Last Updated on August 3, 2023
Interview with Professor Emily Must
In this episode of Sports Degrees & Career talk, we chat with Dr. Emily Must, Assistant Professor of Sport Management and Director of Internships at UMass-Amherst. The conversation touches on subjects ranging from the importance of quality internships, the value of alumni networks, why Massachusetts is an intriguing place to launch a career in the sports industry, and much more.
About Professor Emily Must
Dr. Emily Must is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Internships in the Sport Management Program at UMass - Amherst. Dr. Must earned her PhD in Sport Administration from the University of Northern Colorado.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: Welcome to today’s episode of Sports Degrees and Career talk brought to you by Sports Degrees online. Coming up, we’ve got a conversation with Dr. Emily Must from, UMass, Amherst. She’s the Director of Internships and the Senior Lecturer of Sport Management. Hope you guys enjoy the show. We’re speaking today with Dr. Emily Musk, professor of sport management at UMass, Amherst. Welcome to Sports Degrees and Careers talk. Emily, we’re very happy to have you on the show today.
Dr. Emily Must: I’m very happy to be here, Bryan.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: Emily, I’d like to start by going back in the past a little bit to hear the history of how you find your way to a career in the world of sport management academia.
Dr. Emily Must: [I first] I went to school for exercise science and Kinesiology, which is an adjacent career path [to sport management]. I knew I loved teaching people about health and wellness, and so I got my degree there at Barry University, and I started out in a master’s degree as well, even in biomechanics, and was kind of on the science side of things and just realized that it wasn’t a good fit for me.
Looking back, I can see why it wasn’t a good fit for me. The jobs themselves just didn’t align with what I like to do every day, which is more relational and seeing people versus kind of crunching numbers and doing data analysis. And so I think I was trying so hard to be smart, and I’m air quoting that here. And I thought the only way to do that was to get a job like that in biomechanics or using more of the analytical side of my brain. I realized that that wasn’t what I was interested in.
[At the time], I was staying at Barry and working in residential life, and I loved it. I was an RA, a resident assistant, and then I moved up to be a director of one of the residential areas while I was in grad school there. I absolutely loved the interaction and being on a college campus, although I didn’t really pick that piece up at the time.
So I switched over to I got my degree in sport management, and to the business side with an MBA. And that’s where I really found that this was more the side that called to me. I worked in events for a while after graduation, mostly corporate networking events, and I got to do a little bit of everything. While I wasn’t in sport, I was in the live-event industry, and I was working a lot of hours and traveling a lot, which was fun.
But then I realized something was just missing, and I thought about who had a great life, and that was Dr. Rosenberg, my sport sociology professor at Barry – [he’s a] mentor, advisor, just all around great person. And so I thought, let me check in with him, and he said, “Well, I was waiting for this. I knew it was only a matter of time before you came back around.” So decided to pursue a PhD and started teaching courses at Metro State out in Denver and just fell in love with teaching and being in the classroom.
[To make a] long story short, I met Professor Steve Mckelvey at a Sport Management Association conference when I was still out there in school, [I was actually] presenting on a fun finance simulation I ran in my sport finance class at Metro State. [Professor McKelvey] thought it was really neat and said, ‘hey, we’re going to have an opening for a lecturer role. Why don’t you apply?’ And I did, and here we are.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: Awesome. It very much is who you know, isn’t it?
Dr. Emily Must: Yes. Oh, most definitely. And who knows, you, I should say, too.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: That’s right. Actually, I think it was Professor McKelvey who told me that the first time I heard it.
Dr. Emily Must: Yes, you’ll hear that 100 times here at UMass.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: Professor, I understand that in addition to being a senior lecturer, you’re also the Director of internships at UMass Amherst. Everybody knows that internships are a key part of any sport management education, but can you talk about what sets a great internship apart from an average internship?
Dr. Emily Must: Two things, I think. One, sometimes you see internship programs, and so when you see a program versus a standalone internship, part of that is signaling that there’s some outside education or development in addition to your daily responsibilities.
And so sometimes as an intern, you’re doing, obviously, intern level responsibilities, but part of what you should get in return is some mentorship and some guidance. And this happens at large companies and small companies alike. It’s just those that have figured it out, if you will, that sometimes saying, okay, once a week, we’ll get all the interns together, and we’ll do a professional development topic, or we’ll bring in somebody from the senior leadership team to have lunch with them. Or even better, we’ll let them work on a special project in the background during the entire time. And at the end, we’ll let them present it, and we’ll give them real feedback on their work.
If there [are] additional opportunities to develop and grow and be mentored on top of your everyday responsibilities, that definitely makes it stand out that’s from the organization side, it’s also on the intern to ensure that they have a good experience as well.
And so being proactive and understanding things that you can add to the role, if you don’t know or you don’t ask, it may not happen. And so I find that a lot of organizations, especially smaller ones, are open to interns ideas and suggestions. They’re just things that the organization hasn’t thought of or they’re being mindful of, not to put too many things on the intern. And so the intern also has to bring a little bit of proactiveness to their role as well, to make it a good experience.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: Dr. Must, you mentioned important things to keep in mind, like being proactive as you approach the internship, and also the idea that maybe internships will give feedback. But what is the best way for interns to provide feedback for the organization they are working for, if there are things that come to mind. How should they approach that?
Dr. Emily Must: Oh, if the intern has feedback, I think the sooner the better, if it’s done tactfully and so this is a matter of context and kind of knowing your organization, but I think it should always be from a positive standpoint.
Sometimes we see the negative, and then we express it that way, and it doesn’t resonate with the receiver, right? They say, ‘oh, well, you’re an intern, and you’re telling me, who’s been working in the industry for 20 years, what I’m doing wrong and why it’s wrong?’ But you didn’t know, perhaps, that we already looked at that solution, and it didn’t work for these reasons.
And so coming at it from a curiosity standpoint, so instead of saying, ‘Bryan, I think the way you do scheduling is the worst, here’s how I would do it.’ You would say, ‘Bryan, can you teach me more about the scheduling process? I’d like to understand how you figured this out.’ And now you can get their motivations and their drivers and really see the difference in how they work.
And that’s what you’re learning to do as an intern. You’re learning how to work. You’re learning about processes and systems. And so I think that that’s a really valuable way to go about it and them explaining it. They might even find their own error, if you will, or you can have an opportunity to say, hey, what about this or what about that? And so it’s just really teaching you those positive communication strategies.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: On the same note, what if students are finding themselves in an internship and they’re just not getting any feedback? Is there any way that they should approach that problem without being too intrusive or causing any waves?
Dr. Emily Must: I think just being honest and open and saying that you want to be coached. And that’s the great thing about sport. We can always rely on some of our metaphors here to say, I’m an intern, and I really want to learn as much as I can while I’m here. And I also want to contribute positively. So I’ve noticed I’ve been finishing my work a little early. I would like to work on these types of tasks, or is there anything else I can help you with?
Those types of things usually get a positive response because interns sometimes forget that this role for them, they’re coming in maybe for three months at a time. And every three months, this organization is recruiting and kind of slowly training someone new who then is leaving.
Every intern they have is different, and maybe the last intern, that was enough work for them. And so just being proactive and saying, ‘hey, I’d like a little bit more work’, or ‘I’d like some feedback on what I’ve been doing so far because I want to improve or I want to make sure that my work is efficient, so that if I’m giving you an excel sheet, I don’t want you spending time then reformatting it. So give me some feedback on my tangible work.’ That [approach] usually leads to the more difficult questions of maybe attitude or your communication strategies.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: That’s great advice. So, switching gears a little bit – Dr. Must, your program at UMass is very well established, and I saw you actually celebrated the 50th anniversary last year, is that right?
Dr. Emily Must: Yes, we did. It was so much fun this summer.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: So with that kind of history, the program obviously has a significant number of alumni, probably at every level imaginable throughout the sports industry. How much weight should students place on the depth and breadth of a school’s alumni network when they’re comparing programs? Namely, should it be a top consideration, or is it just a bonus if a school has a well established alumni network?
Dr. Emily Must: This is a loaded question. I think it’s one of the most important things if students have access to it. And so a lot of programs do have established alumni networks. This major is getting older, and there’s more and more programs every year. [A school’s/program’s alumni network] should be a top consideration of where you’re going, because as we mentioned at the beginning of this conversation, it’s about who you know and who knows you.
And so the more established an alumni network is, the better chance you have of kind of ‘finding your people’ – [meaning] people who work in the niche part of the industry that you might be interested in. Alums are usually really willing to pick up the phone and give some advice to basically their younger selves, so [it’s incredibly important to have some kind of common ground]. It’s so fun when alums come back, or I connect them with a student and they chat about Antonio’s pizza in the area, the dining halls, [or something like that]. And so they have this great kind of warm icebreaker that then allows them to get really good mentorship. That can be more difficult if you’re on your own kind of looking through LinkedIn [hoping to find a good connection].
And I think in the sport industry, we’re pretty friendly. And if you do reach out coldly on LinkedIn with a good message that a lot of people, if they have the time, will respond. But without that extra connection, sometimes it’s difficult to kind of sustain those relationships. So you’ll have an informational interview and then it just kind of fizzles out after that. So I think that access to an alumni network is one of the top considerations for sport and for a lot of different majors, but definitely in the sport industry.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: Okay, now another thing that sets UMass apart from other programs is your robust menu of graduate and upper level courses offering a Master’s in Sport Management as well as a dual degree, which is the Master’s in Sport Management combined with an MBA.
Dr. Emily Must: Yes.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: Does an advanced degree always dramatically increase someone’s earning potential in the sports industry?
Dr. Emily Must: I wouldn’t say so. And there are a couple of reasons why.
I let our younger graduate students, particularly I really help them hone in on this concept, is that right away so if you don’t have any experience outside of internships, so you’re going from undergrad to grad school. A lot of the jobs that you’ll be ready for or meet the requirements of, they don’t require an advanced degree, but they may require two or three years of experience.
And if you don’t have that two or three years of experience, most of the jobs, if they don’t require the degree, they don’t really care about that degree. And so you’re going to get beat out by those people with two or three or five plus years of experience. And sometimes it can be, especially when you’re younger, they think, well, if you also apply to a more entry level role and you have this grad degree, are you going to be looking to leave very quickly because we didn’t require it, and maybe, perhaps we’re not paying you for the fact that you have a grad degree.
And that can be really frustrating. It happened to me, [in fact]. I went straight through to grad school as well, which leads me to my second point, is that it was free. I worked in residential life and got free grad school. So if you have the opportunity for free higher education – and our grad program is mostly fully funded, most of our students are here working fellowships, graduate assistantships that pay their tuition – so that’s a key piece of looking for grad school.
If you’re paying out of pocket, you may want to wait. You may want to wait a few years to see if you actually need it. And then at that point, if you think you do, who knows? Your employer might be ready, willing and able to pay for it.
And you might decide, if you’ve been working in the sport industry, that you don’t want a sport management grad degree. You want something else to complement what you already know in sport if you’re a career switcher. So some of our grad students have some experience, but in another industry, they’re coming back honestly to get their sport management education. And regardless of earnings, it’s what opens the door for them to get into the industry. We know our industry is kind of notoriously low pay, especially at the start, but you do your three to five years and then all of a sudden the pace starts to catch up. And if you need a master’s degree, you kind of know at that point.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: Great advice. Switching gears again, part of our goal at Sports Degrees Online is to highlight and promote areas of growth within the sports industry where we expect some of the best opportunities to exist, not only now, but in the near future. Can you take a moment to name some career areas that come to mind when talking about projected growth in the industry?
Dr. Emily Must: I think one area that’s almost always overlooked is youth and participatory sports. They’re the larger side of our industry. We think about professional spectator sports because of the glitz and the glamour and the high dollar deals we see. But the driver of the industry is really grassroots and at the youth level and participation.
So we see complexes for high level youth sport, high level youth sport events and teams going on. And so that’s one area that we see, but also just that idea of individual sport. And so we see adult rec leagues, we also see other sports becoming popular now. So CrossFit, I love that evolution of something that started as basically a gym and an exercise protocol evolving into a real competitive professional sport with sponsors and equal pay for men and women, while I’m at it.
And so you start to see now with streaming and all of the ways we can get content. A second area are the non four or five professional sports really expanding? We’re working right now with the ultimate disc league on a class project, so seeing new sports really gain professional footing, pickleball cornhole, different types of football that we’re seeing. All of these are new places to work and just like the minor leagues gives you so much experience early on in your career because you have to wear a lot of hats.
So does working at any of these kind of startup sport leagues or seen international sports coming to the US, such as major league cricket getting started up. So to me it’s an exciting time for the variety of sport happening.
And then the third place I think is the ancillary or service providers to sport. So working in sport technology at a company like Catapult that’s collecting all the wearable data on our athletes and reframing that for use in the locker rooms and in the playbooks. And so we even see investment banking and new sport tech applications that also include, yes, the world of gambling. But I think that that sport tech place is another or third or third area as well of things that we don’t think about as often.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: Now, going back to the first couple of points you made about youth and participatory sports, CrossFit, things like this. Are these areas where people can carve out real careers and make a living? Do you think there is potential in these areas?
Dr. Emily Must: Oh, most definitely. And a lot of smaller or niche agency work is around these sports where we’ll take on clients like that and make them profitable. Right, so you’re getting sponsors, you’re the one almost professionalizing, these sports, if you will. And now we have a whole nother group of investors, especially in professional athletes.
And so if you look at who’s investing in a lot of these leagues, it’s professional athletes that have the money to do so and want to see a change in sport because they’ve been a part of it, they’re part of the product. And so we see Athletes Unlimited and organizations like that getting some real funding and some traction behind them. And so it also can be the stepping stone to a professional career.
So just like you work in minor league baseball, you may get called up to the majors just like an athlete does. Okay, I did these five things in minor league, and now I found the one thing I really excel at, and I’m going to do that at the major league level. And so what it does is it widens the entry point for sport.
I had a chat today with somebody at a professional sport organization. He told me about an entry level corporate partnerships role, and by the time I emailed him back about an hour later, he had 130 applicants already because of that name value.
Now you could go to a corporate partnership role at the professional lacrosse, which is a great organization that’s got some funding and some real traction now and go where corporate partnerships there and maybe even get some equity in the company as you negotiate your starting salary. And so it can be a little more interesting on that side. For that reason, you’re going to learn more things because you have to do more things. And some people find that really exciting, awesome.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: Those are some great ideas, and I haven’t heard people mention those as possibilities. So that’s great. And I’m imagining for recent college grads looking at what your daily office looks like or your work environment is probably much better than your average insurance company, I would say. Good to keep in mind.
Finally, Dr. Musk, I want to ask you, you mentioned earlier about how you’ve spent time kind of all around the country, south Florida, Colorado. Obviously you found your way to Massachusetts now, so I want to get your opinion on why do you think Massachusetts, compared with other places you’ve seen, might be a good place to pursue a sport related education and also launch a career in the sports industry. What are some of the selling points that you’d say Massachusetts has going for it?
Dr. Emily Must: Well, I will say this, the fan base here is very interesting. I’m not from here, so I’m an outsider looking in. They have a reputation of excellence in sport. They’ve got a lot of legacy teams here. They’ve got some great organizations, too, that I wasn’t as familiar with until I moved out here.
Some of these older and as I go back to participation based sports and community recreation they have a lot of that here that’s just been long standing, that again, and even volunteer organizations that gives people that first opportunity of what’s it like managing a sport event. And I hadn’t really heard of the collegiate summer baseball leagues as much until I moved out here.
And just seeing the Cape Cod League, not only do I see my students getting great experience out at the ballpark in the summer, but that’s where you’re also seeing the next level of talent. So you do see so many players come out of the New England Collegiate Baseball League and the Cape Cod League and make it into the pros. But I argue that you also see a lot of the interns in these leagues make it into the pros as well.
And so there’s a lot of opportunity there, particularly on our campus, too. And this is something for any student. Weighing is the type of athletic department on campus. And so we have the good fortune of being a Division One FBS school while simultaneously having a really small budget within that Division one of the smallest, which isn’t always great for our athletics, but what it is great for is our students.
There’s so many opportunities right here on campus for them to work with UMass athletics, and we have an excellent relationship. And so that’s another thing for students to consider. In addition to alumni and where the program is housed within the college is also what’s the role with athletics there, will I have some opportunities to get some work done right on campus. And so that’s another reason I think that Mass is a great place to launch a career.
We also have Boston, which has a lot of interesting companies, apparel companies like the 47 brand and New Balance and sport tech companies like Whoop in the sport innovation lab mixed in with our Storied franchises and then really excellent agencies like Fenway Sport Management which have really kind of paved the way for what multi property agency can look like.
And so we’re also a pretty short train ride away from New York City and Hartford, CT, and Springfield, which also have great minor league systems and structures. But I would argue that if you look hard enough, most of our major cities have these setups of not just the major leagues, but do your research and find the minor league teams, find that Arena Football League team and go there and intern and learn everything you can. And I think that, like I said, if you look, they’re there in most major cities.
Sports Degrees & Career Talk: Great advice. Again, Dr. Must, thank you for your time. I appreciate all the insights, and I’m sure our audience will, too.
Dr. Emily Must: No problem. Thanks for having me, Bryan.