Guidelines for Research Assistants (RAs) and their Advisors

Some programs, especially in the humanities and non-quantitative social sciences, designate one or more quarters of doctoral students’ The Graduate School (TGS)-sponsored Graduate Teaching Assistants (GAs) funding for students to be Research Assistants (RAs). RAs work with a designated faculty advisor, typically during years 1-5 of doctoral study.

These guidelines are meant to model how to align expectations between faculty advisors and their RAs. The recommendations include obligations for both the student and the faculty advisor. 

TGS wishes to emphasize that RAships should be structured around students’ learning outcomes.

Best Practices to Calibrate Expectations and Responsibilities

The Faculty advisor undertakes to:

  • Select a specific project and duties that contribute to the student’s education. This may be within any of the academic realms of research (e.g. organization and project management; data gathering and/or analysis; writing and/or publication), teaching (curriculum design or evaluation; pedagogical innovation; exploration of new technology), or service (especially assistance with professional organizations or journals).
  • Provide an overview of the project at the beginning of the quarter, detailing what is expected of the student, a timeline, how the student will contribute to the project, and how the student’s efforts will contribute to her/his professional development.
  • Meet regularly with the student.
  • Scale the student’s contribution to an average of 12-15 hours per week, recognizing academic expectations of the student during the quarter.
  • Explain at the outset whether or not there is a prospect for coauthored research results.

The Student RA undertakes to:

  • Approach the research assistantship as a learning experience, seeking clarification as to the expectations and benefits of engagement with the project and its applicability to academic protocols, roles, and expectations.
  • Manage the assigned responsibilities along with other academic work, keeping to deadlines and problem-solving with the supervisor when adjustments seem necessary.
  • Meet regularly with the faculty supervisor.
  • Fulfill the commitment of 12-15 hours per week (averaged over the quarter) on this project.