A research assistant, receiving what is referred as RA (research assistantship), is required to perform research in the area where the funding is granted. Typically professors, in science and engineering departments, write research proposals competing for funding from government agencies and industries. Well-known professors in established research universities in general do not face surmountable challenge to get research grants. These grants provide funding for research assistants – tuition and stipend – along with other overheads and the professor’s supplement.
When pursuing higher degree by research, it is important to choose carefully what area of research you wish to be involved. The reason being is that qualification demonstrated through accomplishment in doctoral (master’s) thesis may be important in finding job after graduation. So, what can one do to learn more about the research interest of professors? With the availability of Internet at the tip of your fingers, one can simply visit the website of the department of interest and learn more the research programs of each faculty member. Typically a faculty member may focus their research in more than one field, however, they may be fall within the same general buckets. For instance, the field of mechanical behaviors of glasses and ceramics cover a broad range of research topics from creep deformation, visco-elastic modeling, lifetime prediction and etc.
Prospective students are expected to indicate within their application packet what the research area of interest. And obviously any supporting evidence demonstrating some experience in the proposed research field would be helpful. Being able to articulate the thought and choosing the right words are important in writing such essay. At the same time, express interest in such area of research and build up a case why you are better candidate to work on such research program than other applicants.
Applicants can also find the information on the current and historical funding of professors at the US universities in www.nsf.gov, by searching the name of individual faculty name. This would provide an idea whether the professor, whose research area is of your interest, might have research grant available for funding graduate student(s).