I’m taking a (non-student) job as a full time research assistant in a university engineering department, and am wondering what alternate title I could use for this on my resume that isn’t misleading.

Research assistant has a connotation of being a lower level student job, and I have a MS degree and ten years of work experience, so I’m hesitant to put that title on my resume. If this was in industry I could use research engineer, but in academia, that has a connotation of someone who is a principle investigator and has a PhD.

My job description is a hybrid between these: I’ll be doing research and publishing, but in support of someone else’s project. Also some departmental work setting up labs, learning and maintaining the equipment and helping teach students to use it. Most of my time will be spent on research activities. Suggestions for an alternate job title?

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    The purpose of your resume is to explain your previous positions and your various roles in that position. I wouldn't worry about the title too much because you will include published work, project support, setting up labs, etc. And they will also know you have an MS and 10 yrs of work experience from your resume as well. – phimac Mar 9 '18 at 15:46
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    I think you probably need to use the title the university actually gave you. What will happen when a future employer calls your university to verify your employment history and asks if you were indeed a "Research Engineer" and they say, correctly, "no"? (This doesn't preclude you from asking the university to change your title, but if you've already signed that might be difficult.) – msanford Mar 9 '18 at 15:47
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    Not sure why anyone would think I intend to lie (I don’t intend to call myself a research engineer for the stated reasons), I’m simply asking what an appropriate job title would be with my background doing this type of work. I’m all for changing the title officially, but I need to know what to ask to change it to.And for the record, using a job title that doesn’t exactly match your contract is not lying, people often use more descriptive titles on a resume. For example, if my official title is Electrical Engineer, and my actual job is Lead radar engineer, I would likely put that on my resume. – Yoyo123 Mar 9 '18 at 16:08
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    For my part, I wasn't suggesting you intended to lie, I was merely offering a hiring manager's perspective. Your titles between CV and employment contract ought be congruent; perhaps we're focusing on that rather than the point of your question. To that: discuss it with your boss. – msanford Mar 9 '18 at 16:14

Since you are in the US, I think "Research Assistant" is actually not as inappropriate a title for your position as you suggest. See for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_assistant

"Research Assistant" is typically the job title a PhD student would hold if they are compensated for work on a professor's research, whether or not they have a masters degree. It is differentiated from "Research Associate" which suggests the person has a PhD ('postdocs' often have a job title of Research Associate, though they may also be referred to as Postdoctoral Research Assistants). Your years of experience on the outside aren't particularly relevant to the title.

You write:

I’ll be doing research and publishing, but in support of someone else’s project

That's roughly the job description of a graduate student with a research assistantship.

Undergraduates may also have a "research assistant" title but in my experience that is not the most common use/connotation of the term, so I disagree with that statement at least within academia. People outside of academia may be misinformed, of course, but it's up to the rest of your resume to inform potential employers of your responsibilities and accomplishments besides your particular job title. You could be an independent consultant and name yourself CEO if you wanted, or Grand Emperor for that matter. It may be harder to change your official job title in a rigid university bureaucracy than you think - I'd concern yourself with other aspects of your resume instead.

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    I guess my main beef is that someone quickly scanning my resume will assume I’m a student with no work experience. Of course reading further will correct that assumption, but I’d hate for them to not read further. What about something like, ‘staff research assistant? Not sure that sounds any better from a professional standpoint, but perhaps it would dispel the initial ‘oh, this person is a student’ reaction? – Yoyo123 Mar 9 '18 at 17:00
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    If your resume is formatted such that your 10 years of prior experience are masked by your current job title, that sounds like a resume formatting issue and not a job title issue. – Bryan Krause Mar 9 '18 at 17:01
  • Ha, point taken! My resume is fine, but many companies require online submission through their own system, and the first thing they see is generally current job title. Hence my concern. But maybe I’m making a bigger deal out of this than it actually is. Not gonna lie though...having the same title as a masters student isn’t ideal when I have more to offer. – Yoyo123 Mar 9 '18 at 17:06
  • Yeah, I could see how a form-based submission might be problematic - as well as resume triage by HR/someone not the hiring manager. You might try asking a reformatted question at Workplace.SE about submitting applications with an underwhelming job title, but I'm guessing their feedback will be similar: you are kind of stuck with the job title you have. – Bryan Krause Mar 9 '18 at 17:15

I know I'm resurrecting a dead thread, but considering I'm going through a similar process right now I figured I would leave my 2 cents.

I would caution against the advice of individuals who say "don't worry about it, let your resume explain your position", at least in reference to non-academic positions in the US. You should have two resumes/CVs, one for academia and one for everything else. In academia the recruiter or PI should understand what "Research Assistant" or "Graduate Research Assistant" means. However, in industry some large companies hire 3rd parties to do their recruiting. In the US the average time for a recruiter like this to read a resume is 5-7 seconds. While this website might not be representative of all recruiters, it does emphasis the importance of your position title. Here is an excerpt, emphasis is mine:

  1. Level. If I’m doing a VP level search and your title is “manager” and you have never been a VP – goodbye. There are exceptions to this, but again it is the 80/20 rule. Again, clients pay me to find them the perfect fit. It is generally way too big of a jump from manager level to VP level, all other things being equal. It works the other way too. If I’m looking for a manager and you are a VP – goodbye. I know you are qualified to do a manager level role, but it is clear you have grown past. Most clients and recruiters aren’t willing to take the chance that when a VP level position comes along that you won’t be gone. Less than 5 seconds to figure out.

Accordingly, I think it is completely feasible that even if you have your PhD and multiple publications the recruiter could see an "Assistant" Research applying for the "Senior" Research position and immediately reject you simply because of your position title.

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  • Please don't leave the same answer on two separate threads. If you believe the two questions can both be answered by the same answer, you can flag the question as a duplicate. – eykanal Apr 22 '19 at 14:42

The following suggestion comes from a German application coach and I am not sufficiently familiar with American application culture to know whether it would be considered lying, sloppy, or similar. It also depends on whether you are actually expected to state your official title or just summarise your activity somehow.

  • If applying outside of academia, use the description for the activity corresponding to the subject your highest academic degree, as long as it matches what you are actually doing. So, e.g., if you have a master’s in physics and do work corresponding to the training of that degree, use physicist as your job description.

  • If applying within academia, do not worry. Everybody will know what the titles mean.

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