Felix Proessl, SHRS Alumnus and New Pitt Athletics Director of Sports Science
For students interested in graduate studies in sports science at Pitt, Proessl is in a perfect position to remark on the strengths of the program as well as to make the distinction between the master’s and PhD programs. The Master’s in Sports Science (MSSS) program was just being developed as he worked on his PhD. Proessl watched it grow into the European model he had envisioned for himself as a master’s student years before. Now “It’s a one-of-a-kind program,” he says. “Pitt SHRS is in a very unique position. It’s one of the few schools with a master’s degree in Sports Science. The MS has a one-year internship with a team or lab of interest, which is very special in the U.S., it’s something I never had a chance to get. I had to create my own program. It’s the same model as in Europe. If you want to be a sports scientist, the practical experience can’t be underestimated.”
A student in the Sports Science MS program testing equipment with Pitt athletes
Pitt Athletics is an integral partner with the Sports Sciences’ internship program. While each year’s options vary, they place students on different Pitt Athletic teams ranging from football to women’s lacrosse. The students are immersed in the functional performance of the team for the entire year, working with advanced technology tools such as Hawkin Dynamics force plates and Catapult performance tracking devices. Because the internships occur simultaneously throughout the graduate program, the students have the benefit of learning from each other’s experiences and knowing that the faculty are able to accommodate their schedules for practices or traveling with their team.
Proessl and Aaron Duvall demonstrating Pitt Athletics sports science equipment
Aaron Duvall, associate head strength and conditioning coach, works side-by-side with Proessl and their graduate student interns. He echoes that the Master’s in Sports Science is one of the top programs in the nation and that the internship offers students a special opportunity to apply current research to a team during the course of their studies. Additionally, Duvall points out that Pitt is one of the only universities where the athletic department and research programs work in tandem together. Pitt Athletics can directly apply the university’s cutting-edge research to their training, and they in turn can provide direct feedback to the researchers and graduate students.
The strength of this connection will be reinforced this fall semester as Proessl and Duvall teach the SHRS Applied Sports Science class to graduate students. The credo of “Panther Nation: Hail As One” rings true as they collaborate to further the scientific advancement of human performance together.
Proessl makes an important distinction that the difference between the master’s program and the PhD program is the “applied” aspect. “The day-to-day responsibilities of most students in the master’s program are different from the lab. The world of athletics makes decisions quickly every day. The coaches always need feedback ASAP. For example, when the team is done with training, the next thought is, ‘How did we do and how does this influence what we need to do tomorrow?’ Coaches don’t have months to wait for feedback because by then their season’s over.” In this regard, the Sports Science students are learning firsthand during their internship about using what they are learning and applying it to the teams as soon as possible.
A participant in Proessl's PhD research performing mental imagery while wearing the electroencephalography cap and the cast. During mental imagery, participants watched multiple contractions of themselves which were recorded before they started wearing the cast. Proessl found that in 2 out of 3 participants, mental imagery was able to prevent the reduction in brain function that otherwise occurred when wearing the cast. Because of these findings, future work may look more into the possible benefits of mental imagery, particularly when movement is not possible.
Advanced Research in the PhD in Rehabilitation Science
In addition to the master’s program, Pitt’s world class technology and leading researchers attract doctoral students who want to expand the horizons of sports science. Proessl explains that the PhD program is “a lot more lab involvement than the master’s degree. There is more work applying for grant funding, publishing and presenting at international conferences. The master’s program has different expectations, with more freedom to pursue interests and practicum.”
While any doctoral program is a tremendous amount of work, he found that Pitt’s PhD program in Rehabilitation Science was set up to be very flexible so that students can personalize their educational experience. With Flanagan’s guidance, he was exposed to different analysis techniques that he was not familiar with before coming to Pitt. Proessl recalls that Flanagan would “point me in the right direction and suggest, ‘Hey why don’t you look up this and this technique?’” It was the kind of mentorship that exposed him to new ideas that “sparked so many thoughts on how I could best apply what I was learning.”
The University of Pittsburgh and the city itself provide incredible work opportunities for students and graduates of the Master’s in Sports Science and PhD in Rehabilitation Science programs. Proessl credits the local presence of professional football, hockey and baseball teams as well as Pitt’s Division 1 teams as a big part of the draw for current and prospective students. “Where else as a master's or PhD student do you get exposure to all these organizations? The Pittsburgh Steelers and Pitt football training facilities are right next door to the Neuromuscular Research Laboratory (NMRL). There are not a lot of places where you have a better setup to collaborate with so many teams.”
Learn more about the SHRS Master in Sports Science and PhD in Rehabilitation Science programs by visiting our page or reaching out to our Enrollment Specialists today at email@example.com!
Published October 13, 2022