by John Oates

My name is John Oates, and I am a third-year political science student here at SPIA. If you are like me and you want to get into research or want to go graduate school, you should try to be a research assistant. I know it doesn’t seem like a possibility during this pandemic, when campus isn’t bustling with life and opportunities aren’t coming in from everywhere, but I want to tell you that it is more than possible to find a spot.

I know that it is possible because I myself took part in research over the summer and we were able to adapt to this pandemic. I first got accepted to work with my professor in early March right as the pandemic was starting to hit. During the weeks that followed I stayed in constant touch with my professor. By the time summer came I was well prepared for my research, as I knew I would be researching by myself but adding to the work of a team. Emailing and Zooming were important, as you would expect, but I spent ninety-five percent of my time staring at my screen reading, a very lonely, and sometimes boring task, regardless of a pandemic.

To get through hours of reading and research I had to stay organized (and caffeinated). At the start of the summer break, I made a plan for when and what I would work on. I realized pretty soon after that I needed to be more flexible with my timeframe and that I shouldn’t focus completely on one item of research at a time. I would need to start new projects while I was waiting to hear back on current ones.

Being adaptive with my schedule helped, but I also had to work to make a space for work. I know many people are finding it hard to work at home as fall semester begins. I realized that I could not just sit down and do my research with my current situation at home. I needed to remove myself from distractions, like storing my game consoles and putting my phone away. On top of this, I had to communicate with my friends and family when I was working. I had to make clear to them it would be helpful if I could be left alone during certain times so I could concentrate.

Another piece of advice I have is to communicate whenever you have a problem or question, the longer you wait, the more stress you may have, which can be avoided with a quick email (remember less is more). Staying in communication helped guide my research and spur new projects for me to work on. It helped mitigate fears I had at the beginning of the summer about being a research assistant.

I strongly urge you, if you are even slightly interested, to pursue a research assistantship. As daunting as these times may be, most of the difficulties you will encounter as a research assistant are easily dealt with by modern technology. You can always email or Zoom your professors leading the research in lieu of an in-person meeting, and most research nowadays can be done with information online or with programs. I have no regrets doing my research during this pandemic, and I am sure you will not either if you apply and work as a research assistant.