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"'I Don't Know How Professors Teach Without Fighter-Pilot Experience'"

Missy Cummins, a full professor in three departments at Duke, on the difference between the military and academia:

Fadulu: Did you feel like your military experience prepared you for the classroom in any way?

Cummings: Absolutely, especially as a research professor at a demanding institution like MIT, where I was a professor for my first 10 years. I don’t know how people do it without having been a fighter pilot first. It’s kind of a dog-eat-dog world.

Fadulu: What do you mean by that?

Cummings: It’s very hypercompetitive, it’s very back-stabbing. In fact, in the fighter-pilot world, people are just jerks to your face. In academia, people are jerks behind your back. They’ll stab you in the back but be nice to your face. It was a little harder to negotiate the academic world. When people are jerks to your face, at least you know where they’re coming from, and you know to avoid them. People who are backstabbing you, you don’t know to avoid them. I’d prefer the person who’s a jerk to my face.

More from Prof. Cummins: "Missionary Misfits: Meet A Former Fighter Pilot, Current Autonomous Vehicles Road Warrior" and "What’s Causing the Tesla Crashes?"