The Residential Experience (Caltech RA's)
At Caltech, RA can stand for “Research Assistant,” but more commonly refers to “Resident Associate.” RAs are full-time graduate students who live in the houses with undergraduates and help to manage student activities and the house community. Recently, my house (Fleming) got a new RA, after our old RA, Steve, went off to do his postdoc at Yale University.
Fleming’s new RA, Varun Wadia, is a graduate student in Caltech Neuroscience. Transitioning to a new RA is expected to be a nonlinear progression, but Varun integrated quickly into Fleming’s house culture and customs. Due to Rotation rules, where upperclassmen cannot bias incoming freshmen with information about houses before they rotate in, I can’t say too much about how exactly Varun fit in, but I asked him to provide some insight into the process of becoming an RA and how he’s liking his job so far.
What drew you to become an RA?
It was a job I did in college and really enjoyed it.
Did you get a sense of the house culture before becoming an RA?
Officially I was not told anything about the house. In general, ORE (Office of Residential Experience) does not like to bias incoming staff. However, I heard from other students that Flems are outgoing, confident, tight-knit and very busy given their involvement in various activities. I can safely say all of those characteristics are accurate.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
Being an RA during COVID. COVID has complicated every aspect of the job. One has to do twice the number of midterm check-ins and check-ins in general. Students have not had their regular outlets (interhouses and other events) so RA programming has generally been centered around stress relief.
What’s the best part of your job?
Building meaningful relationships with the students in the house.
What’s one thing you would want students to know about what an RA does?
How much we think about them behind the scenes. We are constantly paying attention to how students are doing, whether they are behaving differently than they normally would, planning for when they might be overly stressed etc.
Hopefully, from his responses, you got a sense of the roles RAs have in the Caltech houses. They help manage the house activities and serve as a support role for students, whether they’re struggling with academic or personal issues. Students tend to have a good relationship with RAs, greeting them on campus and sometimes even asking them for SURF recommendations (I did!). When you’re here, make sure to reach out to your RA as a source of guidance.