Managing and Mentoring: Experiences of Assistant Professors in Working with Research Assistants


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Support from research assistants (RAs) is often framed as a resource to facilitate faculty research productivity, yet most assistant professors have received minimal training on how to effectively make use of this resource. This study collected data from a national sample of assistant professors to examine tasks RAs are asked to perform, satisfaction with RA work, challenges in working with RAs, and lessons learned to be successful. Authors used a sequential mixed-methods design, first conducting a Web-based survey with 109 assistant professors in social work schools with doctoral programs, then qualitative interviews with a subset of 13 respondents who volunteered to talk more about their experiences. Evidence indicated low levels of satisfaction regarding the preparation of students for RA work, particularly among those assistant professors working with first-year doctoral students. Primary challenges included lack of student skills and commitment and sufficient time to supervise and train students. Recommendations include careful assessment of student skills at the start of the relationship and setting clear expectations. Social work programs can improve faculty-RA relationships by training new assistant professors on how to support and manage RAs and training incoming students on basic research skills for their work as RAs.

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