Research Assistant Education Requirements and Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a research assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and essential skills to find out if this is the career for you.

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Research assistants can find jobs in a variety of different settings, from labs to academic departments. The minimum education required may include either an undergraduate or graduate degree, depending on the industry.

Essential Information

Academic institutions, government agencies, and public and private companies all conduct research, and all may employ research assistants who have undergraduate degrees or are enrolled as graduate students. The education, technical knowledge and skills required of research assistants, along with their career prospects, varies with the type of research.

Required Education Bachelor's degree for business jobs
Graduate degree for academic jobs
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% (for social science research assistants)*
Approximate Median Salary (2016) $36,000-$42,000**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

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Education Requirements for Research Assistants

Education required of research assistants depends on whether the research lab is in an academic setting or a business setting. Academic research assistants have earned a bachelor's degree, but are likely to be earning a graduate degree in the field under study. A research assistant working in the psychology department of a university, for example, would have a bachelor's degree and be earning a master's degree or doctoral degree in psychology.

Research assistants in the business world also need a bachelor's degree, preferably in a research-oriented science or social science, but don't necessarily need an advanced degree outside of administration and management career tracks. Both academic and business settings require research assistants to have strong technical writing, computer, communication and organization skills.

Career Information

Entry-level research assistants earned median annual salaries of roughly $35,000-$41,000, according to as of January 2016. For example, the median salary was $34,987 for entry-level medical research assistants and $41,290 for entry-level health policy research assistants.

Employment prospects for research assistants is tied to the industry or academic discipline conducting the research. Among social sciences, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected employment of research assistants to grow 6% over the years 2014-2024, primarily because other fields regularly draw on the findings of sociological research. The BLS projected 5% growth in biological technician careers between 2014-2024, with the need for medical innovation maintaining average growth in research efforts related to biotechnology and other life sciences.

Many research assistants are graduate students working in their chosen academic field. Education requirements can vary, though a bachelor's degree at minimum is typically required.

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