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Starting out as a research assistant


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Are you trying to get a job as a health science research assistant, or do you have a job like that that you want to be ready for?



I have some health care experience with patients. Any recommendations themmases?

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Sure. I got a BA in history before coordinating medical research for four years. Although I eventually was responsible for very different things in my role, the two things that got me in the door were patient experience and writing ability, both of which it sounds like you have. Researchers with clinical responsibilities often don't have enough time for every project they want to do, and they may be running several projects at once because they are recruiting subjects from their patient population. They may have feckless residents and fellows halfheartedly doing the work. They need people who can write and follow directions (i.e. journal submission directions and citation styles) to make sure the data they collected actually becomes a paper, and to do the fiddly stuff like build an EndNote library and make pretty graphs. Also, recruiting patients into research studies can be really time-consuming but is hard to delegate. You have to interrupt your other work when the right patient comes into clinic and meet with them right then, but you can't have just any intern do it because they are still a patient and you need to preserve their trust in the provider. When I was helping hire research assistants it was a huge plus to me if they'd been around patients or obtained an informed consent before because it meant I could trust them to be alone with patients a lot sooner. If you are trying to get hired, those are qualifications it sounds like you have that would definitely be worth highlighting.


As a bonus, if you have any reason to know the terminology of the specific research area, make sure to mention that. Health research can get esoteric quickly, where just being familiar with basic bio or anatomy terms isn't enough. If your experience overlaps with their research at all where you would already understand the medical records or articles you'd be reading, that is really nice to have in a research assistant.


If you have any remaining time as an undergrad to do more research, go for it. My undergrad research assistant experiences were in cognitive function/aging and health literacy, but they still helped a lot when looking for jobs. Once you're hired, it's a good thing to get assigned to a literature review or else ask if they have a research plan or project overview you can read to understand what you are doing and why. Most people will appreciate that you want to know.


Hope this helps!

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