John Urschel is not your typical doctoral candidate. Before studying mathematics at MIT, Urschel played college football at Penn State and then in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. Both mathematics and football have always been two steadfast pillars in his life.

For many college students, balancing high-level athletics and demanding school work would be nearly impossible. Urschel acknowledges this challenge in this book, Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football.

Urschel says he owes his passion for sports and education to his parents. His father played college football and taught him the value of sports, while his mother was a first generation college student and believed that the power of education could change lives.

While playing for the Baltimore Ravens, Urschel realized that the NFL locker room was lacking the closeness he felt as an amatuer football player. And just as in college, he attempted to balance his passion for math with time-consuming reality of sports.

Things changed when he suffered a severe concussion. He experienced overwhelming frustration, as he couldn’t play football or do math for weeks. But, Urschel says it wasn’t concerns about head trauma or CTE that led to his retirement after playing for only three seasons.

Instead, it was the passion he exercised through his education at MIT and the birth of his daughter that ultimately pulled him away from the field. Urschel is now wrapping up his PhD in applied mathematics and expects to hold the degree by 2020. Urschel admits that his journey wasn’t easy, but it’s molded the person he is today who loves solving high-level problems and educating others.


  • John Urschel, author of Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football

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