Former Research Assistant at Boston Children's Hospital
almost 2 years ago
It’s an incredibly busy hospital in the heart of Boston and the Longwood Medical Area so you are very much thrown in at the deep end. This is not a bad thing, the work of a Research Assistant is unique and there is so much to learn. Certainly you need to have a really good eye for detail and be as organised as humanly possible. Meaning keep impeccable track of the experiments you perform and the reagents (if applicable) you use. Ask questions when you don't understand how to do something, otherwise you may break it and research equipment is very expensive.
Typical the day starts at 8am or 9am. Typically, each research team has weekly group/individual meetings. Make sure to attend these as well as other groups meetings if you boss asks you too because you will learn a lot and there is typically free food. Also keep an eye out for the monthly intradepartmental meetings where PhD students and post docs will present their work and progress.
Standard equipment is also checked, which include the fridges and freezers. These are checked twice daily. They are used for storing research specific study samples and medications, all need to be kept at controlled temperatures, any deviation to these could potentially have an impact on the validity of the study data. So this is a vital task to perform and any deviations and/or problems are reported to senior members of staff and/or the Lab Manager.
The "typical" day of a research assistant is running experiments and recording results. Some days all you will do is DNA isolation and PCR screens, or RT-PCR. This can be tedious but it will give you the opportunity to perfect your expertise at this. I worked with pluripotent stem cells in a cartilage regeneration/tissue engineering lab. So my work consisted of checking on my cells in culture (replacing media), tracking their progress through differentiation, mixing reagents, making sure we had relevant bioassays stocks. Also, I was in charge of histology for the entire group. So I embedded, fixed and stained all of my samples as well as everyone else's this would sometimes take me 3-4 days to complete.
Sometimes, you will have to stay late. Plan ahead for this because science does not care about your social schedule.