I am currently looking at PhD programmes (mainly in the US) and have been advised to email potential PIs before I put in an application. I am afraid my profile isn't very competitive and my back up plan is to go get more research experience if I get rejected by all the programmes I apply to. In the case that occurs, would it be acceptable/is it normal to email the same PIs I wanted to work with to ask about research assistant positions? And if I re apply in the following year, is it acceptable to email the same PIs asking about their work since the PIs I have short listed and people I really really want to work with!

I hope I haven't rambled on too much!

EDIT: So is RA positions are given to grad students, how do I get more research experience to strengthen my application for grad school after I have graduated from my degree with a masters? (I'm international and so would need some financial support and visa sponsorship and can't "volunteer")


  • 4
    Usually research assistant positions are given only to the program's graduate students; non-students are not eligible. Jul 15, 2020 at 15:31
  • You're probably best off looking for research tech positions in your own country. I doubt there is much support for those roles in terms of visas to the US.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 16, 2020 at 16:00

2 Answers 2


You can ask for employment, but the title and work would probably be different from that of an RA. And the opportunity for authorship of papers might not be available.

In some fields, labs are very large, usually grant funded. There may be more need for lab assistants than can be fulfilled by graduate students. Someone has to watch that the kettle doesn't boil and bubble too much over night.

Holding such a position could possibly lead to interactions that open additional possibilities. But you would be an ordinary employee, subject to rules and protections for employees.

For an extreme example, I doubt that everyone working on projects at CERN is a student or professor. On the other hand, some at least, of these people wind up on long long authorship lists when experiments succeed.

  • "title and work would probably be different from that of an RA." Chances of getting the title might be better in medical sciences. Particle physicists seem to like employing engineers as staff. Jul 16, 2020 at 9:56

Absolutely. The best course of action would have been to mention this during the application and/or interview for PhD, otherwise it might seem that you invented a straw to clutch for after the rejection.

But a candidate's suitability for any other role will naturally occur to an admissions tutor or interviewer.

Ask them, they can only say no thanks - but it is not a silly thing to do.

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