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To make a long story short, I have been a clinical interviewer/ERP technician in a lab for almost 1.5 years now. This has been my first job since undergrad (Psychology major/Biology minor). I plan on pursuing a PhD in cognitive neuroscience.

While I enjoy conducting the interviews and administering the ERP, I want to say about 70% of the job consists of going through my list of 400 study participants, and attempting to reach them to schedule a follow-up appointment.

When I first began this was very easy. It seemed like there was a surplus of readily available subjects. Now I suspect that this surplus was a result of the previous interviewer neglecting their list of participants towards the end of their time here.

Due to the nature of our study, many of these subjects have very unstable lives, and our contact information is often out of date. Many days I will spend 5+ hours on the phone without scheduling a single subject. The job more or less feels like I work in a call center now.

The study is a cohort study that has been ongoing since the late 80's, and I get the sense that it is winding down. Many of our subjects are simply no longer interested in coming in.

Because of the difficulty in scheduling subjects, recently I have been getting very little opportunity to gain experience either interviewing or administering the ERP. On top of this, my rate of pay is terrible. I am struggling to make ends meet with rent, car payments, phone payments, and student loans.

If I were to leave, I have the option of a job outside of my field of interest that would pay roughly double what I am currently making. Am I better off staying in my current position till i have 2+ years of lab experience, or leaving, saving money, and just studying for the GRE?

Question/TLDR:

I'm already currently studying for the GRE. My question is, in the meantime between now and when I enter graduate school, should I stay in my current position for the "on paper" experience (I'm not getting much actual experience these days), or if I would be better off saving money at an unrelated job that pays better, with my 1.5 years lab experience already under my belt.

  • If you want to pursue a PhD, do not forget that GRE is just a requirement with a benchmark. However, research experience is actually what makes you be admitted. So, I personally believe research assistant jobs are important to have. You can always review GRE in a daily basis (max. 1 hr) which can be enough. – independentvariable Feb 27 '18 at 18:48
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Many days I will spend 5+ hours on the phone without scheduling a single subject.

I do not think it is unreasonable for someone without any graduate level education to spend 50% of their time doing grunt work in a cognitive neuroscience lab (e.g., scheduling participants, filing paperwork, preparing regulatory reports, cleaning and calibrating equipment, ordering supplies). The fact that so much of your time is spend doing the same type of grunt work and that the cool stuff is limited, means that it sounds like you may be wasting your time.

My suggestion is for you to tell your PI about how you are spending your time and some of the tasks you would like to be involved in. Potentially, there is a happy compromise. Many PIs do not know how long things take.

As for pay and studying for the GRE, those are really personal issues. I cannot imagine it being really beneficial to spend 8+ hours a day studying for the GRE. In general, RAs are paid just enough that they will struggle to make ends meet with rent, car payments, phone payments, and student loans. There is often not much flexibility on the PI side to pay an RA more.

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