What does a Research Associate do?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2019
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A research associate is a skilled professional who assists in some form of research program. Often employed by primary researchers, research associates usually have completed a master's degree and may be in the process of finishing doctoral work or have recently finished a PhD program. There are many different jobs a research associate may perform, depending on the field of study and the scope of the project at hand.

Almost any area of physical or social science may include projects that use the skill and knowledge or research associates. Common areas for these positions include medical and pharmaceutical research, archeological excavations, sociology and psychology studies, and the compilation of various scientific reports. Jobs are most often found through universities, although projects at private companies are not unusual. A research associate may work in many different industries, from defense contracting to public sector jobs such as governmental research.

Depending on the level of experience a research associate possesses, he or she may do many different jobs in the course of the study or project. Common tasks might include recruiting and screening participants for a study, helping to perform experiments or pre-experiment tests, and assisting with the compilation of data for the research, such as papers, statistics, and similar studies that might be of assistance to the primary researcher.


In the university system, a research associate may also be a professor. Often called in to help with an ongoing study or clinical trial, a research associate can serve as part-time faculty or a guest lecturer. When hired as an associate and professor, the term of employment may last only as long as the study. Professors hired primarily for their researching abilities may not necessarily be on a tenure track.

The legal profession may have call for researchers with advanced degrees in law. Some law firms or governmental offices require young professionals with extensive knowledge of statutes, laws, and legal precedence. Law firms may sometimes hire associates to assist with preparation for a particularly large or complex case, or as a general associate to assist on multiple projects.

As might be imagined, a research associate will generally have a well-documented history in a field related to his or her job as an associate. Some associates, however, may have a more general educational background than others. A research associate who works on medical trials will likely have a medical degree, but he or she may also have an emphasis on medical research, bio-medics, or another area that may be desirable for certain types of studies. A person with advanced degrees in statistical analysis, by contrast, might be able to work on many different types of studies in different fields, so long as the primary focus of the job involved statistics.


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