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Re: RA for one year
I think if you're going to go this route, you should be up front with the professor you'd like to work with and let them know that's your plan. I've only seen people with stellar grades who maybe need/want one more year of experience or a third letter do this. I can certainly say that in my job, I had very little confidence in what I was doing and didn't really hit my stride until 8 months in. Given that, I'm not sure how my PI would have been able to assess my skillset in ~5 months before applying. The marginal cost of an extra year of RAing is low in my opinion. Not to mention, working for 5 months on a project versus 1.5 years makes a big difference in how sure you can be that you want to do academic research for the rest of your life.