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Monday, August 22, 2016

Research Assistants and Comment Letters

In the best case scenario, both faculty and students benefit from research assistant positions.  From the faculty perspective, I want to take on a research assistant if it will allow me to accomplish more than I would alone.  If I could do the work by myself in less time, an assistant may be more of a burden than a benefit.  From the student's perspective, the relationship also needs to yield some benefit, perhaps a letter of recommendation or a more polished writing sample than they would have produced otherwise.  Finding the right assistant and mix of tasks to delegate makes the process work.

Putting a research assistant in charge of drafting a short comment letter under their own name on pending agency rule-making has worked well for me and allowed the assistant to get some genuine ownership over a project.  Because the comment letter will be publicly filed, the assistant has a strong interest in producing quality work and researching the area.  It also creates a unique writing sample that gives the student something to talk about when searching for a position.  On some occasions, students have reported that their interviews focused around their comment letter.  It may also help get students in the door by allowing them to demonstrate genuine interest in an area.  After talking about how we've used comment letters in the past at the Transactional Law Conference, Nicole Iannarone and I put together a small piece talking about our experiences working with students on comment letters.  Of course, it's not always roses.  If an assistant isn't up to the task, you've got to spike the project to prevent them from filing a bad letter.

Supporting a research assistant through comment letter process yields some benefits for faculty as well.  It helps to set the tone for what good work should look like.  The assistant may also work harder for you on other projects that don't advance their career in the same way because you've taken some time to invest in a project that helps them. Plus, it keeps your eye on the other comment letters being filed and may give you insights you wouldn't have had otherwise.  When you ask them to look at related issues to support your research, the project has built some foundation to allow them to do better work.  On the whole, I've had good experiences with it.  Are there other projects that work well to generate the same kind of engagement?



Posted by Benjamin P. Edwards on August 22, 2016 at 01:13 PM | Permalink


Research assistants are an essential component for the research process and in particular, for extensive research projects carried out in large organizations such as universities. Research assistants are particularly essential in research universities, where faculty members are expected to carry out funded research as part of their work. dissertation help online uk

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Posted by: eddie007 | Feb 9, 2019 2:18:48 AM

Orin- You're right. The letter itself may not always add much to my work. It does tend to result in more engaged and better work on other projects. We also give graded credit for research assistant work--something that makes me more keen to make sure I help them come out with a sample (in addition to some tales of drudgery on other tasks).

Posted by: Ben Edwards | Aug 23, 2016 9:20:30 AM

Sounds like an interesting project for the student, but am I right that it doesn't actually assist the professor in any of the professor's research (as you might guess from the title of "research assistant")? If the thinking behind the law school paying students to do research is that they are doing work that the professor needs, I'm not entirely sure how that applies to this.

(Oh, and I've enjoyed your guest posts this month.)

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 23, 2016 1:26:36 AM

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