Oct 17

How To Be a High School Research Assistant

How To Be a High School Research Assistant

Good grades and high test scores alone aren’t sufficient to distinguish oneself from a field of potential applicants in today’s highly competitive college admissions environment. Extracurricular activities, excellent recommendations, community work, and real-world experience are now factors in college admissions.

A job as a research assistant is a priceless opportunity to gain practical experience if you’re thinking about a career in the sciences. Working in a legitimate science lab, getting experience with real data, and taking part in genuine experiments provide insights that cannot be obtained from conventional coursework or textbook reading.

Your experience as a research assistant demonstrates your commitment, desire, and capacity for success at a high level in the sciences. Research assistant roles can be difficult to find and challenging to secure.

What to anticipate from a research assistant position, where to look for research assistant opportunities, and how to get one are all covered in this article. Continue reading to learn more about working as a research assistant while in high school.

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Should I Apply for a Job as a Research Assistant in High School?

In high school, keeping a job or an internship is not to be taken lightly. Any new commitment entails added accountability. To know how much you can handle at once, you must first understand who you are.

A job can help you financially and demonstrate your ability to manage various obligations and commitment to the industry. However, doing so might not be the best course of action for you if it compromises your academic performance, responsibilities, or connections with friends and family. 

Positions in research often need an extended time commitment. Even while you might be able to limit your weekly hours to only five, you’re unlikely to find a job that lasts for less than six weeks, and many shorter-term programs require a lot more hours each week.

Before making any promises, carefully assess the commitment’s scope. Being hired as a research assistant but having to leave early owing to overcommitting yourself would be worse than not getting one.

 

What Exactly Is a Research Assistant?

An entry-level lab assistant who works for little money or as part of an unpaid internship is a research assistant. Your responsibilities will vary depending on the curriculum and the lab where you are working.

Some lead scientists will restrict an assistant’s responsibilities to floor sweeping and entering lengthy data lists into computer spreadsheets. You can typically anticipate receiving a stipend for your labor if it is restricted to chores like these.

On the other hand, some researchers will let you participate in the experimentation itself, help with the design of the experiment, and even mentor you while you’re working in the lab. You often work as an unpaid intern in situations like these since you gain much more from the experience.

Most formal programs for research assistants are competitive and offered as residential or day-student programs over the summer.

Finding a job as a research assistant outside a formal curriculum is one alternative. You must be clear about your expectations and ascertain the exact requirements beforehand because these positions might be hard to obtain and are typically less structured or established.

 

Where to Look for Jobs as a Research Assistant

When looking for a job as a research assistant, there are many different resources to utilize. You must decide on the precise kind of research assistant position you want to pursue before you can start your search.

 

Formal Positions for Research Assistants

Consider a formal, residential research assistant program at a college if you’re looking for a well-established program and are available over the summer. The Research Science Institute at MIT and the Office of Science Outreach Programs at Stanford are two reputable examples. Some of these schools offer sizable scholarships, and the 70 students that MIT’s Research Science Institute accepts each year attend for free.

You might also be able to locate summer programs for day students if you reside close to a college or a scientific research facility. For instance, central New Jersey kids are drawn to

Princeton’s Laboratory Learning Program, where they come together five days a week for roughly seven weeks each summer to engage in challenging scientific research projects. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts and the University of Washington are perfect examples of reputable scientific research facilities that provide mentorships to nearby students.

If you can commute to a college or a scientific research facility, check if there are any high school research programs offered by visiting their website or contacting the department director. Some might even be accessible all year long.

 

Informal Positions as Research Assistants

You can still locate research assistant opportunities if you are not interested in or unable to join a formal program, but the search will need much more effort on your part. Not as easy as completing an online application, though.

Networking is the simplest method to get started. Check with your parents or other mentors about any connections they may have at nearby academic institutions or research facilities that could help you. Ask your school’s teachers as well. Although having a personal connection won’t guarantee you a job, it can at least put you in touch with the appropriate individual to discuss potential opportunities.

But keep in mind that you shouldn’t attempt to avoid the application process and secure your own research post if a college or lab offers a formal program for research assistants. This behavior displays a disdain for the current procedure and will probably lead to your exclusion from any positions that are open. Instead, make sure to adhere to any established application procedures.

If there are no official programs in place and you do not have a connection to help you get started, start your own search for a research assistantship by visiting the websites of nearby research labs or institutions and selecting six to eight scientists with whom you are interested in working. Based on their area of expertise and what you would actually like to learn through your future career, focus your search.

Send an email to each person on your list of six to eight potential mentors. It’s preferable to email rather than call because an unexpected phone call to their place of business may sound intrusive or take more time than they’d want.

Use their proper titles, such as Professor or Doctor, when addressing them in your communications. Describe the kind of project you’re interested in, mentioning the study topic, your reasons for being interested in it, and any potential research questions you’ve considered.

Declare your willingness to learn new things and your adaptability to take on any unexpected roles. Then, be specific about the time period, whether it be the entire school year, part-time during the semester, or only the summer, along with your availability, including daily hours.

Keep in mind that some labs won’t consider an intern unless they can commit to working for at least six weeks as you describe your availability. Sometimes investing time in a project you cannot complete is not worthwhile.

Send an email with a resume attached. Your job history, pertinent course grades, total GPA, summer programs you’ve attended, any honors or skills, phone number, and email should all be listed. 

Remember that most scientists are busy. This request is often declined, especially if the scientist gets a lot of them or doesn’t want to host a research assistant. It’s nothing personal, so don’t take it personally.

After two or three weeks, if you haven’t heard back from any scientists, it is acceptable to email them again, but you must not do this more than once.

If you email six to eight scientists, you should hear from at least one. Even if that scientist cannot host you, hopefully, they will be able to direct you onto the proper path. If not, try not to be disheartened. You can start over by sending your email to a new list of six to eight recipients.

Keep in mind that although the application and hiring process may seem time-consuming and difficult at first, the experience of working as a research assistant is rewarding on many levels. The real-world experiences and insights it offers aspiring scientists and engineers are unmatched, and its effectiveness on your college application is an added benefit.