Research Assistant (HE)

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Job Description

Research Assistants work in a wide range of different fields in the sciences and social sciences. They are usually based in one or more university departments and work on projects alone, or collaboratively with colleagues in the same institution or in another university. The hours of work are flexible, being determined by the individual depending on the needs of the project. Researchers usually work long hours, especially as deadlines draw closer.


  • Plan research projects, including one's own role within them
  • Seek funding for the project from external and internal sources
  • Lead pilot projects/feasibility studies if required
  • Undertake research, either laboratory or office-based or in the field
  • Record findings
  • Present findings to peers at conferences or in published articles
  • Keep records and accounts of the management of the project

Salary and Conditions

Many researchers do not have permanent positions; their jobs are on temporary contracts for the life of the particular project. Researchers can spend many years jumping from project to project without any real job security. Projects can last anything from a few months to a number of years. This flexibility and variety suits many people. The starting salary for a research assistant is between £20-25,000.

Entry Criteria

Many research assistant posts require a good undergraduate degree in a subject relevant to the subject to be studied. As well as a formal qualification, employers are usually looking for a particular set of skills gained doing similar sorts of research, for example using certain statistical methods or certain pieces of equipment. They will also expect you to display in-depth knowledge of the overall field of research.

Career Path

Research assistants start out by assisting on someone else’s project, usually for a period of a few months or a year. By doing this they gain experience and are then able to move on to longer term projects and managing their own budgets and staff at a more senior level.

Major employers

University-based research assistants are mostly employed in publicly funded universities or HE colleges. There are many different sorts of these in the UK. Oxford and Cambridge are the most prestigious, followed by research-based institutions such as the Russell Group. The post-1992 group of universities, which used to be Polytechnics, also employ many research assistants. There is one private university in the UK, based in Buckingham. Every large town or city in the UK now has its own university.

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