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Re: Timing for RA Applications
It is a tough act to balance PhD applications with backup RA applications due to the timing. Probably over half of RA hiring happens in fall, and a good chunk still goes on in spring. Your saving grace might be the time that it takes for the RA hiring process to flesh out. A lot of places will take a couple months from initial CV etc submission to finalizing job offers. In between, there are various rounds of interviews and possibly brief data analysis tasks.
Realistically, you may as well go ahead and start applying to open RA jobs now. The absolute worst thing that can happen from applying too early is that you reach a final offer for an RA job and have not yet heard from (all) PhD programs. In this case, *explain your situation to the recruiter and ask politely if they're willing to give an extension on when you need to reply to their job offer*. If they're not, then okay, you might decline the job, but you've really lost nothing except the time it took to apply/interview. If they are, then great, you're covered on all fronts.
The big influx of PhD application decisions really hits in mid-February. Meaning we're 3 months out now. Anything you apply to now will likely turn around final offers before mid-Feb, and in those cases you can ask for an extension on any offers. Applications that open in the next month or so are getting closer to the point where you probably won't even need to ask for an extension. And of course applications that open later in January/February are even safer bets. But again, I would just start applying now.