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Soft skills

Soft skills are key! It’s a big plus for your PI if you are not just capable, but also trustworthy, easy to get along with, and good at communicating.


  • Communication with PIs: Being able to communicate clearly in speech and text is key for landing an RA position and doing well once you’re there. PIs are usually quite busy, so they will likely appreciate if your updates on work and any challenges you encounter are succinct and timely. It will also be important to develop a sense of when you should reach out to your PI versus when you should try to resolve something on your own. (See our section on your relationship with your PI(s) for more on this.)
  • Communication with peers: If you are one of multiple RAs working on the same project, being a good team member and learning to communicate effectively with your coworkers will be helpful for boosting morale and for the quality of your work as a group.
  • Flexibility: Because you may experience a lot of variation in the amount and type of work you are doing, it will be helpful to be able to adapt quickly to new tasks and changing deadlines.


  • Reliability: In short, it is good to be in the habit of matching what you say with what you do. Before you tell your PI you’re certain you’ll be able to finish something this week, be sure that you actually can! Note that there are two “levers” you can pull here to improve your reliability: you can control (1) how much you promise and (2) how much time you work. Being realistic with yourself about what you can reasonably accomplish and conveying this to your PI can be an effective tool for managing expectations and stress. (See our sections on setting expectations and setting boundaries for more on this.)
  • Self motivation: You may need to work without much external feedback or validation, since many of your tasks may be done independently.
  • Organizational skills: You may be working in large teams and/or on multiple projects on the same time, and will need to keep track of all the tasks that need doing.
  • Stress management: RA work can be stressful, especially when deadlines get close. It’s important to have ways to de-stress so the work doesn’t get you down.