I am interested in the field of Bioinformatics in the USA.

As far as I know, a Research Assistant (RA) is a Ph.D. student or postdoc fellow working in a funded project under a research professor, assisting them in executing experiments and publishing research papers.

Am I correct?

What else do/can they do as a research assistant? I.e. what other responsibilities may they have?

  • Where did you get these ideas, particularly about a teaching assistant being a master's-by-research student? Given the range of questions you ask here I'm a bit confused that you do not know at this point what a TA is, can you explain a bit?
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 12, 2022 at 20:25
  • @BryanKrause, these are the ideas that I developed by hearing from other people.
    – user366312
    Mar 12, 2022 at 21:17
  • @BryanKrause, Given the range of questions you ask here ... --- what do you mean by this particular statement?
    – user366312
    Mar 12, 2022 at 21:18
  • 1
    Normally postdocs wouldn't be called "Research Assistants". RAs are students. Postdocs are not.
    – Buffy
    Mar 12, 2022 at 21:28
  • @Buffy Even that probably isn't correct - it wouldn't surprise me if there were non-student job codes called "Research Assistant" somewhere in the world. Mar 12, 2022 at 22:22

2 Answers 2


First, there are a huge number of possibilities as the US, at least, doesn't have a national system for higher education or nomenclature. In some labs a Research Assistant might just be a low level hire in a scientific lab who isn't involved in the educational part of the system at all.

But a frequently used distinction is that between Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants who are (usually) doctoral students and the position constitutes their funding. TAs are normally funded by departments and also normally continue for the time the student remains a student (until graduation). An RA may be funded the same way, but is also likely to be funded by grants received by individual professors (PIs) or research groups. The funding may not last for the entire term that the student remains and so they may also spend time as a TA. That might also be required by local rules as some teaching is considered advantageous to future academics.

But in the main, an RA will, as you suggest, perform research oriented duties under the direction (perhaps indirect) of a PI. The tasks may or may not be related to the doctoral research of the student. They fund the student, but the tasks are for the research group. But they give an opportunity to learn lab process in some fields.

Given that most incoming doctoral students in US have only a bachelors and need to pass qualifying exams after taking advanced courses, an RA held by an incoming student isn't especially likely to be directly related to the student's research, though it might be, and it might lead to a doctoral research project later.

For some students who enter with a bachelors they might start out as a TA, assisting in teaching the undergraduate program, and later, when they are ready to start serious researc

I don't know if the situation is the same in Canada.

  • There are also plenty of hand-wavy RAships if your advisor is well-funded. You could be anywhere from strictly counting 20 h/wk of pippetting to no supervision at all, even if you're nominally on some project. Mar 13, 2022 at 0:35

This is a typical question you would ask during the job interview (hopefully not phrased as naively as above). Most job interviews are a conversation between two adults to figure out whether or not the candidate is a good fit for the position (from both sides).

In practice, in Europe, I have seen research assistants do independent research and publish papers on their own, research assistants doing excellent and valuable experiments but without providing any intellectual contributions, research assistants delivering analysed results and those delivering raw experimental results only, research assistants not doing much at all, and many more flavours. It all depends on their skills and the expectations of the PI, hence the answer that the job interview is the only useful place to ask.

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