A few weeks ago a friend asked for advice on how to be a research assistant: “I know how to research, but how do you assist?” I decided to expand my reply into a blog post. I got to wear the hat of “assistant” a few times in my life: researching on a couple book projects, doing background for journalists, and as the not-lead writer on international development evaluations, among other stuff. Here are a few (hyper-organized) tricks and habits I used. I’m sure other research assistants (or the authors who have benefited from such assistance) have different experiences, advice, and best practices, which I’d love to hear about in the comments!
So, coming out of college or grad school doing your own principle investigating and lead authoring, what makes being a research assistant different? What exactly is the assistant’s role?
Research assistant jobs, as I understand them, are basically:
- organizing and keeping track of source material and people,
- filtering vast bodies of knowledge to pull out the relevant information, and
- analyzing and writing– balancing your own thoughts paired with your interpretation of your author’s message to write out material that could be re-interpreted, paraphrased, or used verbatim in the author’s work.
- Maybe a little copy-editing, too, depending on your author :)
I like to think of myself as a translator, translating my author’s message through the language of sources that back up (and shape) his or her arguments. This may mean we need to go back-and-forth to make sure I am interpreting that message correctly. I also have a responsibility to critique, refine, and counter that message when it doesn’t stand up to the evidence.