My graduate student, Christine Wu, created this excellent document which outlines the role and responsibilities of undergraduate research assistants working in our lab.
Research Assistant Responsibilities and Guidelines
Philosophy on Undergraduate Research Assistants
I view RA-ships as apprenticeships where students have the opportunity to gain basic research experience and skills. Most undergraduate RA positions in psychology operate on a volunteer or class-credit basis, and only a few positions operate on a paid or work-study basis (which may be different from other disciplines). While I am unable to offer paid positions, I expect RAs to treat research with the same amount of responsibility or commitment that they would approach class, a job/internship, or student leadership position. In exchange for students’ time and effort, I strive to train RAs in basic research methods and skills (e.g., literature searches, EndNote, basic data analysis) and provide mentorship in their professional and research development.
Students who demonstrate interest, motivation, and responsibility with research duties will be encouraged to pursue opportunities such as an independent project or honors thesis. Students will also be encouraged to apply for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) where they may receive a scholarship and/or a small of amount of funding for research expenses.
Expectations of the Research Assistant
- You are encouraged to contact your supervisor at any point and ask for clarification if you do not understand a task or have questions. supervisor if you have questions or need clarification.
- Send your supervisor an update email every Friday with the following information:
- Summary of work for the past week (ex: “Looked for articles on topic ______”)
- Any comments, reactions, thoughts you have about the work you did (e.g., any articles or topics that piqued your interest; topics that you might want to explore further)
- Summary of hours worked for the past week (e.g., “Week of 11/15, 4 hours)
- Next steps (if applicable)
- Read all emails received from the research team/supervisor and, when requested, respond in a timely fashion (i.e., within 2 business days)
- Notify supervisor in advance of busy weeks where you will not be able to put as much time into research activities
- Commit to two consecutive semesters working in the lab
- Complete online IRB and HIPAA training
- Commit to spend 5-8 hours per week on research activities. The specific time per week will vary based on the tasks assigned and where we are in the semester. Some weeks you may spend more time on research and some weeks you may spend less time, but it will average out to 5-8 hours per week over the whole semester. You are encouraged to communicate with your supervisor in advance of weeks where other commitments may limit the time you have available to spend on research
- Complete all work given in a diligent manner, double checking for mistakes especially for tasks involving data entry, participant information, and IRB documentations
- Keep an accurate record of time and work completed using the tracking sheet
Data Security and Professionalism
- Act in accordance with policies such as the Data Protection Act; for example, keeping data confidential and stored appropriately, as you have been instructed by the supervisor
- Keep both hard and electronic copy of the project study materials within the lab unless you get the permission from your supervisor to take it outside of the lab
- Act in a professional manner towards participants, supervisors, lab members, and collaborators at all times. This includes interpersonal interactions as well as email communication.
Scheduling & Location of Research Activities
- Due to the nature of our current research, RA schedules are flexible. I do not assign specific “shifts” where RAs are expected to be in the lab. Thus, RAs are responsible for managing their own schedules to complete research tasks, tracking the time spent on research tasks, and reporting the time to their supervisor on a weekly basis. Some research activities (e.g., lit searches) can be done on the RA’s personal computer, whereas other activities (e.g., data management, transcribing) require use of the lab space. RAs are responsible for reserving lab space when necessary (see next section) and arranging their schedules so they can access the lab during Elliott Hall’s regular building hours.
- The flexible schedule of lab work and lack of direct supervision means that RAs are expected to be able to work independently with minimal direction, supervision, or structure. RAs are expected to be proactive in communicating with their supervisors when questions/issues arise and set up meetings with supervisors when in-person instruction or supervision is needed.
If using the lab space (N583/S466) to work on research projects:
- Reserve the room in advance using the lab Google Calendar
- Use the space only for research-related activities
- Maintain the security of the lab space by logging off computers at the end of session and locking doors whenever you have to leave the room (i.e., to use the restroom)
- Do not share the lockbox code with non-lab personnel
When enrolled in PSY 5993:
- Attend and participate actively in weekly 2-hour research lab meetings (schedule permitting)
- Attend and participate actively in weekly 1-hour reading group meetings
- Submit a 5-10 page research review paper at the end of the semester
Responsibilities held by the supervisor
- Meet with the RA regularly/as needed to supervise them on tasks and answer any questions
- Provide adequate support and training to the RA
- Be available for questions via email and respond to emails in a timely fashion (i.e., within 2 business days)
- Promote open discussion of any difficulties with the tasks, and an honest relationship between the RA and the rest of the team
- Spot check RA’s work for accuracy and quality
- Provide mentorship regarding professional development and career goals
What happens if either party are not upholding their responsibilities
It is imperative that the work within the lab meets certain standards of quality, accuracy and professionalism at all times. As a result of this, there are consequences if a research assistant is considered to be performing below expectations as outlined above.
If an RA is worried that they are not upholding their responsibilities, and they are encountering difficulties, they are encouraged to discuss this with the supervisor in an open fashion. If the supervisor feels that the RA is not meeting their responsibilities, they are encouraged to ask the RA if they require any additional support in order to assist them in meeting these standards. If the RA continues to perform below the expected standards and the quality of the research in the lab is being negatively affected, then a member of the lab team will discuss this with the RA further, with one possible consequence being that their assistance in the lab may no longer be required. Keep in mind that professors and supervisors write recommendation letters for internships, jobs, and graduate/professional school applications. In addition, when students apply for positions in other labs, faculty often contact their previous research supervisors for input.