What Do You Do All Day?

I recently transitioned from the role of Resident Director to Assistant Director and moved across the country. While I was home for the holidays, my mother naturally asked, “What do you do all day at work?” It was a fair question. She could wrap her head around my role as a Resident Director because she lived in a residence hall in college. She often likes to say that if she knew student affairs was a career, she probably would have gone into the field.

Truth be told, I struggled to answer her question. My sarcastic, pithy, one-sentence answer was, “Emails and meetings, all day long.” I know I do more than that, but how can I quantify it? Sure, I often have hilarious stories about the requests or reactions of students or parents, and I can wax poetic about the future of higher education with the best of them, but what is it that I do? Why am I getting paid? What output is expected of such compensation? I’ve been pondering this for awhile after listening to a ProReps Aside podcast from Valerie Heruska and Matt Bloomingdale that asked this question and then I stumbled upon this tweet from the incomparable Mallory Bower:

Ma’am, I dip my hat to you. I think it is a really good question to think about. What is it that you do? Not what you hope to do, or want to do, or write on your professional development plan, or what you tweet about, but what do you actually accomplish on a day-to-day level? 

In the past two weeks, this is what I have accomplished: 

  • Had one-on-one meetings with four incredible new professionals who I supervise as Resident Directors. Those conversations ranged from job searches, to training new student leaders, to facilities updates, to roommate conflicts, to their own professional development plans, and about a hundred other topics in between.
  • Wrapped up a job description for a summer ACUHO-I intern; scheduled interviews by juggling 11 different schedules and started to look at candidate profiles
  • Packed my entire office and said goodbye to my surrogate professional home for the past six months. This is in preparation of our department’s office reunification after nearly two years of having a main office and a branch office
  • Assisted my supervisor and co-workers in their office packing, which often meant telling them to stop telling stories about the items, cards, photos, or mementos in their hands and to instead start making decisions about what to keep or toss
  • Attended the first National Residence Hall Honorary chapter meeting of the year and offered advice as their co-advisor around induction ceremonies and upcoming programming
  • Read, sorted, replied to, and crafted hundreds of emails. Hundreds.
  • Booked my hotel and travel for NASPA and started working on my speech for a SA Speaks session
  • Organized a meet-and-greet for several faculty members, administrative partners, and Residence Life staff for our Learning Community program in an attempt to pair in-class learning with out-of-class experiences
  • Presented three times in one day to 100+ Resident Advisors and Learning Community Advisors during winter training about OrgSync, a new programming model, and ways technology can work for them
  • Laughed a lot. Like, more than you probably expect. Our work is fun.
  • Attended my first CASCHA meeting; met several other Chicagoland professionals, sat on a panel about interviewing in student affairs, and conducted a mock interview with a new professional
  • Rolled out OrgSync implementation to our entire department and held my breath when all of our student staff members logged on for the first time; spent several hours troubleshooting said issues with student staff members
  • Completed really boring, but really necessary parts of my job like approving timecards, submitting receipts for purchases, and updating budget logs
  • Met with partners and faculty to discuss the future of our Service and Faith Learning Community, which spawned ideas on how to improve the entire LC program in the future
  • Reviewed resumes and cover letters from graduate students at my current institution, from my alma mater, in addition to grads who have reached out over Twitter
  • Attended the annual Res Life Prom. Yep, it’s a thing.
  • Brainstormed online training modules for Learning Community Assistants to increase academic support and integrated learning for members of all Learning Communities
  • Attended a divisional retreat for half of one day and a departmental retreat for an entire day
  • Rolled out an entirely new programmatic offering for our rising sophomore students in an attempt to increase participation and engagement while in our halls. So. Freaking. Excited!!!
  • Followed the incredible Higher Ed Live podcast on #blacklivesmatter and participated in the backchannel
  • Met with colleagues in our Admissions Office to streamline the housing application process for incoming first-year students who are interested in joining a Learning Community
  • Attended a total of 21 meetings in ten days, most of which required prior preparation and follow-up

This was just the past two weeks and I would argue it was a light few days since only one week had students on campus. I would also add conduct, parental phone calls, mental health concerns of students, being on call for our department, and regular committee work to a typical work week. So why is it that I was so dismissive when asked, “What do you do all day?” Did I not want to sound like I was whining or bragging? Did I underestimate my mother’s ability to understand the ‘intricacies’ of the work I do? Or is it because I’m not used to hearing what people actually do in their work?

As a new professional, I often remember thinking, “Hmm, what exactly does my boss do all day? They don’t supervise RAs, they aren’t first responders, they aren’t doing the ‘work’ of committees, so how do they spend their time?” As a student and Resident Advisor, I remember thinking the same thing about my RD. I think we all need to talk about what we actually do more often. Not in some cute sound-bite, or conference introduction, or carefully crafted Twitter profile, but in depth and in detail. How else are our graduate students and new professionals going to know if they actually want to continue in the field? We owe it to them to be transparent and we owe it to ourselves to quantify our day-to-day work so when someone asks, “What do you do all day?” we are ready, whether that person is your mother, an accrediting agency, your supervisor, the university president, or students who should be the focus of this work every day.

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