Research is at the forefront of knowledge and, hence, wealth generation, so it is timely to consider a neglected category of the research workforce, the research assistant. The research assistant has traditionally been part of the fabric, if not the structure, of university research efforts but despite the extent of the contribution, the breadth of skills and the depth of qualifications often brought to the position of research assistant, there is no overt professional pathway articulated for these research workers. Equally, there is an implicit, if not overt lack of recognition of the research assistant role in processes of knowledge generation. This lack of recognition is reflected in the difficulty of defining the research assistant role and articulating how it differs across disciplines. This paper considers the research assistant in the current research landscape and culture of Australian universities, providing background to a wide-ranging empirical study of the research assistant workforce exploring the experience of the research assistant and the significance of the research assistant role in knowledge generation.