The era of big data is impacting many occupations, but few are being transformed in the digital age as much as social science researchers. The challenge for those who are interested in becoming social science research assistants involves keeping pace with the massive collection and analysis of data about the way humans interact with each other and their environments.
In the book Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age, Princeton University professor of sociology Matthew Salganik writes about the tremendous opportunities for social science researchers. These opportunities involve researching and analyzing the tidal wave of information chronicling people’s day-to-day lives. In an interview with Lindsay McKenzie in Inside Higher Ed, Salganik explains the future challenge for social science researchers. The task will be to embrace new sources of social data and find optimal methods for extracting practical insight from the data that can be applied in business, government, and academia.
Digital transformation is only one of the forces that are creating new avenues of research and new career options for social scientists. Individuals who are interested in careers as social science research assistants can begin by pursuing a degree in the field, such as an online bachelor’s in psychology.
What Does a Social Science Research Assistant Do?
Social science research assistants primarily support social scientists in conducting laboratory work, surveys, and other research activities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they also help prepare research findings for publication, participate in laboratory analyses, and manage research data.
Social science research assistants commonly perform the following tasks:
- Conduct interviews with research participants
- Visit people’s homes to conduct surveys
- Observe and record the actions of research participants in the laboratory as well as real-world settings
- Process the research-generated data
- Collect the information required to complete Institutional Review Board (IRB) applications
- Read scientific research to identify areas of potential future research
The exponentially increasing volume of research data is driving a growing need for social science research assistants who are capable of preparing, managing, and analyzing databases. Social science research assistants may also be responsible for tasks such as assisting in the production of project reports and presentations, obtaining informed consent from research participants, and using software to apply descriptive and multivariate statistical analyses to research data.
Steps to Becoming a Social Science Research Assistant
A combination of the proper education and experience can translate to a successful career as a social science research assistant. Here is an overview of the key elements involved in this career path.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology or Social Science
One of the first steps toward becoming a social science research assistant is to earn a bachelor’s degree in a field such as psychology, a social science discipline, or a related area. According to O*NET Online, the occupational information source sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, about half of polled social science research assistants held a bachelor’s degree.
The goal of an online bachelor’s in psychology degree program, for example, is to combine a solid foundation in contemporary psychology with the experience students gain from working in the field. A bachelor’s in psychology can help prepare students for research positions in the business, government, academic, or nonprofit sectors.
Gain Hands-on Experience in an Entry-Level Position
Most graduates begin as program assistants, research support specialists, or research technicians. According to BLS figures, most social science research assistants are employed by scientific research and development entities, followed closely by colleges, universities, and professional schools.
One of the benefits of working as a social science research assistant is the ability to work independently. Another is the range of opportunities available to skilled, knowledgeable research assistants. Most employers that are hiring social science research assistants emphasize that practical skills and work-related experience are essential requirements.
Professional assistants in the sciences are tasked with supporting the work of senior-level researchers, scientists, or area experts. With experience, social science research assistants may follow a career path to become a research analyst, research coordinator, or researcher.
Social Science Research Assistant Job Description and Essential Skills
The primary job duties of a social science research assistant involve helping a social scientist with laboratory and survey-related research. A research assistant can help organize data, manage databases, review research findings, and analyze the information to ensure it is ready for publication.
New tools and techniques for extracting intelligence from today’s massive data stores create a world of opportunities for social researchers in both government and private industry. Social science research assistants with the right combination of skills and experience will play a key role in converting significant amounts of raw data into insights that make the delivery of social services more efficient, and create new market opportunities for business.
Essential skills for research assistants include:
- Reading comprehension
- Active listening and writing
- Critical thinking
- Complex problem solving
Personal traits required for work as a social science research assistant include:
- Attention to detail
- Analytical thinking
Where Does a Social Science Research Assistant Work?
Individuals who wish to become social science research assistants will find dynamic and varied opportunities in a variety of companies and organizations. The range of activities is as wide as the diverse topics that are studied by social scientists. These professionals typically work in laboratories, offices, or in the field.
Professional social science research assistants may work in the following professional environments:
- Scientific research and development companies
- Academia (colleges, universities, and the like)
- Local, state, and federal government agencies
- Technical, scientific, and management consulting firms
- Social advocacy groups
- Charitable organizations and nonprofit organizations
- Grantmaking or giving organizations
- Labor or political groups
- Private businesses
- Central banks and monetary authorities
Students who are seeking to become social science research assistants should explore the many industries and fields that rely on social research, including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); psychology; healthcare; social work; law; anthropology; and other social sciences.
Social Science Research Assistant Salary
The BLS estimates the mean annual salary for social science research assistants at $51,340 as of May 2019. The median annual salary is $47,510. Annual wages for the occupation range from $28,190 at the 10th percentile to $78,800 at the 90th percentile. Wages may vary depending on experience, education level, geographic location, and industry. For instance, salaries are higher for research assistants employed by social advocacy groups and business organizations than by academic institutions and scientific research entities.
Future Growth of Social Science Research Assistant Careers
The nationwide employment of social science research assistants is on pace to increase approximately 4% from 2018 to 2028, according to the BLS. The agency expects the most significant growth in employment to occur in scientific research and development services industries and in higher education. The demand for these professionals could rise even more in the years ahead as data collection becomes a core focus in public and private industries of all types.
Join the Revolution in Social Science Research
The road to becoming a social science research assistant requires some hard work and effort — but it can be more than worth it. It can lead to a rewarding career that can give you opportunities to participate in research projects that positively impact individuals, communities, and the world.
Take the first step toward this challenging career by exploring Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in psychology degree program.
Economic and Social Research Council, “What Is Social Science?”
Inside Higher Ed, “Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age”
Maryville University, Online Psychology Bachelor’s Degree
O*NET Online, Summary Report for Social Science Research Assistants
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Employment Matrix Social Science Research Assistants
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Science Research Assistants
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Survey Researchers