What is the best method to acquiring a paid research assistantship after undergrad?

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What is the best method to acquiring a paid research assistantship after undergrad?

Postby Vernon Green » Sat Jul 15, 2017 5:27 am

Hey all,

I've been trying to acquire a full-time research assistant position in the field of human neuroscience/psychology for over a year now, and haven't been successful. However, I do not mean to deceive; I've not been able to send out many emails or find out too much about acquiring a research assistant position, as I've acquired disabling mental health issues related to chronic abuse after coming home from college. Therefore, I apologize if I'm still naive about this subject.

Specifically, in trying to figure out the best ways to acquire a paid research assistant position, I think knowing some details of my life situation are important. This past year I have been able to volunteer at a cognitive neuroscience lab I absolutely loved from the onset, and I also acquired an industry job to help me financially. Unfortunately, the abuse was happening at home, so eventually my ability to travel to work wavered, and so did my performance everywhere; I sank into the lowest of depressions, couldn't contact anyone or even get myself food. I became unreliable at my lab and at work, and it was unspoken, but I believe I lost both due to my poor performance and unreliability.

I mention all that to say these things: I'm not sure if I can get good work references from my previous experiences, and I've still not acquired the coding and statistical technical skills I was on track to acquire at the neuroscience lab for which I was volunteering. Still, I love working as an RA, and after a year of trying to recover, I want to get myself back on track to grad school again.

I've emailed PIs directly, networked with some close contacts, and have used job search engines like Glassdoor and Indeed, but I've not yet had any luck. Perhaps it's because I've not done more than a dozen or so tailored contacts and applications. (I've done what I can given my health.) From trying very hard at them, some can take me a whole day or more, so it makes me wonder how many tries is the norm until one acquires an RA position.

Somehow, I need to improve my odds at getting a research assistant job. There seems to be a brevity of information on RA job seeking on the internet compared to other professions. Related to this, here are my main questions:

1) What are the best methods to finding RA jobs? It appears to me most undergraduate alumni acquire RA jobs nearer to or at their alma mater? I also suspect websites like Glassdoor and Indeed don't pick up on a lot of RA jobs. As I managed my recent lab's email, I've contacted many labs directly in the style and quality of the job inquiry emails that I noticed our lab actually looked at; but I've never had luck cold emailing like this (always the lab has had no opening.)

2) What do I do about my references? In the event a lab is interested in me, I'm afraid that my references may work against me, if I can procure them. Indeed, it is possible I may be surprised and my previous supervisors could manage to give me good references, but I imagine I'll never be able to know if they're giving me good or bad references, which can turn out to be a torturous part of the mystery if I end up having trouble further along the job acquiral process.

3) What do I do about my location? I live in rural Illinois and am looking to move anywhere in the world. Contrary to many, living at home is actually not an option; I must move. I wonder if labs often favor local candidates like other employers do, and if there is a better option to express in a cover letter my desire to move, if that is even necessary.

4) Lastly, is there any way I can stand out to a lab without having very developed technical skills? They're there, but at a beginner level, and some development in this area seems quite necessary nowadays. Unfortunately, due to being stuck at the location where these personal health crises occurred, I've been unsuccessful in trying to develop them outside the job. It worries me that without coding skills, very few jobs exist in the field, so I wonder if I just have to find one of those rare jobs that offers some training, or if I can, say, use my attendance at various Neuroimaging cram coding conferences as evidence of enough familiarity and a desire to learn.

I would really appreciate your responses. I'm trying to improve my chances and be the best I can be for the job and field that I love. Let me know if I need to clarify anything.

Vernon Green
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Joined: Sat Jul 15, 2017 1:15 am

Re: What is the best method to acquiring a paid research assistantship after undergrad?

Postby Ana » Sun Jul 16, 2017 6:56 am

Hi Vernon,

It seems that you have two separate things going on:

a) you want to find your dream job, which is a RA position in neuroscience/psychology.

b) you need to get out of your home, where whatever is going on is beating you down mentally.

Both situation are very complex, and the first thing I notice in your post is that you seem to believe that you must find that dream job in order to get your ticket out of your current home. You don’t. These are two totally separate problems.

I suggest you prioritize your mental health and find some other job that enables you to move out and become financially self-sufficient. Once you are in that better place and get your mental health issues addressed (being out of a problematic place will already do wonders), THEN you can start looking for that dream job.

Based on what you wrote, finding that RA job should be something to worry about in the future. You got more immediate basic needs to take care of first, like getting yourself to a safe place.

It is easy to see situations more confusing when you are at the center of it, in particular if there is depression or other issues going on that steal your ability to remain objective. From the outside looking in, based on how you explained your situation, you've got two separate problems and you are making the mistake of thinking that they are somehow linked, and that your ticket out is only that RA position. That is wrong. The job that will pay the bills to get you to a mentally healthy place can be any job. Focus on getting any job that will get your out of home first. Any other career aspiration is secondary and should wait.

Take care,

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