Working as a psychology research assistant (RA) can give you valuable insight into how laboratories are run, studies are conducted and into the academia atmosphere in general. If you'd like to secure an RA position, it's often best to do so for the experience you'll gain rather than for any monetary compensation. In fact, many positions see competition from all types of students and individuals who either need or want the experience for future employment or academic gain. You can look for RA positions on university department websites or by contacting psychology professors directly.
Compensation for psychology research assistants vary based on experience, personal and professional goals and the particular lab or psychologist for whom they work. For example, undergraduate students might take a position with their psychology instructors as research assistants for college credit or minimum wage. Someone who has earned a psychology bachelor's degree may earn an hourly wage around $10 to $12 per hour or opt for no pay to gain volunteer research experience as preparation for graduate school. Graduate students in research assistantships may earn around $1,500 to $2,000 per month, depending on the program. Individuals participating in full-time post-doctoral residencies may earn even more. Compensation for RAs often also includes funds for research expenses.
The amount that psychology research assistants are paid also depends on the source of the funding. Funding for undergraduate students working part-time in a psychology laboratory may come from the Federal Work-Study program. The grants that many research psychologists receive from public and private entities also may go to help fund a psychology research assistant. Post-graduate school students in residency training programs may be paid from the university department or internship site to conduct research and engage in other scholarly activities.
With the exception of any research assistant role you take on while still an undergrad, most positions require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in psychology and some require a master's or doctorate. Many psychologists and professors prefer candidates who already have knowledge about the research process and who may already have experience either in a laboratory or in the field. Having similar research interests as the psychologist who runs the laboratory to which you're applying also helps your chances of getting hired.
As a psychology research assistant, you'll work under the direction of either graduate students or a senior researcher, fulfilling both administrative and research duties. In the laboratory, you may be running experimental trials with mice or rats or observing and interviewing human research participants. You may help write grant proposals for the next piece of research or study. You might also work with statistical software packages to help analyze the data obtained from experiments.