Interview with Dr. Patrick Wilson
John Cody of SportsDegreesOnline.org interviewed Dr. Patrick Wilson of Old Dominion University. They touch upon Dr. Wilson’s experience, some trends in the field, and how the research around exercise science is constantly evolving.
About Dr. Patrick Wilson
Dr. Patrick Wilson is an associate professor and graduate program director for the MS in Exercise Science Program at Old Dominion University. He also directs the Human Performance Laboratory. Dr. Wilson earned a PhD in exercise physiology from the University of Minnesota and completed post-doctoral training in sports nutrition at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Dr. Wilson has authored over 50 scientific articles that span the disciplines of exercise science, sports nutrition, and health. Dr. Wilson is also a credentialed registered dietitian through the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
John: Tell us a bit about your journey into Exercise Science and Nutrition – were you an athlete growing up? When did you decide that you wanted to get into these fields of study?
Dr. Wilson: I played basketball and ran cross country and track in high school. I didn’t compete in college, but I still did all those activities recreationally. My personal experiences in sport definitely pushed me into the fields of exercise science and sport nutrition. Many athletes (even mediocre ones like me) have a natural curiosity about how their bodies work, and pursuing those areas of study was a way for me to better understand how my body worked and could be improved.
Many athletes, even mediocre ones like me, have a natural curiosity about how their bodies work, and pursuing those areas of study was a way for me to better understand how my body worked and could be improved.
John: You have professional experience that includes working in the Mayo Clinic in the realm of community nutrition. Can you talk a bit about why you are passionate about your profession?
Dr. Wilson: I interned at the Mayo Clinic for about a year, which was needed to obtain my Registered Dietitian credential. Although I don’t really work as a practicing dietitian anymore, that experience definitely broadened my horizons and gave me good perspective on the many sub-areas of nutrition and dietetics. Seeing firsthand that nutrition can actually influence a patient’s outcome in the ICU, for example, really inspired me to learn as much as I could about the field.
John: Some people out there might not understand exactly the scope of Exercise Science, and the kinds of doors that a degree in exercise science can open in the professional world. Can you talk about some of the things that recent graduates of Old Dominion’s Master’s program are doing now?
(If you are interested in studying exercise science at the Bachelor’s level, check out our guide here)
Dr. Wilson: There are many different paths that our graduates take. These include strength and conditioning, performance coaching, wellness programming, cardiac rehabilitation, and clinical exercise physiology. Some programs are very focused on one specific area of exercise science, but ours offers of generalist approach. A subset of our graduates also continue their education and pursue a doctorate in physical therapy or a PhD geared towards research and/teaching at the university level.
John: Research and innovation are constantly reshaping the field of Exercise Science and Nutrition. Can you tell us about some recent research or areas of interest that are changing the field? Especially findings that the average person could take into account when adjusting their own diet or exercise routines.
Dr. Wilson: Oh man, where to begin! There are many areas within exercise science and nutrition research that are constantly evolving and growing. One area that comes to mind is how a person’s genes influence their responses to training and nutrition interventions. Recent studies, for example, suggest that only some people respond positively to caffeine supplementation before exercise. This type of research has the potential to impact the choices that athletes make before competition. There are several companies that now offer this type of genetic testing. We still have a lot to learn in this area, though, and that’s the beauty of how the field is constantly changing.
John: Why do you feel that a profession with a foundation in exercise science could be an excellent choice for young people out there who were athletes themselves or who are passionate about sports?
Dr. Wilson: Acquiring knowledge about how the body functions during exercise and how it adapts to training can be incredibly helpful for an athlete. Many athletes, even some professional ones, have a poor understanding of these concepts, and in some cases that hinders their ability to get the most out of their training. Furthermore, the curriculum in exercise science programs is a good starting point for branching out into other careers. At the undergraduate level, many of our graduates go on to PT school, OT school, PA school, etc.
John: What are some important things that prospective students should look for when comparing Exercise Science master’s programs?
Dr. Wilson: Some key things to consider are cost, total credits required, laboratory space/resources, the expertise/knowledge of the faculty, and the curriculum of the program. Each student has different priorities, so it’s hard to rank the relative importance of each of these factors. Nonetheless, evaluating these factors is a good place to start.
(Check out our Exercise Science Master’s Guide and School Listings for more info)
John: What factors set Old Dominion’s Exercise Science and Nutrition program apart from your average program?
Dr. Wilson: There are several strengths to our program. First, we have faculty that are well-recognized in the field for their expertise and research contributions. Second, because our program is 30 credits, it can be finished in as little as 1 year, though most students decide to complete the degree over 1.5 years. Financially speaking, this is a benefit because students 1) may pay less total tuition as compared to programs that require more credit hours and 2) students are able to enter the workforce more quickly. Third, we have really great laboratory resources, with several different spaces devoted to exercise physiology, biomechanics, and cardiometabolic testing. Lastly, our program is well-rounded. As mentioned before, our graduates have obtained jobs in many different areas of exercise science and wellness.
John: Is there anything you wish you had known before you started pursuing your post-bachelor’s degrees?
Dr. Wilson: Not necessarily. I didn’t plan on obtaining a PhD when I started my master’s degree, but I found out that I enjoyed research and I was encouraged by faculty to pursue my PhD. For students today, I would say that it’s important to do your best to get the most out of whatever program you enroll in. Get to know your faculty, volunteer to help out, and go above and beyond the minimum requirements.
For students today, I would say that it’s important to do your best to get the most out of whatever program you enroll in. Get to know your faculty, volunteer to help out, and go above and beyond the minimum requirements.
John: As the world begins to emerge from COVID in 2021, what are some of the opportunities that Exercise Science graduates should be prepared for? How about in the field of nutrition?
Dr. Wilson: Obviously, training and coaching people virtually is starting to become more prevalent. Getting comfortable with that mode of delivery and those types of interactions will be important for some students.
(Check out our Careers Guide for more info about how to start your career in sports as well as updated information related to Covid-19)