So, maybe you’ve graduated college and you know you need to get a job, but have no clue how to get started. Or maybe you’re a senior in college and haven’t the faintest idea where to begin looking for a job. Well, I’m here to help with one possible solution to this tragic dilemma that plagues so many of us…
One option, if you’re considering a future as a graduate student somewhere in the social sciences/humanities, is to get a job as a research assistant in a lab at a University. Now, if you’re currently attending a liberal arts college, like I did, you might be asking yourself, “Wait, what?! They actually hire people full-time to work in labs, and pay them!?” Short answer, YES! Larger universities typically demand a larger scale of research from their professors. This kind of research can often be funded by major grants or outside sources and professors often run major multi-million dollar projects off these grants. That’s where you come in. In order to successfully run these mega studies, professors need research assistants (like you!) to help them collect data, analyze data, interact with participants, code data, do data entry, the list goes on. These jobs are often full-time with a reasonable salary, and require little more than a cheery attitude, some research experience during college, and some good recommendations.
Now the question is, how do you find these jobs. Well, one way is to cold-email professors at universities who are doing research that seems interesting to you. Often undergraduates or recent college graduates have trouble knowing exactly what to say in these first emails. Here’s my version of a tutorial on what to say and why.
Here’s the draft of the email:
My name is NAME and I am currently a senior at UNIVERSITY. I am majoring in MAJOR will be graduating in DATE. I am interested in pursuing a graduate degree in FIELD and I am hoping to get more research experience over the next few years before applying to graduate school. I found on the UNIVERSITY research lab website that you are currently doing research with the TOPIC. I would love to learn more about this research! I am wondering if you have any opportunities for employment as a research assistant in you lab, and if so I would love to learn more about it and possibly set up a time for us to meet or discuss this over the phone.
Let’s break it down:
My name is NAME and I am currently a senior at UNIVERSITY. I am majoring in MAJOR will be graduating in DATE.
First, you introduce yourself, your major, and where you go to school. Remember, if you go to a smaller school, you’ll want to give the city and state just to clarify.
I am interested in pursuing a graduate degree in FIELD and I am hoping to get more research experience over the next few years before applying to graduate school.
Here, you are showing your interest in the field and right away you’re letting the recipient know why you’re contacting them.
I found on the UNIVERSITY research lab website that you are currently doing research with the TOPIC. I would love to learn more about this research!
Next, jump right into why you’re interested in the topic. You could also write something here to give it more of a personal touch, like this “I am really interested in TOPIC and EXPANDED ON TOPIC. I have a particular interest in this area for both personal and academic reasons since RELATED EXPERIENCE. I am contacting you because I am interested in potentially working in your lab after I graduate.” By showing that you have done your research and have an interest in the topic, the professor you’re contacting will know you’re serious and ready to work.
I am wondering if you have any opportunities for employment as a research assistant in you lab, and if so I would love to learn more about it and possibly set up a time for us to meet or discuss this over the phone.
Towards the end you should bring up why you’re contacting them exactly. Be more specific. You are looking for “employment as a research assistant.” Importantly, be open to talking with them more. This one email is not going to employ you, YOU will employ yourself by being proactive and talking with people who you admire and want to work for. If you’re close enough, set up a time to meet in person. If that’s not possible, Skype and phone calls are often a really popular way of reaching out. Don’t be afraid, tackle it at full speed.
I would be available starting DATE. I have attached my CV to this email for your convenience.
Last line, show them you’re serious. Give a start date and attach your CV. For more information on how to write your CV you can see mine here, or check back in a few weeks, and I’ll post some handy tips for writing your CV.
Hope this helped! Feel free to post any questions below.