3 Tips for Surviving a Graduate Research Assistantship

So you’ve committed to a research assistantship – yay, work!

Completing a research assistantship under a professor in your chosen field can be very rewarding and beneficial – especially if that person could write you a helpful letter of recommendation when it comes time to swim upstream in this demoralizing academic market.

That being said, there are a few important things to keep in mind when it comes to signing your life away for an entire summer or semester!

  • Keep an activity and time log: To avoid the inevitable dumping that will occur once a professor realizes that she or he has an assistant at their disposal, make sure to keep an organized log of what activities you’ve completed and how long they took. Keep your assistantship director informed each time you’ve finished roughly ten hours of work, just so they’re not caught off guard when you freak out over being asked to add yet another chapter’s worth of citations to that monster bibliography that’s been eating up all of your “free time.” Once you have five hours left in the assistantship, contact your director via e-mail letting them know that your time is almost up and detail which tasks you can feasibly complete in that time.
  • Set clear boundaries: While it can be tough to refuse when your assistantship director asks you to do “one more thing,” it’s important to clearly state – in writing – what activities and responsibilities you can feasibly complete in the allotted time and what you cannot. Ask what tasks your director expects to have completed during the assistantship and estimate approximately how much time you will need to devote to those responsibilities. Of course, you’ll run into never-ending tasks that you thought would only take a couple hours. It sucks, but log it in your time and activity schedule and keep your director abreast of your progress – or lack thereof. Open communication creates the conditions necessary for a respectful, equal relationship between the two of you.
  • Look ’em in the eye: Avoid the urge to only communicate via e-mail since this allows professors to avoid seeing the bags under your eyes after meeting yet another one of their difficult deadlines. If they’re considerate, they’ll ask you how the work is going, at which time you can politely cough and reply “fine, but…” Meeting face-to-face also lets you solve multiple issues at once in a shorter amount of time than you would through e-mail. Finally, it’s generally best to update your director with how much time you’ve completed during each one-on-one meeting since this allows both of you to adequately map out what tasks you can complete in the time left.

Research assistantships can be an awesome boost in your C.V. – especially if you pair it with some impressive publications! While I know how awkward setting boundaries with busy professors can be, they will ultimately help you maintain a healthy professional relationship that could potentially boost your academic career!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips on surviving a research assistantship!

Drop me a line in the comments section! 🙂


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  • Reply Link Round-Up: Graduate School October 11, 2015 at 9:56 am

    […] 3 tips for surviving a graduate research assistantship. […]

  • Reply Carrie August 19, 2015 at 5:11 am

    great post
    Posts online about Heidelberg, Egypt, South Africa…

    • Amanda
      Reply Amanda August 19, 2015 at 5:15 am

      Thanks, Carrie! Oooo I didn’t see that you have poses on Egypt and South Africa! I need to check those out! 🙂

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