Jack Raglin, PhD, FACSM
Professor, Department of Kinesiology, Indiana University-Bloomington
My career as a college student began in 1975 at the University of Nebraska. I was looking forward to college and was curious about many academic topics, but devoted to none. My initial plan was to major in biology with a vague goal of working in a medical field, but I found myself unmotivated by the likelihood my career path would inevitably be preoccupied with some aspect of illness. So I ended up switching my major to psychology as a junior, with minors in life sciences and art. It was evident that I would need to go on to graduate school but it became increasingly clear the major career options would involve treating illness, and whether it was physical or psychological, that it did not appeal to me so I started to look for alternative paths.
Why did you choose your professional career?
By unplanned but fortuitous circumstances, my undergraduate education in psychology with a minor in life science left me well prepared for graduate study in sport psychology. Although this coursework was enjoyable and intellectually stimulating, I had no interest in pursuing a career in counseling or social work, and was unsure of what direction to take if I went on for graduate school. By chance, I learned about Dr Jim Crabbe, a faculty member in physical education who was doing psychological research on athletes. This piqued my curiosity because I had a personal interest in sport and physical fitness but even more so because I had no inkling that the academic field of sport psychology existed. I contacted Dr Crabbe who was very encouraging and graciously allowed me to assist him on several research projects. He also provided me information about graduate programs in sport psychology and advised me to take courses in exercise physiology and anatomy, which would likely be prerequisites. After graduating, I began graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the preeminent sport psychologist Dr William P. Morgan. In retrospect, I could not have chosen a better department or mentor, but the main reason for applying was that Dr Fran Nagle, an exercise physiologist in the department, strongly recommended the program to my father, who had long known Dr Nagle from his days as the All-American quarterback at the University of Nebraska.
Why it is important for exercise science students to have an understanding of the principles of exercise and sport psychology?
My graduate education provided me the opportunity to be involved in research projects that used psychological measures in concert with physiological variables to examine sport and exercise questions that traditionally had been studied solely from a physiological perspective. One example that comes to mind is the problem of overtraining in athletes. My advisor, Dr. Morgan was strongly convinced that a comprehensive understanding of complex phenomena in sport would only result from utilizing a research framework in which both mind and body were regarded as contributing and interacting factors. While this integrative perspective was then uncommon, in recent years it has become widely accepted by sport scientists. Important topics such as the development of fatigue or the control of pacing in athletic events are now routinely examined using psychobiological modeling. So I am strongly convinced that having some academic exposure to exercise and sport psychology is not merely useful but actually necessary for anyone working in the field, whether a practitioner or research scientist.
What advice would you have for an undergraduate student beginning to explore a career in exercise science?
It can be reduced to a single word. Explore! The more students and faculty you meet, the greater the number of academic settings you experience and the more eclectic your courses, the wider your vista will become. My own career path in sport psychology began after a serendipitous meeting with a professor from a school and department completely removed from my major. Learning about different fields and research topics will not only help you make more informed decisions about your career path but will make you more adaptable in whatever field of research or work setting you choose. The pace of science insures that during your career you will witness the creation of entirely new fields of research. The more transdisciplinary your training and more adaptable your own perspective, the more easily you will be able to negotiate the ever-changing tides of research.