Musings of a new PhD student: Starting as a Research Assistant

Christina Perry

Within this post, I will reflect upon my experiences so far as a Research Assistant. Since I last wrote, I started the first two courses (Quantitative Research Methods and Seminar) in the PhD program within which I am enrolled. Before starting in these courses, I have had the opportunity to become a Research Assistant (RA). Being involved in the research process as a RA prior to starting courses has been

beneficial in that it has provided insight and hands-on experience doing research. Even though the professor I am working with is not my supervisor, she has taken on a supervisory role. I entered the research team at a time when they were creating a survey. I was tasked with taking the survey questions and using the program Lime Survey to create an electronic survey. I hadn’t used this program before so at first I read the user manual to get a general understanding of how the program worked. The professor that I am working with trusted my ability to figure out how to set up questions in the program. This experience helped build an understanding survey development which was beneficial to reflect upon when it was discussed in the Quantitative Research methods course.

In my opinion, the role of a supervisor is to encourage her students to independently find answers but be available and open to offer guidance when needed. Open communication between a supervisor and a student researcher is critical. If open communication is established at the beginning of the relationship, the supervisor and student researcher will be more effective collaborating during the project. I see the role of a RA is to help at any point in the research process. It is an opportunity to have an insider’s view to the stages of the research process – from understanding the theoretical framework of the study, identifying participants, developing a research instrument, collecting and analyzing data. Most often an RA is new to conducting high caliber research and it is the supervisor’s role to act as a guide. This is of utmost importance because the student will be expected to conduct a dissertation and during these early stages of being a RA a lot can be learned, which will be invaluable when the time comes to conduct his/her own study. 

Within the current circumstances of working and studying during a global pandemic, we have all moved much of our daily work to an online format, and have become accustomed to having meetings virtually. With the research team connecting from four different locations, the use of video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Google Meet have been essential. I feel that we have been able to effectively collaborate and work remotely through the use of these online tools. I have enjoyed the journey thus far and have learned a great deal in the short time I have been working as an RA. I look forward to continuing to grow my understanding of the research process and gaining first hand experience conducting research.