The Ten Commandments for Evaluation Research Assistants (Part II) by Arena Lam & Anthony Petrosino

We are Arena Lam (Research Associate) and Anthony Petrosino (Director) from WestEd’s Justice & Prevention Research Center (JPRC). Our organization conducts evaluations and employs many research assistants. We’re often asked by prospective job candidates or newly hired folks what the most important qualities are in successful assistants. This is Part II of a 2-part series on the Ten Commandments for succeeding in the position, applicable across fields or positions. In today’s post, we discuss Commandments 6–10 (Part I, Commandments 1-5, was published yesterday). Our desire is to see assistants thrive in their jobs and launch rewarding research careers. We believe adherence to these Commandments can help assistants get off to a good start and stand out in their performance.

6. Be a jack of all trades. Evaluation projects require multiple skills. Assistants who are frequently sought out have broad skills and can do many project tasks. The ideal repertoire of an assistant includes skills such as conducting interviews and focus groups, survey programming, data cleaning, conducting descriptive data analysis, creating data visualizations, and having the necessary soft skills to interact with clients and study participants. ABL: Always Be Learning…to increase your skill set!

7. Ask questions. Sometimes assistants are afraid to ask questions and then miss important details. Clarifying questions are good to ask and can help the requestor identify missing steps. Don’t be afraid to look dumb, and unless you are asking how to turn on your laptop, nearly all inquiries are going to be welcome. Remember, research shows that the best leaders are those who are curious and ask a lot of questions!

8. Be organized. Assistants may work on several projects at any time and juggle multiple tasks and deadlines. Being organized and staying on top of important dates and deadlines will keep you ahead and help manage your workflow. Organization strategies include maintaining a central calendar with important dates marked, setting reminders, creating a system to track files or survey responses, and backwards planning to identify the mini steps needed to accomplish a deliverable and their corresponding dates. You also can increase your added value. Usually, Project Directors are juggling a multitude of projects and responsibilities, so if you are well organized, you will become even more highly valued by project leaders and the team.

9. Communicate problems when they occur. Mistakes on projects almost always occur, despite good intentions or careful planning. Presidents, CEOs, project directors, and…research assistants…all make mistakes. Don’t cover up the mistake—it is better to communicate it early on so that it can be addressed immediately. Problems are almost always easier to address early in the process than later.

10. Don’t let roadblocks stop you—ask for help. We all come across roadblocks in our work from time to time. As Project leaders ourselves, we often seek help and advice from others. So don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from your supervisor or colleagues. Folks would rather provide some extra guidance rather than have you “spinning your wheels.” Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; a good project director will see it as a sign of maturity and wisdom.

Rad Resource:

  • There are several articles with tips on how to become a research assistant such as this one from LiveCareer and another from Indeed.


We appreciate the helpful comments of our WestEd JPRC colleague, Sarah Guckenburg on yesterday and today’s articles.

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