In addition to the position itself, RAships come with many opportunities to expand your economics horizons. The availability of these opportunities will vary by institution, so when you’re just starting out, ask around (grad students and other RAs can be great resources) to learn what’s available. Here are some general categories to check out:
Attending seminars is a great way to learn more about the fields you’re interested in, get ideas about your own research projects, find out about cool data and methods you might be able to use, and learn about what it takes to give a good presentation. If you’re at an academic institution, there will probably be seminars at least once daily. Frequent seminars are also the norm at the Federal Reserve and other organizations with RAships.
Due to COVID-19, many in-person seminar series have gone on Zoom- a less enjoyable platform, maybe, but a much more accessible one. Check out websites or social media feeds of departments and groups that you’re interested in to see if they have any seminars you can register for. Marta Lopes has also aggregated many virtual seminar series here (some of these may be out of date).
Workshops give you the opportunity to learn new technical skills, such as Python, R, or web scraping. Since they tend to be on the shorter side (anywhere between an hour and a few days), you may not be able to totally master a skill during a workshop, but you may get inspiration and an idea of where to start. Look for workshop opportunities through your institution and on Econ Twitter.
If you are interested in taking classes, look into whether your institution can help you subsidize or fully cover the cost of classes at nearby universities. Some RAs take the opportunity of being based at a university to take or retake math (especially real analysis), economics, or computer science classes to strengthen their grad school applications. If you don’t want to take a class for credit, you may still get value out of informally auditing a class.
A note of caution: check with your PI before considering classes! Given that classes tend to run during the workday and can be time consuming, some PIs might not encourage you to take classes. On the other end of the spectrum, places like the Chicago Federal Reserve can help RAs pay for classes at nearby universities and provide flexible scheduling options to help make up for work hours spent in class (e.g. see the Chicago Fed FAQs).
Ask your PI about tools that could help you work more effectively- after all, they want you to be productive- keeping in mind that the availability of such tools are not guaranteed and can vary depending on where you work. Resources that may be available could range from a computer monitor to a Stata license to library support services.