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Summer RA Workshop - 2024

Introduction: Working with Faculty

Congratulations on getting your job as an RA!

All of the librarians in the Research Services unit want to help you succeed during your time as a Research Assistant. This section of the Summer RA Workshop Guide will provide you with a number of tips about how to work effectively with Emory Law faculty and how to get the most out of your time as a Research Assistant.

Keep Accurate, Detailed Records of Your Project

You will be absorbing a great deal of information all at once when you start your research project. You may well be working on a topic that is new to you or with which you are not especially familiar. One way to keep information about your project organized and readily available is by writing down and tracking relevant details that you will be able to refer to throughout your time working as an RA. 

To that end, it is useful for you to: 

  • Take notes every single time you meet with your faculty member. Plan ahead to make sure that you have a laptop, a pad and pencil, or some other way to record what you and your faculty member discuss each time that you meet. You may cover a lot of different topics during your meetings, and it is possible your faculty member will not have a meeting agenda or notes for you, so write everything down and keep that information readily available throughout your time as an RA.
  • Make sure to add all meetings with your faculty member and all upcoming deadlines to your calendar. Your faculty member will be busy juggling a number of tasks in addition to your research project, so discuss when you will meet with them and when to submit work to them at the outset of your project. 
  • Keep track of your research. It is very likely that you, your faculty member, or another RA will need to be able to retrace the steps you took to find a particular resource at some point; by keeping extensive notes about where and how you found something, it will be possible to easily find a particular item. 
  • As you do your RA work, consider keeping track of both the skills you've added to your repertoire and the resources you've become familiar with. For example, if you took a training module to conduct advanced searches using a particular database, if you had to conduct archival research using primary documents, or if you gave a conference presentation about your research, be sure to keep track of those milestones because you may want to add them to your CV.

Ask Your Faculty Member What Is Expected of You

Both you and your faculty member will have many demands on your time while you are working as an RA. As a result, it is useful to explicitly discuss a number of different issues and for you to get clarity about what your faculty member expects of you at the outset of your project.

During your first meeting or meetings, it will be helpful to talk about:

  • How you will communicate with your faculty member. Does your faculty member expect to meet with you via Zoom once a week? Will you have meetings at their office once a month? Will you need to send them email updates on a regular basis? 
  • What sort of work product you will be producing. Will you be submitting written reports once per week? Will you be writing an annotated bibliography? Will you send your work as an attachment with an email, or would your faculty member like to receive printed documents from you? 
  • What you should do if something unexpected happens. What does your faculty member want you to do in case you have to deal with an emergency and cannot complete an assignment for them? What should you do if your faculty member can't be reached? Plan ahead for contingencies so that you are prepared when they happen.
  • How your faculty member wants you to format citations. Ask them what they prefer so that you can use that format from the beginning of your project.
  • How to divide work on a project. If you are working with other RAs, including those at other institutions, be sure to find out how research tasks will be divided, who will be responsible for what, and if you will be submitting collaborative or co-written work products to your faculty member. 

Familiarize Yourself with Your Project

It is very likely that your faculty member has been working on their project for a long time or, at a minimum, that they have extensive knowledge about the particular topic or area of law that is the focus of your research project.  As a result, you should do what you can to get up to speed on the project and to communicate about your research progress throughout your time as an RA.

It will be worth your time to:

  • Review materials about the research project that the faculty member already has. Has your faculty member compiled a bibliography for the project? Have they written a draft version of an article for the project? Has another RA already compiled information that you can make use of? Is this a new research project for the faculty member, where it is possible that their research question will be altered or refined over time?
  • Get as much explicit information as possible to help you do your research effectively. Is your faculty member focused on a particular jurisdiction? Does their project focus on a particular time period? Are they only interested in working with primary materials? Are there pathways that they started on in doing their research that they abandoned?
  • Continue communicating about your research findings throughout your RAship. This will allow your faculty member to redirect your work if needed, or it may get them thinking about refining their research question.
  • Know when to ask for help. You may very well get stuck pursuing research because you don't know where to look for information, the information the faculty member has requested does not exist, because you realize you are not certain what you are looking for, because you are not familiar with how to conduct a search in a particular database, etc. You will need to learn how to assess if, by investing a bit more time to find the information you are looking for, you will actually be able to find it, or if you are just spinning your wheels and wasting time. If you are not making any progress, particularly after having read through the entire Summer RA Workshop guide and having applied the tips provided in the guide, you may need to get help from your faculty member or from a Research Services librarian. 

Keep Larger Issues in Mind

As you conduct your research, there are a number of larger issues to keep in mind:

  • Be aware of copyright, attribution, and plagiarism issues as you do your research and as you produce written work.
  • Keep in mind what you want to get out of your work as an RA. Can you familiarize yourself with databases you have not used, can you improve your Bluebooking skills, can you become an expert at conducting advanced searches, can you learn to work with data, etc.? 
  • Review all communications you will send to faculty for tone, clarity, and errors. Regardless of whether you are compiling an email, a text, a report, or something else, get used to putting your best foot forward because you are building your professional profile.

Session Recording - 2023 Workshop

Questions for the MacMillan Law Library?

Have a question for the Law Library?  Reach out to us via one of our question forms:

Faculty Research or Staff Question?
Please complete our Faculty Request form.

Student Research Question?
Please complete our Student Research Request form. 

MacMillan Library Hybrid Research Services:

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Questions?  Email Anna Sturgill, Law Librarian for Archives and Assessment Services