By Alejandra B. Salinas
It was Thanksgiving break of my freshman year, and I was finally enjoying some well-deserved time at home before the mad rush of finals was to commence. Sitting aimlessly on my laptop, I realized that I had an application due that very same day, an application that I was well aware of about a month prior, but had put aside for much too long. It felt like ten minutes or so that I had, along with a massive sigh of relief, submitted an application to become a Resident Assistant for the Division of Housing and Food Services. Relieved, I simply awaited to hear back if I had gotten an interview among the 800 plus applicants, and upon finishing my first semester at UT, along with commencing my second, little did I know that those ten minutes were going to be the start of one of the best and most memorable experiences of my undergraduate career.
To expand a bit further, let me begin by explaining why I had chosen to undertake this “career move” in just two words: FREE HOUSING. Yes, free housing, most likely a potential big kicker in any in-state students’ undergraduate college expenses at UT. My aunt had once been an RA, and it was how she had saved thousands in student loans. I thus followed in her foot steps that coming February after receiving news that I had been offered a position in Jester Upper West, which I took hesitantly, considering the horror stories that I had heard of the party-crazy smelly West.
I sadly had to pass my chance to study abroad for Organic Chemistry II in San Sebastian, Spain that summer in order to attend the intensive two-week RA training regime prior to Mooove-in day. However, I quickly became sucked into this training program that introduced me to an entirely new community which I would soon call home.
My RA year was nothing less exciting, and made me realize how much I truly loved to mentor students. It was filled with many frustrations, fits of laughter, J2 dinners galore, and consecutive long, sleepless nights. Some were full with on-calls, UTPD and EMS calls, late-night studying and Netflix nights with fellow co-workers. Others consisted of helping residents get home safely and throw-up-free after one too many drinks. Yet through all the chaos, many of my nights were spent having conversations about their adventures, back-home relationships, aspirations, and troubles. Since the Jester on-call phone never failed to go off every day—weekday or weekend, those shifts also provided a good deal of story-telling. In the end, through these experiences, I’d like to think that I had as much of a positive effect on my residents as they had on myself. This job quickly became more than just a money-saver, providing me with a family and many meaningful friendships with individuals who have truly inspired me to do better.
However, not every RA’s experience will be the same, which goes for any job in your current undergraduate career or your future professional life. Whether you’re situated on-campus doing administrative work or off-campus serving coffees as a barista, your experience will truly depend on what you make of it.
Looking back, I have been a tutor, a lab mentor, a UGTA, an RA, and now a CA. Some jobs were taken to aid the bank account, others were to serve as resume-boosters or as opportunities to work with a few brilliant professors and students. Whether these positions were taken at the optimum time in my undergraduate career would be a different story for another day, but I will end with this piece of advice: less is more. My work history is a collection of valuable experiences that taught me—through trial and error—to not overextend myself and helped me discover the maximum work-load that I could handle while still maintaining a healthy balance in all aspects of my life.
On another note, some of my friends have taken a different route by taking on jobs outside of UT. These have included internships at local law-firms, the State Capitol, and Washington D.C.—all to build their network and skill-sets. Considering that your resume alone will not get you in the door for many professional and graduate opportunities in your future, “who you know” can set you apart from close competitors. This will be useful if you’re considering taking a gap year post-graduation to prepare for graduate and medical school applications.
As you read on, provided to you is a collection of fellow CNS longhorn testimonials on their work experiences. Whether they got a job to pay tuition, save money for weekend drinks, or to add leadership experience and expand their interests, their recommendations on what jobs to take and when would be a very valuable service to you as you consider summer jobs before school lets out. So take some time off from your lab write-ups, coding, and chapter readings and consider when and why a job may be the right move for you!
Sanket Joshi- Graduate Student, Received a B.S. in Computer Science: One of the best parts of my UT experience was my job as an RA in Jester. I was an RA for a total of three years, spending two years in Jester West and one in Jester East. Like many of my peers, I initially took the job because of its financial perks. Free housing and food is a lucrative stipend for most college students, but what I got out of the experience was far greater than just monetary savings.
As an RA, you get to interact with students from a variety of backgrounds on a daily basis. In getting to know and understand them, I was really able to evaluate my life situation against others, and thereby become a better person. This insight allowed me to be more successful in college, and it continues to help me post-graduation. Furthermore, as a Computer Science major, I was able use this job to develop parts of my personality that I was otherwise unable to in the classroom. By allowing me to meet people outside my major and peer group, it ensured that I kept developing my softer skills alongside my technical knowledge.
However, what I cherish most about the job are the long-lasting friendships that I developed with my fellow RAs. By living, working and studying in the same environment, you really develop some deep connections. When such connections are with other mature and all-rounded individuals, you end up with something that you can value for a very long time.
Ye Ji Choi- Third-year, B.S. in Microbiology: I’ve worked as a lab aide and mentor for the FRI Stream Biobricks since the Fall of 2013. My responsibilities ranged from helping new students develop proper lab techniques to providing academic advice. My transition from a student in Biobricks to a lab aide/mentor was natural given that I enjoyed the atmosphere as well as the overall experience. I applied through the Research Educator responsible for Biobricks after completing the introductory course. Students in FRI streams are usually asked if they would like to continue in the given stream as a mentor, a undergraduate TA (UGTA) in a Research Methods course, or to earn further credit as a “volunteer.” In the long run, FRI provided a lot of opportunities for me; it’s up to you, however, to decide the capacity in which you want to continue being part of the community.
Logan Bishop- Third-year, B.S. in Computational Chemistry and Computer Science: I started my job as a tutor for the Sanger Learning Center at the beginning of my Sophomore year. I took the job as a supplement to my income and because I had previous experience tutoring in high school. Overall, working at Sanger has been one of the most enriching experiences I have had at college. Helping someone else through the process of learning is one of the best ways to gain mastery of a subject. I have undoubtedly become a better chemist because of the time I have spent tutoring at Sanger.
I think it is important to find a part-time job during your college career because receiving a paycheck, interacting with management, and dealing with customers are all factors that are heavily present in life after college. Right now we have the opportunity to deal with those experiences in a controlled environment where maintaining employment is not crucial and we have the ability to move around. For those going to graduate school, taking the opportunity to work as an educator is a great way to test out the idea of being a TA/Professor. *
Erin McAtee- Third-year, BSA in Biology, BA in Spanish- Hispanic Studies: During my second year in college, I applied for a job as an FRI mentor after two semesters of working for my lab. Even though I was not interested in research as a career, I applied because I thought a paid research position would look good on my medical school applications. In past semesters, FRI labs were capped at 30 students, with 4-5 mentors, a TA, a Research Educator, and a Primary Investigator (which you didn’t have much interaction with). However, the year I decided to mentor, our lab expanded to approximately 60 students. This meant more reports to grade, more students to assist, and basically more of a job for me. Balancing 17 hours of class, pledging a service sorority, and being a member of the Longhorn Band became challenging. I worked as a mentor for two semesters in the spring and fall, and although I went into it with expectations of it just being a resume builder, I gained so much more.
One of my favorite moments was teaching some of the students how to load samples into an agarose gel for gel electrophoresis. Each of the students were incredibly anxious about making sure they were using the pipetman correctly while attempting to not puncture the gel. While it was funny at the time, it brought me back to about a year ago, when I was in the exact same position. Mentors play a significant role in the education of the students, and I learned how to best teach others.
With the logistics of this job, I would recommend taking it in an average course load during the semester. Personally, I always load up with extracurriculars and lots of hours, but taking an average course load while being involved in two outside organizations will leave plenty of time to be a mentor. As a sophomore, having the opportunity to work in a research lab and being trusted to help other students learn is a major accomplishment, and anyone given the opportunity should jump on it.
Although I am not working for FRI currently, I was recently offered a position as a mentor for CNS 101. Even though I won't be grading lab reports, doing my own research, or assisting students with lab techniques, the same skills in working with students being exposed to a brand new setting for the first time will be beneficial for my new position.
Karl Migacz- Third-year, B.S. in Human Biology: I became an Orientation Advisor after first hearing about the job during my freshman year from Julius Zerwick, an old Natural Sciences Council member. After attending an informational meeting, I found it appealing because the job looks for diverse students across all the colleges. I would be able to contribute my knowledge from CNS towards the incoming students in the summer while getting experience working with students that I most likely would not have met otherwise.
So things that I gained: A far greater knowledge of my university, its resources, and experience speaking to large groups of people through giving campus tours and presentation to groups of 20 CNS students during the advising sessions of Orientation. We also put together a play so I gained acting and playwriting experience.
For CNS students, particularly pre-med students, the best time is to do it after your freshman or sophomore year, before things get too crazy. I would recommend it if you want to gain experience in developing your communication skills, leadership, and working with a diverse group of people. It’s an awesome experience because it does not even feel like work, just like a fun event with friends. You get to bond with the other Orientation Advisors, and I’m still good friends with many of them today.
One of my fun memories from Orientation is helping out a freshman student during late-night advising. She had questions about the best classes to take, who the best professors were, etc., and needed advice. Lo and behold, this student later joined Natural Sciences Council, became actively involved, and is no other than our recently appointed Internal Relations Chair, Hadia Aziz.
Debby Garcia- Sophomore, B.S. Textiles and Apparel Retail Merchandising: In high school, I juggled AP classes, a job at a birthday party boutique, and was a bona fide yearbook junkie. I have no idea how I survived this turbulent time in my life, and still managed to never go a day without makeup or repeating an outfit. In college, I learned that high school played by a very different set of rules. College has no routine. My best advice to incoming freshman is to use your first semester in Austin to settle in, get the hang of the whirlwind pace of your classes, and take the time to both enjoy and transition into UT. You have spent four years of your life in high school learning material that may or may not be relevant anymore, so take a break! If it’s not necessary, don’t take on a part-time job your first semester, but do join an organization to learn time management and make new friends. Take a course load of 12-15 hours. After you learn to juggle these things, don’t complicate matters by overwhelming yourself—take this process piece by piece for a smooth, busy, yet un-chaotic college experience.
In my second semester at UT, I accepted a competitive job offer at the Daily Texan as a photographer. I worked there for over a year in the multimedia staff and loved every minute of it, but my schedule was becoming harder and harder to balance. I had to dedicate one full day to shoot assignments, and found it hard to find time for my heavy course load. I have fond memories of staying up late in the office, editing with a coffee in hand, knowing it was 1 AM and I still hadn’t even started my homework. This semester, I learned to set realistic expectations for myself.
The beginning of my sophomore year was a fresh start for me. My freshman clique had left on-campus housing, while I stayed on as an RA in Jester West. I was nervous about the job but excited to get to make new friends. Being an RA this year has been a true experience; I find it to be one of the most challenging and rewarding on-campus jobs that UT has to offer. The process is selective, but I was able to handle administrative work, floods, bedbugs, roommate drama and scary emergencies.
Thankfully, I met a new family in my RA cohort, who supported me every step of the way, and I developed close relationships with my residents and was able to plan events that catered to my love of planning and having fun.
However, my issue wasn’t my RA job, it was balancing that, my photography for the Daily Texan, and the arrival of new opportunities. I accepted my first fashion design internship as well as a leadership role as a textiles and apparels FIG mentor. All this time, life was also happening. I was in a serious relationship and an active member of the University Fashion Group. I cried almost every day, my health had deteriorated, I started eating badly, and I was sleeping under five hours a night. My biology grade suffered. My daily life had become a hectic routine of waking up, going to class, writing emails between classes, texting my boyfriend, staying in sewing lab, crafting garments until they were perfect, preping and teaching my FIG class, attending meetings for a museum exhibition I was assisting to plan, shooting a photography session, working my RA desk shift, attending a portion of a UFG meeting, rushing to Luke’s Locker Room downtown and stay up late planning and building their window display, all to come back to campus to upload my photos to the Daily Texan, go home, attend to my RA tasks, and start my homework around 3 am. I ended up dropping my biology class to survive the semester and wished I had accompanied my high ambition with realistic expectations.
Long story short, I have loved all of my jobs as a photographer, RA, FIG mentor, intern, student, and girlfriend. However, I do not recommend piling on so much because you have eight semesters to spread out your passions. I suggest you pursue only one job and maintain high responsibility in one university organization. Set your priorities and enjoy every moment of your life as a college student, as it passes by much faster than you would think. I am letting go of a few of my heavy responsibilities because I know I want to enjoy the things I do, and be the best at them.
Please feel free to comment with any questions or your personal account on your work history. And let us hope that we will not have to bedazzle this onto our caps upon graduation.
*Snoop around the Catalyst to find this photo in LIVE ACTION