What Do People Think You Do?
I usually tell people I’m a scientist because most people have no idea what a research associate is. When people think of scientific researchers, they often think of old, bearded professors wearing glasses that take up most of their faces. This is not the case at all! Most research laboratories, whether based in industry or an academic setting, are young, vibrant, dynamic, and fun workplaces.
What Do You Really Do?
“Research associate” can mean many things, but typically refers to anybody who helps a research scientist perform experiments and collect data. Some research associates may work in the field, collecting water samples or analyzing plant species. A majority work in laboratories, the more traditional scientific research setting. In my current job as a research associate, I work for a small bio-pharmaceutical start-up company who are developing novel cancer treatments.
Most of my time is spent in the lab, performing experiments and generating data I analyze and present to my supervisor. In a lab, research associates are often also responsible for making the whole operation run smoothly – ordering lab supplies, cleaning and re-stocking, caring for equipment, and preparing solutions that are used on a day-to-day basis are common day-to-day activities that a research associate may perform.
A Day In The Life
Typical hours for a research associate can vary dramatically and are often flexible, depending on the research being performed. In my current position, I tend to work a traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday, but it’s dependent on the workload which changes from day to day.
The workplace is very dynamic – we have plans for the day but it can change in an instant, and in most research jobs you need to be prepared for changing priorities and deadlines you had no idea about.
Typically, my day starts with checking on my growing cells and examining them under the microscope to see if they need anything (caring for cells is a bit like having sea monkeys – you have to feed them regularly and change the media they are growing in to keep them happy!).
Then, I will ensure the laboratory is well stocked and there are no supplies we need to order. We generate a lot of biohazardous waste that needs to be disposed of appropriately, which is usually the job of research associates.
Being a small company, it is easy for me to have open communication with my supervisor and know which tasks need performing for the day, or for the week. It’s a fun environment – we often have music playing in the lab while we work and all collaborate closely together.
During lighter times when there’s less lab work to do, we analyze the data we have generated and produce graphs and tables, which we show to the research scientists and discuss the results. When time permits, we read scientific publications to keep up with the research that is being performed in our field.
What’s The Average Income?
It varies greatly depending on experience and location but typically averages between $40,000-$70,000
What Education If Any Is Needed?
A bachelor’s degree is typically required, usually in science or your specific area of research. Sometimes a master’s is required/preferred, but this can often be substituted for experience in a research laboratory. The best chance of getting a job as a research associate right out of college is to have work experience in a research environment (such as a lab) during your undergraduate degree.
You might be able to work as a research assistant, which is a similar role but will typically receive more supervision, then once you have some experience, a promotion to a research associate may be possible.
Something Important To Know
It is important to realize that pursuing a position as a research associate can actually open a lot of career doors. This is a great position for anyone who has finished their undergraduate degree in a scientific field and isn’t quite sure what they want to do next.
If you want some work experience in a variety of settings, or if you’re thinking about graduate school but aren’t quite sure yet, working as a research associate will boost your resume, your experience, and your knowledge of various scientific fields and your career options moving forwards.
Some people use this position as a stepping stone to graduate school; some people choose to pursue a career as a research associate. Plus, research labs are very similar worldwide, so it is a great skill set to develop if you wish to travel and work overseas.