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A research assistant (RA) is a junior graduate scholar, employed on a temporary contract by a college or university for the purpose of academic research. A research assistant usually works on a project supervised by one or more full-time academics who are responsible for administering the funds from which he or she is paid.

Nowadays, most research assistantships are awarded to graduate assistants, i.e. graduate students who work towards an advanced degree (e.g. M.S. or Ph.D.). Depending on the funding, these appointments generally last until the completion of their degrees.

In some universities the title research associate is used instead of "assistant", although a research associate is more likely to have a doctorate. Generally therefore the title of a Research Associate is used to denote an academic research position, usually at a post-doctoral level. While some organizations use the title Research Associate for researchers who do not necessarily hold a doctoral degree, most research associates hold a doctoral degree.Research Associates conduct their work under the direction of their research supervisor, sometimes with the help of Research Assistants.

Older and more experienced contract holders may have the title of Research Fellow.

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