Building Global Networks For Research

Sotiris Nedios, MD, FACC

Networking for success

We are entering a new era of research where collaboration and networking are going to be essential skills for effective research. In fact, no matter where you are in your career, who you know, in addition to what you do, are very important for your future success.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted normal life and research, but people came together and developed vaccines in record time! Collaboration was the key to this success.

Research is not done alone

As the number of studies increases again, it will become increasingly difficult to find enough participants and funding. We have seen several trials in recent years that have suffered from slow recruitment, enrollment or retention despite their significance. For example, CASTLE-AF (n=398) and CABANA (n=2204) are two important clinical trials in electrophysiology that took almost 10 years to complete and would not be possible without the cooperation of several leading centers throughout the globe. That's why you have to think about global networking early on in your career.

Research is rarely done alone. Instead, most people lean on others. Thus, building good relationships creates a network of contacts who will provide you support, feedback, insight, resources and information to get things done.

You can't know everyone

You do not need to know everyone. In fact, you can't! According to Dunbar's theory in evolutionary psychology you probably know up to 1,500 people you can name, 500 that you know slightly better and 150 that are casual friends. Think about Dunbar's number (150) as the people you can interact with in a meaningful way and who could be in your strategic network. The additional advantage though is the referral potential that helps you reach someone in as few as six degrees of separation.

Some think that networking is mostly a waste of time, requires a natural talent, is inherently self-serving or only lies within our inner circle of strong ties. However, these are common misconceptions.

How to build a network

Networking is not easy; it requires work. You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone to meet that person in a room who will be valuable to you. First, you have to read the room: look for the connected extroverts (hubs), the key figures to specific parts (gatekeepers) and the overt influencers who know what's really happening (pulse takers). Then you have to approach them with curiosity, a readiness to help and an offer to connect. Prepare a pitch: Who are you? What do you do? Why are you here? Why should the person care?

Give a warm smile, tilt your head towards them and offer your hand. Make eye contact or look straight into the camera during your video call. Move your voice up and down and repeat your name to help them remember it. Try different approaches to find your common interests. When you don't find something, make a warm transition. Present yourself in a way that respects their time and plant a seed to remember. Meet as many people as possible. Practice, practice, practice! Every opportunity is a chance for improvement. This is a skill or mindset you can develop. Maybe the person sitting next to you on the airplane will become a supporter or funder of your research!

A good network is strategically built and helps save time. Relationships that form spontaneously bind us to like-minded people, but it is the intentional effort that builds useful, diverse and deep connections. Networking means finding the value you can offer to others as much as they can offer to you and is based on a real human need. Although we usually think of this for our closest ties, we tend to underestimate our "weak ties." Lots of research shows that innovation and insight flow through these weaker ties that allow us to reach out to people we currently don't know through the people we do know. Eventually the new connections allow our network to evolve with our interests and our strategic focus.

Research is increasingly interdisciplinary, and funding is diverted more and more to consortia and collaborators. Therefore, networking is one of the most important resources for successful research and active, intentional participation in relevant organizations or meetings is necessary to set the ground for it. Now is the time to reach out beyond borders!

Sotiris Nedios, MD, FACC

This article was authored by Sotiris Nedios, MD, FACC Assistant Professor, Heart Center, University of Leipzig, Germany.

ACC Members, discuss
this on Member Hub.