Volume 9 Issue 2 (2013): Research Assistantships
Main Articles

A Dual Perspective on Risks and Security Within Research Assistantships

Johannes Petrus Rossouw
North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
Ewelina K. Niemczyk
Brock University
Published November 1, 2013
  • research education,
  • research assistantship,
  • novice researcher,
  • research supervision,
  • research employment,
  • researcher development,
  • good research practice
  • ...More


Although research assistantships are considered research learning venues in graduate education, there is a scarcity of literature that examines ethical elements attached to the employment of graduate student research assistants or the position of their research supervisors. This article explores the need to implement formal regulations specific to research assistantships in order to increase security and decrease risks for research assistants and research supervisors. Relationships between research assistants and research supervisors have some similarities with regular employment relationships; yet some distinct differences arise due to the educational and developmental nature of research assistantships. The article is written from a dual perspective reflecting the authors' roles (a research supervisor and a research assistant, respectively) and institutional locations (Faculties of Education in South Africa and Canada). The authors draw from existing literature, an analysis of institutional policies and practices at their universities, and their personal and professional experiences to illustrate risks that research assistants and their supervisors may face within research assistantships. They assess the extent to which existing and proposed policies and practices influence working conditions and safeguard experiences within graduate research assistantships. The findings reveal that research assistantships are a unique form of employment focused on educational and professional development that requires specific documentation of expected standards of practice. The authors argue that lack of clear regulations exposes both parties to unnecessary risks and offer recommendations for creating a "Standards of Good Practice" document that will be useful for individuals engaged in research assistantships.