Growing up, John Urschel dreamed of playing pro football. Off the field, only one thing captivated him as much as his favorite sport: solving math problems. After high school, Urschel was awarded a football scholarship to Pennsylvania State University. In college, he realized he wanted to be an elite athlete and a mathematician.
Both of Urschel’s dreams ended up coming true. After earning a master’s degree in math, he was drafted to play in the National Football League (NFL) as an offensive guard for the Baltimore Ravens. But after three seasons, at age 26, he retired from the sport. He wanted to devote himself to math full-time. He’s now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) working on his Ph.D.—the highest academic degree attainable.
Urschel plans to become a professor so he can teach the next generation how to use math to think critically about issues that affect their daily lives. He spoke with Science World about his journey to become a mathematician—and what football taught him about tackling tough problems.