After the 2019 ACSM Annual Meeting in Orlando, FL, I had the opportunity to visit the Kennedy Space Center. It was a long-standing wish of mine to see memorabilia from the Apollo missions, because it reminded me about my childhood. The Apollo missions were the reason for my dad to buy the first television in our family. I remember sitting, during the middle of the night in pajamas, watching live coverage of Apollo launches and the landings on the moon. Now being in Florida, I wanted to see the rockets and capsule with my own eyes. I was impressed by the size of the Saturn V rocket, but what I saw later that day had the most impact on me. At the exhibit, remembering the crew members of space shuttle Challenger, I saw the motto of the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe: “I Touch the Future. I Teach.” That sentence has been floating around in my head for a long time.
Most of us who work in academia divide our time between teaching and research. Time invested in one often comes at the expense of the other. We also know that academia is largely governed by grant money. The more funding academics raise from grants, the less they have to teach. Because grant money in sport science is very limited in the Netherlands, I end up with extensive teaching. In the first semester, I try to arouse curiosity about exercise physiology and biomechanics in a large group of undergraduate students. In the second semester, I have students in the laboratory for their undergraduate and graduate research projects. Students often work on research projects that come directly from sports practice or take on the challenge of working on questions I can’t solve myself. Almost all my original contributions to the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance (IJSPP) are co-authored by these students. The laboratory is an energetic place where I feel surrounded by young, bright people. It is the place where I often feel like I am touching the future.
IJSPP is a unique journal. The contributors, and many of the readers, come not only from the academic world as with other scientific journals but also from the sports field. In both settings, there are work tasks that compete with each other. Educating people does not always get the priority and appreciation it deserves. In annual interviews, superiors are more likely to ask about the amount of grant money obtained than the number of successfully graduated students. However, training a new generation of scientists is crucial for the advancement of any scientific field. Similarly, in sports practice, training new staff members will seldom be prioritized over short-term athletic success.
My visit to the Kennedy Space Center taught me that progress in sport science should be sought, nurtured, and encouraged, not only in large, subsidized projects but also in our dedication to caring for future generations of sport scientists. Therefore, not being overloaded with grant money might be a blessing. Now I can touch the future, give my students “shoulders to stand on,” just as I stood on the shoulders of my professor, Gerrit Jan van Ingen Schenau.