How Much Do You Pay Your Research Assistant?

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I know I’ve been pretty much absent here for the past several months, and unfortunately I will continue to be for another couple of months as I finish up two big projects.

But in the meantime, I’d like to survey the feminist law profs out there (and other law profs who read this) about research assistant pay.   Here at Drexel Law, we pay $10 an hour to our research assistants.   That doesn’t sit very well with me, as that is exactly what I was paid as a research assistant when I was in law school . . . 15 years ago.

I’ve found out that this isn’t a University-wide rate and that we can change that rate as the law school (or even as individual faculty, but that is discouraged for administrative reasons).   So I’m asking you for input for comparison — what do you pay your research assistant?   Is it a law school set rate or set by individual profs?

Thanks for the help!

– David S. Cohen

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13 Responses to How Much Do You Pay Your Research Assistant?

  1. alesbianandascholar says:

    Wow, I wish I’d been paid $10/hr!

    I graduated from the University of Iowa in 2009. RA rates are set by the school, and they were $6.25 when I started, I believe, and $6.75 when I left. Granted, RAs also get in-state tuition, but if you’re going to school on a scholarship that requires you to work as an RA and does not include room and board, then you’re going to be working 2 jobs through law school as I did. Other departments of the university pay significantly more, but the College of Law isn’t unionized, which is why the rate is lower.

  2. a reader says:

    Not a law prof, but as a research assistant in 2006 I made something like $8.60 an hour for work I thought was worth at least twice that. The law school (a state school) set the rate.

  3. Barbara Burke says:

    I am a third-year evening student at Touro Law Center. As research assistants we receive ten dollars an hour. Most professors request fifteen hours per week to be alloted for their research assistants. I am a high school teacher by day so this extra money surely helps; and it is not too much lower then what I receive teaching!

    Far more important then this stipend, however, is the invaluable opportunity to be a research assistant for a law professor. The benefits of working one on one and learning to do scholarly research is the real payment. Because of my work last year, I’ve had two book reviews co-authored with a professor; and was actively engaged in the editing of a forth-coming book. This year I was invited to co-author a chapter of a book with another Touro professor for whom I am doing research.

    As students, the learning we receive by researching for a professor far outweighs the monetary stipend.

  4. David S. Cohen says:

    Thanks for the comments here (and keep them coming!). Barbara, I agree with what you’re saying about the benefits completely, as those benefits are a huge part of what’s great about being a research assistant.

    But, at the same time, I don’t want to inflate my importance and use this reasoning to pay someone lower than what they should be paid. Granted, these jobs are cushy and pay a lot more than minimum wage (except apparently at Iowa), but at the same time, they shouldn’t pay the same wages the job received 15 years ago. That’s the perspective I was working with from my own experience, which is why I’ve opened up the question to others to see if my anecdotal information is broadly applicable.

    Maybe the $10 Columbia paid when I was in law school was high relative to other schools at the time and the $10 Drexel is now paying is appropriate. But, maybe not. If the latter, I’d like to figure it out so that I (and my colleagues) can treat our RA’s right.

  5. draconismoi says:

    I was a research assistant at Northeastern Law School from 2006-2009, and my pay was between $13 and $15 per hour. The $13 was when I was being paid workstudy because Uncle Sam decreed the rate.

    I have been passionately and rabidly opposed to the rationale that “the experience is enough compensation” whenever engaging in any kind of labor. Yes, working with a professor is a worthwhile experience, and can lead to other opportunities down the road, but fair compensation for the work you provide is equally important.

    Why would I have worked as an R.A. if I wasn’t being paid on par with any other part-time telecommuting work I could have done as a college graduate? I was working while going to school full time and didn’t want to take out private loans for living expenses – no amount of bonding with my professors would allow me to turn the heat up higher than 55 in the winter.

    When professors rely on the “benefits” they can provide students, they are likely cutting themselves off from a pool of students who could provide valuable insight into their work. I’m not sure what the cost of living is around Drexel, but if you are concerned that your R.A.’s aren’t being paid enough, they probably aren’t.

  6. Anita Bernstein says:

    Thanks for the post, alesbianandascholar. I visited at Iowa several years ago and was told that the RA compensation deal was excellent. That sounded right, because I had many really good applicants despite being an unknown quantity there.

    I still think that giving in-state tuition to non-Iowa residents as part of their compensation is a great thing–if you’re chosen as an RA while enrolled you get this perk–but the basic hourly rate has to change. Same at my school (Brooklyn) and others. How can we faculty work to improve this bad situation?

  7. kla6t says:

    The rate here at U.Va was $10 when I started a few years ago and has recently gone up to $11. There is also an option of doing “directed research,” which is unpaid but worth 1 pass/fail credit for every 40 hours. Some of my students have cared more about the credit than the money, and opted for the directed research over the “research assistant” job, but there is always stiff competition for the summer research jobs, which generally provide 40 hours of work a week at the $11/hour rate.

  8. David S. Cohen says:

    Anita – what do you pay at Brooklyn?

  9. Robert says:

    I was employed at an RA for 2 years while doing my undergrad. I started off at $12, ending at $14 to reflect the difficulty and time commitment of my final project. This was also from a cash strapped school in a poorer Canadian province.

    $10 in Law school seems quite low considering these students have undergraduate degrees already. The going rate for Ph.Ds is double that.

  10. anhlsgrad says:

    I believe that when I graduated last Spring (2009), Harvard Law School paid $11.50. It might have been $10.50, but it wasn’t as high as $12.

  11. scottmckenzie1980 says:

    Not to start a “how good is the U of Iowa” debate, but we also subsidize health care for RAs.

    I believe Im paying 25$ a month for fairly good coverage, plus 3$ for dental (which I am told today also includes eye care coverage?).

    I believe they said that after instate and everything is considered, its around 50$ an hour. But, as was pointed out, the vast majority of that “pay” can not be directly and immediately used for rent or groceries.

  12. baa says:

    I was an RA at the University of Texas School of Law in 2003 and 2004 (for two different law professors) and was paid $10/hour for both.

  13. Anita Bernstein says:

    Sorry for delay, David–I was at AALS and haven’t dug my way out yet. Brooklyn pays $12, which I think is at the high end. As a freestanding school we retain federal work study funds rather than cede them to a university. Still not enough.

    In addition to Iowa, another school reputed to be doing RA compensation right is Cardozo. I haven’t talked to anyone there lately, but vaguely recall that Cardozo calls research assistants something like Jacob Burns scholars and gives them honors. Cash is better, but if you don’t have cash you ought to give something else that is scarce.

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