Our featured alumnus is Anthony (Tony) Mayo, who graduated in 2015 with his Ph.D. in Kinesiology. We asked him to share his student experiences, bring us up-to-date on his activities since graduating, and offer a little advice…
Could you describe your current position in detail? What do you like best about it?
Currently, I am lecturer at San Francisco State University. In this role, I am a kinesiology generalist. Over the years, I have taught Motor Learning, Motor Development, Research Methods, Becoming a Kinesiologist (an intensive writing course where students explored career opportunities and research questions of interest), Internship in Fitness and Wellness, and Senior Research Seminar and Project. I basically teach where there is a need. In addition to teaching, I work with undergraduate teaching and research assistants and advise the Kinesiology Student Association.
As a lecturer, I don’t have official student advising responsibilities, but it is what I enjoy the most. For the past five years, I have had the opportunity to mentor students, many of whom served as either TAs or RAs (and sometimes both). Many of my students are first generation college students who needed guidance to help them navigate the university system, figure out prerequisites for graduate school, and determine the experiences needed to get into a program. This year, seven of my eight students who applied to schools of allied health (e.g.,nursing, occupational therapy, and physical therapy) will be attending programs next school year. I couldn’t be more proud!
How do you think your experience at the U of M has helped you in your career and personal goals?
My adviser, Dr. Tom Stoffregen, knew that I appreciated the various sub-disciplines within kinesiology and encouraged me to take classes outside of the typical motor behavior curriculum. As a result, I took classes in the area of psychology of physical activity with Dr. Maureen Weiss and Dr. Diane Wiese-Bjornstal, where I was able to explore my interest in early specialization in sport, and I was able to conduct research with the late Dr. Herb Pick, a pioneer in spatial cognition in the Institute of Child Development. Since completing my degree, I have co-authored two papers on early specialization in sport and I am currently designing and developing research in perceptual recalibration, extending the work that I did with Herb. In addition, my work with Dr. Stoffregen studying motion sickness has enabled me to provide support to exercise science graduate students investigating the physiological effects of virtual reality gaming. Lastly, I apply knowledge from Dr. Weiss’ KIN 5171 Foundations of Kinesiology class in my Senior Research Seminar and Project class where students examine research problems from at least two kinesiology perspectives. Faculty members have welcomed this approach because students get to experience the multidisciplinary nature of our wonderful and exciting field. My experiences at the University of Minnesota clearly provided me with a solid foundation for success at the next level.
What sparked your decision to go to graduate school?
Prior to my career in academia, I worked in the biopharmaceutical industry as a quality assurance and regulatory compliance professional. In 2005, I experienced burnout and sought other opportunities. I contacted my master’s advisor in kinesiology at SF State, Dr. David Anderson, and asked if he needed help conducting research. I volunteered in the Motor Behavior Lab for about six months working on self-produced locomotion and prosthetics research, and then managed to get on the payroll as a research assistant. A year later an opportunity to teach motor development opened up. The pay was nowhere near what I earned in biopharmaceuticals and the work was challenging, but I truly enjoyed research and teaching students. I knew that I needed to earn a PhD to have a career in academia. However, I did not know where and with whom. During Spring 2008, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Stoffregen, who happened to be at SF State giving a guest lecture in the graduate motor learning class. After the talk, Dr. Anderson, who hosted the lecture, asked me to take Dr. Stoffregen to the pub on campus. There we had a conversation about the concept of affordances over Sierra Nevada beer. Afterward, Dr. Stoffregen gave me his business card and told me to contact him if I ever wanted to do a PhD. I researched the program at the University of Minnesota and decided it was the right place for me.
What were some of your greatest challenges as a graduate student?
As a Californian who was born and raised in San Francisco and who went to UCLA for an undergraduate degree because San Francisco was too cold, adjusting to the climate was quite challenging! Shoveling snow and walking/shuffling on ice are activities I do not miss! With respect to school, however, figuring out my dissertation research question and then completing it in a timely manner was my greatest challenge. I will address this further in the next question.
What advice would you give incoming graduate students?
1) Get out of your lab and meet other graduate students! While I liked working with and hanging out with my Affordance Perception-Action Laboratory (APAL) mates, I also enjoyed hanging out with students from other labs. By doing so, I was able to meet some really cool people and learn and appreciate what they do. In addition, go out and meet the administrative associates/assistants in the School. They are also cool people who work hard to support you! I am grateful for the support provided by Marta Fahrenz, Carol Nielsen, Nina Wang, and Jonathan Sweet while I was a student at the University of Minnesota.
2) Work closely with your advisor to develop meaningful research questions that fire you up. Researching a topic that you are passionate about will make the research and writing process fun and exciting (or for some more bearable). And hopefully you’ll be able to design and develop subsequent studies.
3) Don’t leave before finishing your dissertation! And if you do, make sure that you know what you are getting into. I was ABD and thought I could easily finish in a year. However, during my first year, I taught six intensive writing classes and two motor development classes during the regular academic year (BTW – this is considered part-time at my university!) and two classes during summer session. In the intensive writing classes alone, I read about 1800 papers (first drafts, peer responses, and final papers) during my first year! For about a year and a half, I was just too beat to work on my dissertation. While I am appreciative for the opportunity to work in my hometown and to teach some really good students, had I stayed in Minnesota I would have easily finished my work in a year and would have had the opportunity to participate in other research studies.
4) The job market is really competitive, and as the cliché goes, opportunities are “few and far between.” To give yourself an edge, publish your research, be able to teach courses that cross multiple kinesiology sub-disciplines, and, depending on where you would like to work (e.g., doctorate granting institutions, master’s colleges and universities, baccalaureate colleges), consider completing a post-doctoral fellowship.
Any details about your life outside of work you’d like to share?
I’m an avid sports fan, so coming back to San Francisco has been extra special as I was able to experience first-hand the local vibe of my Giants winning the 2014 World Series and the Golden State Warriors winning three NBA Championships. I would love to travel to experience new cultures and food, but have not yet had the opportunity. In the meantime, I quench this thirst by learning to cook the foods of countries that I’d like to visit. Currently, I’m exploring recipes of Italy; next month will probably be Japan. Lastly, I’ve been attempting to put my knowledge of motor learning into practice by learning to play the guitar. I definitely need a lot more deliberate practice!