Prior academic or professional experience can be a big plus when you’re applying for RA positions. You can draw on prior experiences to demonstrate that you are careful, curious, and self-motivated, whether through previous RAships, your own research in undergrad, getting a master’s degree, or working an industry internship. In the RA survey, many academic RAs reported having done prior research: 80% reported doing independent research (e.g., honors thesis), while 75% had worked as part-time RAs, 47% had worked as summer RAs/interns, and 26% had worked in industry full-time.
- Some prior research work: for instance, an independent project, or a class project, that involved statistical analysis, coding, and/or working with data.
- Knowledge of what economic research entails : you may want to talk about this in your cover letter.
- Relationships with professors and/or professional researchers who can serve as references: ideally, a professor in economics or a STEM discipline.
- Long-term independent research: a summer-, semester-, or year-long research project (a thesis is great, but non-thesis projects work too) on some topic, not necessarily econ, that involved statistical analysis, coding, and/or working with data.
- Work as an RA in any field: research experiences in a field outside of econ work, too. The purpose of having prior research experience is to demonstrate that you have the ability to do advanced research and take direction, more so than to prove you know a lot of econ. See our appendix for links to some research opportunities available to undergrads.
- Work as an RA in economics: although any RA work is a plus, it can also help to have had experience specifically as an economics RA. See our appendix for ideas on finding RA jobs open to undergrads.
- Master’s degree in economics, math, computer science, or an adjacent field: this is definitely not required to get a job as an RA, but may help you stand out as a candidate. Attaining a master’s degree may be especially helpful if your undergraduate grades left room for improvement, or if your undergraduate degree is from an institution that isn’t as well-known in the country you are applying for an RAship in (perceived “prestige” of an institution’s economics department may be important).
- Demonstrated interest in the specific area of economics that an RAship is in: for instance, if you have experience in applied microeconomics, you may be especially qualified for RA positions in applied microeconomics, compared with theoretical macroeconomics or other subfields. This doesn’t mean you can’t switch subfields, but it may mean you have an upper hand within your subfield already!
- Other economics training, such as through the AEA Summer Program (for students whose identities are underrepresented in econ), Research in Color mentorship (for people of color), ICPSR summer program, J-PAL MicroMasters program, etc.