normally, if the research project is led by a professor in our own department, high chances are that the news for RA(s) would be circulated through internal emails. Therefore, keep an eye on the email updates from the department.

A girl with blonde hair stood in between two bookshelves reaching up to get a book There is another girl in the background.
Image: University of Warwick.

However, whilst the pay of research assistant work may be important, it should not necessarily be your first concern. Instead, the high relevance of the research position to your PhD study area should be the first criteria for your decision to apply. A role as a RA usually requires extra time and energy devotion. If it is a project within our own area, generally the experience can contribute to the better understanding of our own research project. However, if its outside our area of study, it can be difficult to balance the time between our extra work as a RA and our own PhD study. Always remember that our PhD study time is quite limited, and our own project shall come first.

The application

As mentioned before, our own PhD project matters and the opinion of our supervisors also count. Before we apply, it is always wise to ask our supervisor for opinion and consent, especially concerning the time commitment related to research assistant work.  After we have gained their permission, we can start our application process.

A girl with black hair wearing a red jacket sat at a table and writing something. She is looking at another person in the foreground of the image with her back to the camera.
Ivy had an opportunity to work as a Research Assistant. Image: Ivy Zhuo.

Chances only favour the well-prepared. Although the PhD students of the project leader of the advertised project have a higher chance to be recruited, it does not mean that we have no chances at all. Therefore, prepare our statement and CV according to the job requirement and desired skills. Make sure you state very clear how you fit the job requirement and clearly list the desired skills if you do possess.

If it is your first application for a RA position it is always good to get some feedback on your application. Your supervisor and your senior PhD friends with RA experience are likely to provide feedback on your application if asked, further highlighting the benefits of gaining the support of your supervisor.

The work itself

A black and white image of the interior of a large building. There are tables in the room and a lot of sunlight coming through the large windows on the right hand side.
Image: Ivy Zhuo.

As mentioned before, the work as a RA can be quite time-consuming. Therefore, time management is an important issue during the project time. If there is an expected conflict between the RA role and the expected PhD study progress at a certain time, remember to communicate with the project leader in advance to avoid such an issue.

Another issue is the timely and effective communication among team members since it is of a team project nature. If there is a certain misunderstanding, remember to sort it out as early as possible. The project leader who recruited us is always in the best position to communicate the matter.

Finally, since we are working as an assistant, the work is also of a learning experience for us. Be open-minded to learn and embrace new knowledge. Also pay attention to the specific knowledge which could be transferable to our own PhD research project, making the most of the experience for our own research ability and knowledge training.

To conclude, working as a RA that is relevant to our PhD study area is a worthwhile experience both for our CV but also for our enhanced research knowledge and skills. However, special attention needs to be paid to balance the time between the role and our own PhD study and the strategies to make the most out of this experience.

If you’re looking for other experiences to take part in during your PhD, why not have a look at Ellie’s blog on the benefits of internships or Pierre’s post on teaching.

Have you thought of working as a research assistant? Let us know by tweeting us @researchex, by messaging us on Instagram @warwicklibrary, or by emailing us at

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