Dr. H. Ric Harnsberger Interviewed by Dr. Kalen Riley

Dr. H. Ric Harnsberger, an ASHNR Past President and Gold Medal Recipient, has long been an influential figure in the lives and careers of countless radiologists not only at the University of Utah but also across the globe.  I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Harnsberger and get his advice on some important topics pertaining to all early career faculty.

What are some of the most common mistakes junior faculty make?

The first thing that comes to mind is not paying enough attention to their individual academic careers and saying “yes” to too many things.  It will be very tempting to get involved in many projects early on and many of these will inevitably fail.  “Too many planes in the air with not enough gas.”  If you are not careful, you risk becoming overwhelmed by a mountain of tasks and burning out, a scenario which has resulted in many people leaving institutions or just quitting entirely.  Resist the urge to take on too much!  Along similar lines, early career faculty often agree to take on administrative roles in which they are not particularly interested and wind up spending time on these tasks that would have been better spent working on papers or talks.  Keep in mind it is ok to accept an administrative role if you are truly interested in it!

Also, avoid getting involved in politics, particularly early in your career!  You will likely encounter individuals who try and rope you in but don’t take the bait!  It will inevitably be a no-win situation for you, focus your time and energy on endeavors that will actually help your career.

Finally, not finding good mentors from whom they can model their own careers.  Having a mentor that is regularly writing and publishing will be key to learning how it is done and building your own successful academic career.

Based on your years of experience as a division chief, what advice would you give somebody in their first leadership role managing other people?

First and foremost, in order to effectively run a department, section, or any organization, you need to find effective and trustworthy people all around you and delegate tasks!  Once you have assigned these tasks, let them do it on their own until they have completed it.

In terms of managing potential conflicts within the group, at the start of your tenure in the leadership role it is important to clearly establish expectations and make it clear that you are building a group that prioritizes collegiality and working together and actively discourages conflict and egos.  Conflict almost always boils down to politics and strong personalities, and unless you are doing your best to discourage this environment factions can inevitably form within a group.  Doing your best to not get involved with factions and playing the part of peacemaker is the best thing you can do. 

Finally, you must be prepared to handle disruptive individuals within your organization.  When faced with these situations, you need to sit down with all parties involved and hear all points of view.  It is best to do this behind closed doors, if people believe what they say will be kept private they will be much more likely to not only tell you the truth but be willing to listen and consider your thoughts.  In the end, you must be willing to let go of persistently disruptive individuals.

What is your best advice for giving effective presentations/talks?

Don’t feel like you have to re-invent the wheel and then look to your mentors.  Seeing what a seasoned speaker has done many times in the past is the best starting point for developing your own presentations.  Mentors are often happy to share old slide decks with their mentees and you can use that as a model on which to build your talk and make it your own.  It takes many hours to make a new talk totally from scratch, and a seasoned academic radiologist will likely want to have at least several dozen talks prepared on various topics.  If you were to start every single one of those completely from ground zero, you would wind up using almost all of your academic time working on talks rather than working on papers or other projects.