Ever since the movie “Animal House” gave us iron-fisted, ham-handed Dean Wormser, college deans have been getting a bad rap. But consider this description from the Yale Alumni Magazine:
The deans are a rare breed. Part parent; part scholar (a dean is expected to teach a course every year); part facilitator; part parish priest, minister, mullah, or rabbi; part vice principal — the formal job description is a four page document — these multifaceted people are, in the words of Richard Brodhead, the dean of the College, “Yale’s first line of defense in ensuring the well-being of our students.”
Your dean may or may not impress you in those terms, but staying in touch with him or her during your undergrad days and even after graduation with your professors may be more advantageous than you imagine
Think about it. Whose responsibility is it to know everything about the department, be it English, biology or economics? An entire branch of the school devoted to your career field and one person who knows all about it. Shouldn’t that person be a major source of information and advice?
While it is possible to connect with a dean after graduation even if you didn’t interact much during school (we’ll get to that later), the best time to start cultivating the contact is as a student. Every student has some kind of problem. Has the financial aid office lost you paperwork – again? Did you just realize that you have been going to wrong history class all semester? Were you honestly too sick to take your mid-term? The place to go is the dean’s office. The dean is also liable to show up at student events. Whenever you see him, greet him sincerely. Be visible, not annoying.
It’s What You Know AND Who You Know
So, now you’ve graduated. Most deans are truly interested in the students they helped train. Your success is partly theirs. If you call for an interview and he or she recognizes you, you are almost sure to get at timely appointment.
If the dean does not know you, don’t despair. Refer to others in the department (“I was in Professor Erudite’s zoology class; and I took advanced biology with Professor Greenhouse.”). Check the alumni newsletter or the college web site to find article or quote by the dean or departmental news. Then you can truthfully say, “I read your article…” or “I read that the department…” By the way, don’t lie. You will be found out, and the consequences are not pretty.
On the Spot and Well- Prepared
And there you are in the dean’s office. Know what you’re going to say. If you tend to get nervous on such occasions, write down and review your important points. You know if you’re prone to rattle on. Don’t.
What do you ask? Most deans keep up on the latest news in their subject. Start with that. Ask questions like, “Where is the field headed right now? Do you think this new discovery or that technical advance will make a difference in the way the business works?” – Talk shop a little, but don’t waste time.
After that, you might as well just say it. How’s the job market? Is there more activity in one particular area? My interests are so on and so forth. Not all at once. Wait for replies. Ask not only about direct sources, but indirect. Can you recommend any professional journals? Do you know of a working profession I could talk to? Ask politely if you may use his name when you contact these sources.
Send a thank-you note by snail mail. It shows that you’re grateful enough to take extra time and trouble. If you get a job, send another brief note. Stay informed about the industry. Pass interesting news and opinion articles on to the dean. Periodically send him an e-mail telling how you are doing professionally and asking him about new developments in the field. Ask his advice about companies to which you are applying or on a project you’re doing. Keep it short and not too frequent. Three or four times a year is enough. Follow through on his advice and referrals and let him know how it turned out.
You will make many contacts as you “network” throughout your career, but the dean is a crucial one. He is clearing house for information of all kinds. Keep in touch and always say thank you.