Last summer, I decided to forgo a corporate internship in exchange for working as a research assistant in the Marketing Department at Wharton. I worked for two professors: Jonah Berger, the James G. Campbell Assistant Professor of Marketing who focuses on viral/contagious marketing, and Cassie Mogilner, assistant professor of marketing who teaches strategic brand management.
I love being a research assistant (which is why I am still working for Cassie). My work changed daily. One week I assisted with a Wharton Behavioral Lab by monitoring the participants’ activity and handing out chocolate (the experiment was based on reactions to chocolate). Another week I was helping collect advertisements that mention happiness, as well as videos and articles that went viral (example: Rebecca Black’s “Friday”). Later on in the summer, I helped write a survey and persuaded travelers at the Philadelphia train station to fill it out.
Overall, I gained incredible research experience: I collected and analyzed data and conducted in-depth interviews, focus groups, lab experiments and surveys. Recruiters have been very impressed at how many research tools I have been exposed to.
While this is great, it’s not even the best part about being a research assistant. Because as of this summer, I now have a mentor who is a world-renowned expert in Marketing: Cassie Mogilner. We are on a first-name basis, share cool articles on new marketing insights and meet regularly to discuss anything from the new salad place on campus to my future career path.
You might think that I am lucky to have such an awesome relationship with a professor. The crazy thing about Wharton is that these relationships are really common. I have a lot of friends who work as research assistants and consider their professor a mentor. Even after graduation, they stay in close contact to give updates on their careers and to find out their professor’s current research projects.
So how do you develop a relationship like this? Just ask. Wharton professors are extremely approachable. Even if they do not currently need a research assistant, they will probably be more than happy to discuss their work with students and will most likely contact them in the future when they have more tasks that need to be accomplished.
(Editor’s note: This post first appeared on the Student Voices blog on Feb. 28, 2012.)