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My Experience As A Research Assistant For The Communication Department

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSB chapter.

You’ve just finished wandering through The Arbor, wondering when they’ll restock the drink you’ve been waiting for since last week. As you near the register to buy one of their glorious muffins, you grab your wallet, ready to pay with a card. When suddenly, your cashier opens their mouth to speak.

“Have you considered any research?”

Your heart drops in utter disbelief. What did they say? You gasp, turning to look around to see if anyone has heard the dreaded question. All around you, students creepily stare at you, chanting about research over and over again. There’s no escape. Everywhere you turn someone is asking you whether you’ve done it or when you plan to do it. You become increasingly terrified. How do you even get into research? Who do you talk to? What is research!?

Don’t worry, I’m here to wake you up from this horrific nightmare. Unfortunately, however, it’s not that far from reality. At UCSB, the term “research” seems to follow you like a tailgating biker when you’re truthfully biking your hardest — always right behind you, never considering how much you already have going on. The professors and graduate students conduct research, so when are you getting involved? Luckily, I somehow successfully stumbled into the mysterious realm of research.

When I took Comm 88, one of the Communication prerequisite courses, an assignment caught my attention. It was about qualitative research — I had to draft a research question, interview someone, and explain my findings. Unexpectedly, I genuinely enjoyed transcribing the interview, connecting it to my research question, and learning more about the participant. This was the first time I found anything relating to research to be… well… fun.

Okay, I enjoyed the assignment. What now? I sat with the feeling for a bit. I decided to send a message alongside my Canvas submission expressing my enjoyment. That was simple enough and I didn’t think anything would come of it. But in retrospect, how many students tell their instructors they liked the homework? If a topic or an assignment piques your interest, say something! The best thing about research is that it’s highly likely most studies could use some extra assistance. Even hinting at potential interest, which I didn’t even know I was doing, can get you going in the right direction.

My TA replied to my message and offered to discuss research in the Communication department. I went into it hesitantly, wondering what I could gain from the conversation. One thing led to another, and I was asked to assist with a couple of their current studies! For once, being a people pleaser worked in my favor. I said yes to everything thrown my way while recognizing that this was an opportunity for growth. I didn’t have to love every research task; I just had to recognize what I liked. From there, I could decide what was worth pursuing in the future.

So far, I have loved being a research assistant. My responsibilities have spanned over a large range, including qualitative and quantitative analysis. Most of the qualitative research I’ve conducted has been interviews, interview transcriptions, and transcription analysis. If directly interacting with participants seems interesting, you’d probably enjoy qualitative research! It’s an incredible opportunity to engage with people from various backgrounds and provide them with a platform to share their stories.

While interview transcription can be tedious, it’s a great way to improve listening skills and attention to detail. A participant’s pauses, tone, and diction play a critical role in how their answers are analyzed in the future. Articulating someone’s experiences through their language is a task I’m proud to take on.

Honestly, I was scared to begin quantitative research. My fear resulted from the “bad at math” attitude I had adopted for years. I thought I’d dread anything involving numbers and data; however, I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve discovered that I prefer quantitative research over anything else. If you tend to approach tasks with a structured and numerical approach, you may be in the same boat as me.

Quantitative research is typically more survey-based in the Communication department. Surveys produce numerical data that is tested for correlations to prove a hypothesis. Data mining and analysis is detail-oriented in its own way as well. I pay close attention to the numbers I record when pilot-testing surveys and compare them to the data downloaded from the website. From there, I detect potential discrepancies and report my findings to eliminate technical errors. It’s up to me to ensure that the study is properly working before it goes live.

Once enough responses are received, data is analyzed to find correlations between the study’s variables. It might sound nerdy but even writing about this makes me excited. But that’s what’s so amazing about research! I never imagined I would ever be excited to work with numbers or that I could succeed in statistical analysis. When I first entered the Communication major, I thought I had set myself up for a career in marketing or media. While I accepted it, I had done so without ever considering an analytical focus.

Becoming a research assistant for the Communication department pushed me out of my comfort zone. It helped me identify the strengths that I refused to consider for years. Research may seem intimidating, especially when you don’t know where to start. However, the first step can be as simple as talking to a TA or a professor.

Lastly, to all my math-avoidant Communication majors, you never know whether you’ll enjoy something until you try it. Don’t allow the fear of failure to prevent your exploration of the major’s analytical side. I used to do anything to avoid math classes and now I’m excitedly searching for classes that can expand my statistical knowledge. I feel so lucky to have a better grasp of my skills because I tried something new! If you’re curious about research (and the nightmare didn’t scare you away), consider this my strong recommendation to look into it!

Kimberlly is a second year Environmental Studies and Communication double major at UCSB. Despite loving sunny Santa Barbara, her heart lies in her cloudier hometown, San Francisco. Aside from writing about absolutely anything, she spends her free time dissecting horror movies, reading, or acting on stage.