Taking care of a visiting professor. Just food for thought!
is the Editor-in-Chief of this journal and Professor of
Radiology, Diagnostic Imaging Department, University of Maryland
Medical Center, Baltimore, MD.
One of the great potential perks of an academic career is the
honor of being invited to give lectures in other academic
departments. Obviously, this honor carries many responsibilities
for the visiting professor (VP) that presumably are taken very
seriously, such as being punctual, presenting a lecture(s) with
updated material, and being pleasant and highly approachable in
both the formal teaching and social settings.
Equal, if not greater, duties rest with the inviting department.
The extent to which these responsibilities are met may affect the
performance of the VP and the likelihood that others will anxiously
follow. As a frequent flier on the VP stage, and after many
conversations with academic faculty who are also commonly "on the
circuit," I can offer several suggestions that may enhance the
experience for all concerned.
1. When formally inviting the VP, either by telephone, e-mail,
or letter, provide all pertinent information regarding dates,
times, speaking expectations (number and format of lectures),
something about the topics you wish to hear about, and details of
the financial considerations. If there is an honorarium, make the
2. Once an agreement is reached, a formal letter of invitation
on department letterhead should be sent confirming the details.
This letter will usually serve the VP as the documentation to
obtain the needed time away from the department.
3. Send a reminder letter 2 weeks or so prior to the visit to
both the VP and the secretary, if any. Never underestimate how much
a very busy, but well intentioned, VP can forget over time despite
personal digital assistants, electronic calendars, and small paper
notes buried on desks.
4. Provide specific travel directions for those driving. Include
the exact location of your department within your medical system
and instructions on how to get to "the right place." It's tiring
carrying luggage around through hospital corridors, sweating in a
jacket and tie, while playing the lost soul; after all the VP is
supposed to know it all. Some VPs, particularly of the male
variety, will starve before asking for directions and could
inadvertently wind up in the hospital's autopsy room or worse.
5. Whenever possible, have someone meet the VP at the airport or
train station and lead them to your local medical Mecca. It's nice
to feel welcome. If you send a resident, make sure the car is in
good working order with seatbelts, locking doors, heating, and air
conditioning. No VP will sit in a car seat.
6. Provide the VP with a written itinerary including telephone
numbers in the department, the hotel, and the number(s) of the
hosting physician. Most VPs have cell phones, but they are not
always reliable or turned on and he/she may need to stay in close
contact with others.
7. Unless you know the VP very well, do not offer your home as
an overnight haven, no matter how proud of it you may be or how
comfortable you think it is. The offer puts the VP in an
8. Know something about your VP before the introduction; a
curriculum vitae is a good place to start. Ask the VP a few
questions about interests, hobbies, family, etc. Some of this data
may be far more intriguing or offbeat than numbers of papers
written and schools attended. For example, most people are
surprised (or amazed) to learn I was a hard-rock drummer for 10
years. A good introduction gives the VP potential non-scholastic
topics to ease into the lecture.
9. When entertaining the VP at any social event (there should be
at least one since meeting other faculty is a key part of the
process) do not go overboard; in all things moderation. The VP may
want to party hardy, but tomorrow is another day and he/she needs
to be in good shape to deal with the demands of travel. A quiet,
comfortable hotel room is important, as is a clear billing
10. Given the increasing vicissitudes of air travel, let the VP
know where the host can be found in case travel home (or the next
destination) is delayed. In this rare event, the host institution
should still cover any additional expenses or offer any other
assistance that might ameliorate the situation. When the plane
leaves the ground or the train leaves the station your official
11. A thank-you note is always welcome to acknowledge a job well
done. If you believe the performance exceeded your best
expectations make that apparent in a heart-felt letter. Such
letters will be a source of pride for the VP and leave a pleasant
Most of these suggestions are common sense and simply reflect
good manners. They can serve as a checklist to help optimize the
VP's experience, create the best environment for an enthusiastic,
energetic presentation, and promote future visits by the VP and
his/her academic acquaintances.