Grad Study

Would you like to conduct cutting-edge research on fascinating topics, such as emotions and health? Would you like to work in a state-of-the-art lab with some of the nicest people around? Would you like to publish in some of the leading scientific journals? Then, join our team!

Prospective applicants for entering the master's degree program in exercise psychology are strongly encouraged to e-mail Dr Ekkekakis prior to applying.

Prospective applicants for entering the doctoral program in exercise psychology are required to contact Dr Ekkekakis prior to applying. Please, explain your reasons for becoming interested in exercise psychology, which particular aspects of the exercise psychology research conducted at ISU you are mostly interested in, and what your career goals are.

Iowa State University, Exercise Psychology Laboratory


Information on the difference between "sport psychology" and "exercise psychology"

Sport psychology deals with athletic populations and its ultimate goal is to enhance sport or athletic performance. On the other hand, exercise psychology deals with non-athletic populations who exercise for health and/or well-being. The purpose of exercise psychology is to understand the psychological mechanisms behind participation in and long-term adherence to exercise and physical activity, as well as the psychological effects of exercise and physical activity participation.

If you are interested in applying for a graduate program here at Iowa State University, understanding this distinction is crucial. This is because, although most individuals who contact me say they are interested in "sport psychology," my research is in the area of exercise psychology. Specifically, I am interested in how exercise intensity affects how people feel when they exercise (e.g., do they feel exhilaration, distress, fatigue, or boredom?), how individuals differ in terms of their preference for and tolerance of different levels of exercise intensity, and how these factors influence the pleasure associated with exercise experiences and the motivation to remain physically active over the long haul.

If you are interested in these and other exercise psychology topics, I strongly encourage you to take a look at this website, where you will find reprints of my publications and other relevant information. If you decide that you are interested in exercise psychology, the program here at Iowa State University should be a great choice for you. I can promise you that, by joining our graduate program in exercise psychology, you will be involved in cutting-edge research, you will get extensive hands-on laboratory experience with a variety of assessment techniques, you will be given the opportunity to coauthor research papers and prepare conference presentations, and you will participate in lively and thought-provoking conversations about science, research, and professional practice. I can also promise you that you will always have a friendly and calm working environment and caring guidance.

If, on the other hand, you are interested in sport psychology and your goal is to work with athletes as sport psychology consultants or coaches, then the program here at ISU is not a good match for you. My research does not involve working with athletes, doing any consulting work, or investigating issues related to performance enhancement, etc. What this means for those of you interested in sport psychology is that, by attending the program here at ISU, you may not get the kinds of experiences that you had anticipated and that you should have if you intend to work in the area of sport. I, therefore, highly recommend that, if you are interested in sport psychology, you consider applying to other excellent graduate programs that specialize in sport psychology. 


Expectations of Graduate Students

First of all, I expect commitment to academic excellence. In other words, graduate study should be your main mission during your stay here and until you earn your degree. This should be self-understood, but oftentimes students get into graduate school simply to postpone their entry into the work force or to have more time to devote to other, nonacademic pursuits. In such cases, graduate study is unfortunately relegated to a chore. I would not want you to overlook the other important aspects of your life, but I do expect that all prospective graduate students understand that graduate study towards an advanced degree requires a lot of hard work, long hours, and extensive reading and writing, often dealing with complex subject matters. This may require some sacrifice.

Second, I expect self-motivation. I like working with people who are genuinely interested in the subject area on which they are working and really care about finding a solution to the problems that they are investigating. I appreciate students who go to the library or stay in the lab analyzing data not because I told them to but because they are driven by their own passion to find answers.

Third, I expect initiative and critical thinking. The ideal graduate student, in my view, is one that does not take anything for granted but is constantly evaluating everything, including my own opinions or ideas. Furthermore, nothing makes me happier than to see that students have their own ideas about where our research should go. I interpret this as the clearest expression of genuine interest in the problems that we, as a group, are trying to solve.

If, after reading all this, you are convinced that the graduate program here at Iowa State University would be a good match for you, I would be more than happy to get in contact with you and give you additional information or even arrange a meeting with you if you are willing to visit. I can show you around the department, introduce you to our graduate students, show you around the lab, and chat with you about our program.


An Important Caveat About Funding

Admission is never guaranteed, regardless of an applicant's academic record. The reason is because, with the rare exception of students who are entirely self-funded (e.g., from a scholarship provided by a foreign government), our Department only admits graduate students to whom we can provide assistantships (either department-funded Teaching Assistantships or grant-funded Research Assistantships). However, the number of these assistantships (in both categories) fluctuates from year to year. Some years, we can admit lots of students (when lots of students from the previous cohort graduate) and other years we can only admit a few students (when few students from the previous cohort graduate). The worst case, several years ago, was a year in which we could not admit even a single student because we had no student graduate and, therefore, no available assistantships. That is very rare put theoretically possible. 

Many students applying to graduate programs do not understand this point and think that the only criterion for admission is their academic record or, put differently, that all strong applicants get admitted. Sadly, this is not the case. Therefore, all students interested in entering graduate school should apply to as many universities as they can afford (given the fact there is a non-refundable application fee associated with each application, and this can get pricey very quickly). 

Current Students and Alumni


Erik Lind
Erik Lind, Ph.D. (2008). Dissertation: "The role of an audio-visual attentional stimulus in influencing affective responses during graded cycling exercise." First appointment: Assistant Professor, Department of Health and Fitness, State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oneonta. Current appointment: Associate Professor, Department of KinesiologyState University of New York (SUNY) Cortland.


Emily Decker
Emily Decker, M.S. (2009). Thesis: "Affective responses to physical activity in obese women: A high-intensity interval bout vs. a longer isocaloric moderate-intensity bout." First appointment: Research Scientist, Energy Balance Laboratory, University of Kansas. Current appointment: Senior Professional Research Assistant, Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus


Zack Zenko
Zack Zenko, Ph.D. (2016). Dissertation: "Comparative validity of measures of implicit exercise associations." First appointment: Postdoctoral Associate, Center for Advanced Hindsight, Duke University. Current appointment: Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology, California State University, Bakersfield.


Matt Ladwig
Matthew Ladwig, Ph.D. (2019). Dissertation: "Dorsolateral prefrontal cortical hemodynamics, cognitive inhibition, and affective responses to exercise among children: Implications for pediatric exercise prescription." First appointment: Postdoctoral Scholar, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine. Current appointment: Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University Northwest.


Mark Hartman
Mark Hartman, Ph.D. (2020). Dissertation: "The neural basis of the sense of fatigue." Won: Karas Award for Outstanding Dissertation at Iowa State University. First appointment: Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology, University of Rhode Island.


Tanna Mafnas
Tanna Mafnas, M.S. (2021). Thesis: "Cognitive and affective correlates of current physical activity: Does the length of regular participation moderate the relationships?" First appointment: Fitness Coordinator, North Carolina State University.


Ryan True
Ryan True, M.S. (2021). Thesis: "A dual-process account on media persuasion of physical activity decision-making." First appointment: Member Services Coordinator, YMCA of Greater Missoula, Montana.