This is a more urgent update to my earlier question
about my career prospects. After three years, my application for a federal Top Secret clearance has finally been declined. I can continue to flail through a variety of appeal procedures. Ideally, I will be allowed to reapply. I enjoy almost everything about my job (which I can obviously do while my application is being processed) and do not want to leave. In any event, I’d like to develop a graceful exit strategy, in case it becomes necessary.
What I do: I am a full-time research assistant with a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science at a university-affiliated research center. We focus on matters of language proficiency in government employees: we develop and validate tests, develop language technologies, as well as conducting basic research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. These last two are my own area at work.
My role is comprehensive research support. I recruit and test subjects using behavioral experiments, paper-and-pencil tests, as well as imaging tools like EEG and fNIRS
. I also manage and process data (MATLAB), run statistical analyses (SPSS), and draft reports. I work with researchers and project managers. There’s also a bunch of administrative responsibilities like scheduling meetings and putting together quarterly updates. I enjoy those the least. What I enjoy the most is analyzing data, writing, and learning new research tools and methods.
The complication: we are run on the academic, rather than corporate, model. Our researchers are PhD scientists, some senior, but many right out of post-docs. They have little experience delegating meaningful tasks to assistants. They also view assistants less like junior staff and more like juvenile
staff. The position has zero growth potential. Many assistants have allowed their roles to dwindle to basic administrative support — even though many of us have years of experience in various areas.
I have been working to develop a measure of autonomy. But even so, everything I do is in very close consultation with the researchers I support. There is almost nothing that I do independently. Even reports I draft often get completely rewritten as a matter of course. For example, last year I volunteered to do an internal research presentation as a "development" activity for my annual review. I rehearsed the talk with one of my superiors. He then spent the following hour tearing my presentation to shreds. We ended up with him dictating to me what should appear on my slides, in what order, and what particular turns of phrase I should use during the talk "for maximum impact."
In summary: when I list all of my research skills on a resume, how much should I underline that I’ve never really worked independently, but always in intimate collaboration with more senior team members? Is that the standard in similar jobs elsewhere, or have the assistants at my workplace been marginalized?
More generally: if I had to leave, I have no interest in becoming an EEG technician at a hospital, or something similar. For one, that takes specialized, completely orthogonal training and certification.
What else does my experience translate into?
Should I be looking into entry-level (or mid-level?) analyst positions with consulting firms? What kind? Or is my experience irrelevant for this kind of work?
Where else can I apply myself without it being too much of a stretch?
My background is neither biology nor engineering, so I’m not sure pharma and medical device manufacturers are a close match. My particular interests are linguistics, and possibly language policy, education policy, etc. My employer is involved in some of these areas, but my exposure to them in the workplace has not been especially substantive.
I have no interest in entering a doctoral program or figuring out the funding for a master’s program at the moment. I have 4 semesters of graduate applied stats. Thanks for your input!