Several students are supported as Research Assistants by our department and other departments. Research assistantships offer more than just financial aid: research assistants work closely with professors on state-of-the-art extramurally funded research projects which improve their job opportunities after graduation. Additionally, an apprenticeship to a faculty member is by far the best way for a PhD student to acquire the diverse skills needed for an academic career. Finally, the lab and computer facilities available to research assistants are typically much better than those available to unsupported students. A research assistantship requires duties involving approximately 20 hours of work per week and includes a tuition waiver.
Research Assistant Application Process
Every semester, faculty doing research receive “generic” emails from students asking to be hired as a research assistant. These generic emails almost never result in an offer. Instead, students hired as research assistants have demonstrated a specific interest in, and knowledge of, the research being performed. Unlike the application process for Teaching Assistantships and the application process for Tuition Waivers which are relatively formalized, the process of obtaining a research assistantship is more informal and decided by individual professors. Announcements about availability of research assistantships are sent periodically to the ICS graduate students by the graduate chair. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- To get a research assistantship, it helps to do some research first. For example, before sending email to a professor to ask for a job, surf the web pages of a research group first and learn about what the group does. Download and read one of the publications of the group.
- Demonstrate creativity. The research process requires the ability to ask questions and generate new ideas. If you would like to be a member of a research group, your chances are improved enormously if you can demonstrate to the professor that you can generate ideas and questions about the research area. Of course, some of these questions and ideas will be lame, because you’re not yet doing research in the area. That doesn’t matter: you’ve demonstrated raw creativity. Taste can be acquired later.
- Take a course or independent study from the professor whose research group you’re interested in joining. This is absolutely the best strategy for obtaining a research assistantship. It gives you an opportunity to know the professor better, become acquainted with the area, and decide if the area and professor is a good match with your goals and personality. Many, if not most, research assistants in our department were offered their positions after taking a course from the professor.