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A Diplomat-in-Residence is usually an official assignment for a professional diplomat, such as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, such as Charles Hill. The position has mutual benefits for the diplomat and the university community of residence, and is usually not a terminal pre-retirement post, but more of a sabbatical.

While in residence, the diplomat usually teaches or guest lectures in international affairs courses, may guide student and faculty research, and introduces real-world experience into theoretical dialogue about international affairs. This may also be a time for a diplomat to write extensively, perhaps a planned book, perhaps midcareer reflections. From the diplomat's standpoint, it may be an excellent opportunity to reconnect with both academic thinking and popular culture in his or her home country. Several diplomats in residence,

The position is also sometimes a less stressful one for an officer returning from a difficult time, such as being held hostage, during which they can also read and reflect on work in their absence.

Research fellowships for diplomats, and also for senior military officers, may have a similar purpose, or they may be terminal jobs for a research-oriented field professional reaching retirement. A number of staff colonels, brilliant experts in their disciplines but unlikely to have the more managerial skills required for promotion to general, have taken this path. In a few cases, it served as a holding ground for a controversial officer, such as H. R. McMaster, who still actively advised while a fellow, and eventually became a general.

The diplomat-in-residence and research fellow are different from officers being assigned to the faculty at their own organization's professional institution (e.g., the Foreign Service Institute), or being a foreign policy adviser and academic leader at a military staff or war college. Those, such as Deputy Commandant and International Affairs Adviser at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, are considered prestigious steps in a career, especially the interdisciplinary assignments that make valuable contacts in other parts of a government. Robin Sanders, the current U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, went to that critical diplomatic post from the College.