As part of Careers in Student Affairs Month, we have invited individuals from different ACPA entities to share their unique perspectives on the field through Career Spotlight Q&A pages. We hope these will be a valuable resource for individuals considering work or graduate school in student affairs and higher education. This submission is from Vu Tran, representing the Commission for Social Justice Educators. For more information on the Commission's work, please visit their webpage.
Why did you choose a career in student affairs?
Like many others in the field, my undergraduate college experience was highly influential in my entrance into student affairs. It was due to the cultural centers at my institution that I was able to ask and explore the "Who Am I" question, which inspired me to pursue this field and pay it forward.
Why did you choose your particular functional area?
As a PhD student studying student affairs, I am grateful for the full-time experience that I received working in Residential Life. There is no other functional area that offers the same type of "real time" student interaction in the way that Res Life does. It challenged my sometimes "over-romanticized" perspective on Res Life and taught me that working with students meant working with ALL students - not just the high achieving ones or a particular subset of students.
What does a typical work week look like in your particular functional area?
In Residential Life, it really depends on the week. But mostly, it includes a lot of meetings. I like to think that Res Life takes the motto: "It takes a village...". In that sense, the village needs to be well-coordinated and communicate with one another to be able to successfully support individual students.
What is the most rewarding part of your job, and what is the most challenging part?
The most rewarding part of Res Life was experiencing "lightbulb moments" for students. It could be through an RA training session, a program, or a conduct hearing - there were so many various interfaces that allowed for me to expand a student's thinking and exercise my abilities as an educator.
The most challenging part for me was navigating "Res Life subculture." As someone who never worked in Res Life before becoming a Hall Director, I had to quickly pick up on the unwritten rules of working in Res Life. For those who are in similar situations, my advice is to find someone who will be willing to answer your "silly" questions and be patient with you. If that's your supervisor - great! If not your supervisor, find a colleague. But don't be afraid to ask questions!
What is your top piece of advice for individuals considering a career in your functional area?
There are two kinds of people who enter Res Life: those who know they are "Res Lifers" and those who are unsure. I tended to think of my Res life experience as being an "Undecided Professional" (similar to being an undeclared major). Given the breadth of functions that Res Life entails, use it as an opportunity to explore your professional interests and work towards the question of "What do I want to do when I grow up?"
In your opinion, what are the top three attributes needed to be successful in your field?
Adaptability, listening, and learning.
What do you believe will be the key trends, issues, and challenges in your functional area in 10 years?
Cost of on-campus living is going to always be an issue, but I believe it will be more prominent given the current state of financial conditions that many institutions are in. I think that soon, if not already, institutions will be making difficult decisions that involve the tension of cost-efficiency and student experience.
What additional resources would you recommend to a new professional in your functional area?
Consider taking a class - in anything, really. While some people are uncertain about whether they want to pursue a terminal degree, I think that everyone deserves to at least entertain that question for themselves.