|University College London|
|Science and research|
|Large business (250+ employees)|
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A day in the life of a Research Assistant in the United Kingdom
I work on funded project called 'Sleep Focus Autistic'. The aim of the project is to better characterise sleep in autistic adults and develop an intervention to hopefully help with these sleep problems.
Briefly describe the organisation you work for
I am currently undertaking a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging at the University of York. I also work part time as a Research Assistant at University College London.
What do you do?
I am a part time Research Assistant in the Department of Psychology and Human Development at UCL. I work on funded project called 'Sleep Focus Autistic'. The aim of the project is to better characterise sleep in autistic adults and develop an intervention to hopefully help with these sleep problems. I am also a part time Research Assistant in the Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Neuroscience at KCL. I work on a project called the Brain Imaging in Babies study which investigates brain development in children high and low risk of neurodevelopment disorders such as autism and ADHD.
Reflecting upon your past employment and education, what led you to your current career choice?
I have always been interested in going into research. My first research assistant position came after my BSc when I moved home working for the University of Sheffield. I then went on to do my MSc in Psychological Research to further develop my research skills. Since then I have been at research assistant at, Oxford, KCL and UCL and I have worked on a variety of projects. All of this together then led me to being awarded a scholarship to pursue my PhD.
Is your current job sector different from what you thought you would enter when you graduated?
I think it is more competitive than I thought. However, once you get into the sector, there is a lot of flexibility work wise and you also get quite a lot of responsibility which I didn't expect to get.
Describe your most memorable day at work
I would say one day when testing at KCL in my old research assistant job. I worked with children aged 10 months to 4 years. Working with 3-year-olds is great. One day we were testing this lovely little girl and she told me she loved my dress and that I was really pretty, left me smiling all day!
Are there any challenges associated with your job?
Sticking to tight deadlines is a challenge in academia (e.g. conference deadlines, ethics applications deadlines, paper revision deadlines, grant application deadlines). I would also say managing which parts of the project are most important. For example, you may have a literature review on your to do list for a paper but other tasks take priority on a daily basis such as recruiting participants, testing, analysing data.
What’s your work environment and culture like?
I think the work environment and culture is very relaxed, as I said there is a lot of flexibility. You get the opportunity to keep to yourself and get on with your own work rather than having to constantly report back to people which I like. Also its nice to discuss your work over coffee with other academics.
What extracurricular activities did you undertake at university and what transferable skills did you develop through these?
I completed a couple of voluntary research assistant positions within my department in my second year of university. This helped to see whether academia was a career I wanted to pursue and gave me good starting experiences and references for my CV. I also took part in York Students in Schools and spent a term volunteering in a year 3 class- this gave me great experience with children and definitely helped me obtain my research jobs after my undergraduate which involved working with children. I was a member of some sports teams (e.g. the college pool teams and the university aerobics society), these teams helped me develop my social skills and also develop time management skills by learning to balance uni work and social time. I also worked part time in a shop during my degree which again helped me to develop my time management skills.
What would you like to do next with your career?
I am currently in the first year of my PhD at York, looking at the role of sleep in emotional processing. After this I hope so pursue a post doctoral role in sleep research and ultimately become a lecturer in this field.
What top tips do you have for York students preparing for today’s job market and life after graduation?
I would say get some voluntary experience in what you think you'd like to do after university or do a scheme like YSIS. Don't be afraid to reach out to academics whose research you find interesting and would like to work with. Not only does it give you experience for your CV but it also helps you decide if it's something you actually want to do. Also, I'd say don't worry if you come out of undergraduate without a solid plan and need a while to work it out. When I first finished I ended up working in a shop for a while before getting my first research job. Don't lose heart and just keep trying!
What topics from students are you happy to answer questions on?
-> Working with children in psychology research roles
-> Working with adults in psychology research roles
-> Any research to do with sleep
-> Applying for a masters in a psychology related subject
-> Applying for a PhD in a psychology related subject
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