5 Lessons I Learned as a Research Assistant

When I handed in my final university essay, I thought my days of journal reading were over… little did I know I’d be invited to join a team at a political research institution over the summer!

Whilst most of my work experience has been in management consulting and (recently) technology, I’m always keen to explore new areas. Here’s what I learned by volunteering in a different sector for the past 3 months:

  1. You never know who’s paying attention! My invite to join the team was a surprise to me. However, following a discussion of my background, the team decided that I would be able to contribute well to one of their research streams. By building your skill set and understanding where your strengths are, you are positioning yourself to be ready when the time comes. Luck = when opportunity meets preparation.
  2. A lot of the skills you have are surprisingly industry-neutral. I had experience in academic research from my undergraduate degree at UCL. However, I was surprised by how much of my abilities I’d developed on my 2019 consulting internship came in handy, from communicating the results of my findings, to data analysis, to creating logical and informative slides. This helped me to build confidence in my core capabilities and in my ability to take up new challenges in future.
  3. Push to be involved in project streams which help you to develop your areas of interest. When I first joined the project, I was heavily involved with reviewing existing research and article coding. As it progressed, I put myself forward for opportunities to conduct additional research on areas I was interested in, such as debates over a virtual Parliament and further opportunities to work with data. This meant that by the end of the summer, I was responsible for the project’s data analysis stream, where I got to extend my Excel proficiency.
  4. Working remotely is here to stay, so it’s good to gain opportunities to do so. In my entire 3 months at the research unit, I never once stepped into the office. Onboarding and working remotely was a new experience for me, but this role gave me the chance to get used to build effective and communicative working habits. This was really useful when I then had to use remote working software for other roles, such as volunteering on a UCL Social Action Hackathon.
  5. Keep a wider awareness of what is happening outside of your specific workload. The wider team at the research institution were so welcoming, and it was fascinating hearing about what research they were all working on. Meeting and understanding others from different parts of the institution will help you to learn about different working styles and priorities, as well as introduce you to areas which you may have future interest in.

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