Professional athletes are often described as “elite” – reaching a level of athletic excellence that most of us agree we can never achieve. At each level, from Pop Warner to High School to College, football players are cut from teams based on performance until an “elite squad” of 1,696 Pros play each Sunday in the U.S.’s National Football League (NFL). Interestingly, materials science and engineering (MSE) departments across the U.S. employ roughly the same number of professors (~1700), and unlike an NFL player whose average career is only 3 years, MSE professors often retain their position for 30 years. Considering these numbers, it is fair to ask: Who is more elite NFL Players or MSE Profs?
This talk will provide a light but insightful look comparing the competition and process for reaching both the NFL field and an MSE professorship. While elite performance and “total commitment to one’s craft” are obvious similarities, many parallels in “intangibles” come into play when making that final hiring decision, including: specialization / flexibility (e.g., every football team only needs 1 place kicker), character (e.g., Johnny Manziel), your pedigree (DI vs. DIII) and your network (e.g., Christian Hackenberg’s recent move to the Raiders). Perhaps most importantly, though, we must remind ourselves that the faculty hiring committee (like NFL coaches) are human and use a mix of logic and emotion (unless you are Bill Belichik) to reach a final hiring decision – so bringing the proper mix of substance and excitement along with a little luck is usually what’s necessary to land that perfect job. But if you decide that a position outside of academia suits your lifestyle better, that’s ok – then you can relax on Sundays while both the NFL Pros and the MSE Profs practice their craft (only one of which provides millions of fans amusement).