What Would Paul Revere Do?
ACR members at all stages in their careers share their best advice for making (and keeping) professional connections.
On April 18, 1775, two men rode through the countryside around Boston, sounding the alarm that the British were advancing. As a result of their efforts, a militia of minutemen was assembled in time to meet the British troops for a battle that would begin the American Revolution.
While two men rode that night, chances are you’ve only heard of one.
Paul Revere (the one you’ve heard of) knew people throughout the region with a variety of backgrounds, and he understood who in his network would be best positioned to spread the word. And because he was well known in the area, people were likely to trust his word about the oncoming armies. As a result, Revere’s message was carried much farther than he was able to cover in one night. William Dawes (the one you might not know) also set off to warn people in neighboring towns, but he was able to generate very little action from the towns he visited. He was not as well connected, so he wasn’t sure who to contact, and those he did warn were less likely to act on the information he was carrying because they didn’t know him.
More than 200 years later, we don’t count our connections by how many we can reach in a night’s ride. But the same principle holds true: diverse, genuine connections are the key to a successful network.
Building a professional network is a career-long process. The following tips from ACR members throughout the specialty can help you establish strong connections with a wide variety of contacts.
Don’t think of it as networking. Think of it as making friends. “Networking is another way of saying ‘communicating effectively and building relationships with colleagues,’” says Seth A. Rosenthal, MD, FACR, chair of the Commission on Radiation Oncology and a radiation oncologist at Radiological Associates of Sacramento, Sutter Medical Group, and Sutter Cancer Center. “And none of us can practice medicine alone in this day and age. You need to have people you can call on for advice.”
According to Frank J. Rybicki, MD, FACR, director of the Applied Imaging Science Lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, radiologists have a bit of a leg up when it comes to meeting people in their field. “If you’re worried about networking, the good news is the problem will solve itself,” he says. “Because the number of people is actually small, and over a short period of time you will meet a large fraction of those you want to meet. If you break it down into the subspecialty groups, your imaging world is actually not a big field at all.”
No matter the size of your specialty, in order to grow your pool of contacts, you must be sincere in your interactions. Just as in friendship, people can tell if you’re faking it. “I’ve found that it’s often challenging if you call up someone you don’t have any relationship with and ask them to help you out,” says Rosenthal. Interacting with people in a genuine way can make the difference between making hundreds of superficial connections on LinkedIn and building a network of people you can depend on.
Build up your networking karma. “Networking has to be a two-way street,” says Simon S. Lo, MB, ChB, associate professor of radiation oncology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. “You can’t just expect everything to work to your advantage.” Constantly tapping into your network without offering anything in return will quickly burn out your connections. “Helping others is how you develop and maintain a network,” says Rosenthal. “People who just think they can network without having it be a two-way street are going to find that it’s not going to work out as well for them.”
Actively seeking opportunities to support people in your network strengthens your connection. In practice, this can include providing professional recommendations, giving advice, sharing articles the other person might find interesting, or introducing two people who share a similar interest.
Get out of your bubble. A network made up of people just like you won’t get you very far. While connections in your area of expertise are certainly useful, they often circle back to one another without linking in to a greater circle of contacts. For this reason, Lo recommends branching out. “Be ready to meet people with different backgrounds. You can broaden your horizons and the horizons of the people in your network,” he says.
Nathaniel E. Margolis, MD, chief resident at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, recently kicked off a new project at his hospital after a conversation with a neuroradiologist colleague who wondered why perfusion imaging wasn’t being used with breast MRI. Unable to pinpoint an exact reason, Margolis set up a meeting between various stakeholders in breast imaging and neuroradiology, which resulted in new ways of approaching breast MRI and possible multidisciplinary research projects. “People in different fields have different expertise, and they might not know about what’s going on in other departments or subspecialties,” says Margolis. “Sometimes you can find common ground between people in different subspecialties and you can come up with a lot of new ideas.”
Have something to say. If you want to meet people, be prepared to contribute something to the conversation. Establish some credibility by getting involved in a project or giving a presentation. “One of the best ways that you can network is to have your voice heard on stage,” says Rybicki. “If you have something intelligent to say, people will respect you and you’ll have an automatic introduction.”
Getting involved in the ACR can also help expand your network. “This year I became part of the executive committee of the RFS. Once I got more involved, I found that people were very open to collaborating and working together on projects,” says Margolis. “I also participated in Capitol Hill Day at AMCLC last year. It’s a great way to not only contribute but also to make connections. I met some great people from my state who I didn’t know before. Coming together as a team really forged a bond between us.”
Maintain your network. You’ve exchanged business cards or followed each other on Twitter or sworn to keep in touch after one of you moved on from a shared employer. Now what?
“Ongoing communication and arranging to see people at future events can be very solidifying. I see a lot of my academic colleagues when I am at AMCLC. I catch up with them and reconnect,” says Jacqueline A. Bello, MD, FACR, director of neuroradiology at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Repeat contact is the best way. In today’s world of social media, it’s even easier to email or tweet someone.”
Looking back on his career so far, Rosenthal can point to connections he’s maintained for decades, including Bruce G. Haffty, MD, FACR, the current president of ASTRO. “He was a good guy, and I still remember the kind things he did for me when we were medical students back in the 80s. We stayed in touch over the years. It’s helpful to have the relationship now that he is in the ASTRO leadership and I am in the ACR leadership,” says Rosenthal. Do you think that person you spoke to once and then added online is going to be an important part of your network in 30 years? Probably not if you stop there.
By Lyndsee Cordes