The recent buzz on John Urschel

John Urschel, a graduate student in mathematics at MIT and former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, has been in the news a lot lately. That’s because his memoir, ““Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football,” which he co-wrote with Louisa Thomas (who is a journalist, a historian and his wife), was recently published.

“I’m looking forward to being considered that mathematician who used to play football” rather than “that football player who’s really smart,” he told the Washington Post. He hasn’t played football – even for fun – since his retirement in 2017, article author Nora Krug notes in that piece, adding “He wanted his first book to be a pure math book, and at signings he’s been known to inscribe the memoir he ended up writing with ‘fun integrals’ and ‘important constants’ that he’s excited to explain to anyone who wants to geek out with him.”

“For me, math is the greatest intellectual pursuit – though it calls upon my spirit too. It is a story of moving between the ideal, abstract world and the reality we live in, a story of private investigation and also collaboration,” the preface to “Mind and Matter” reads.

Ben Orlin wrote “Why Teachers Should Read John Urschel’s Book” for his Math with Bad Drawings blog. I especially enjoyed his drawing of three bored kids — including The Next Emmy Noether – and this section:

“Strained analogies, dubious ‘real-world’ connections, non sequitur photos of jets—that won’t cut it for students like John.

They want the math.

Math can be captivating, just as vegetables can be delicious—as long as you don’t make the mistake of coating them with frosting.”

Orlin’s piece also references a recent opinion piece Urschel wrote for the New York Times. Its title? “Math Teachers Should Be More Like Football Coaches.”

“No one expects a math teacher to tell a talented student that he or she could become the next John von Neumann. (No one expects math teachers to tell students about von Neumann — perhaps the greatest mathematician of the 20th century — at all.),” Urschel wrote in that opinion piece, adding “No one expects math teachers to talk with the kind of fire, or to demand the kind of commitment and accountability, that football coaches do. But I wish they did.”

Urschel also recently appeared on the Numberphile podcast.

In case you missed them, here are two other interesting pieces about Urschel from recent years.

“10 out of 200: From NFL to MIT – John Urschel tackles clustering problems”

Last year, Urschel was a 10 out of 200 young researcher participating in the Heidelberg Laureate Forum. This piece for the Forum’s blog is a Q & A with Urschel in which he answers questions such as “Why did you become a mathematician?” and “Who were your most important mentors and what lessons did they pass on to you?”

“John Urschel’s Favorite Theorem”

Also last year, Urschel spoke with Evelyn Lamb and Kevin Knudson on the My Favorite Theorem podcast.

The AMS also has a page about Urschel that shows a poster you can request with quotes from him and has a list of coverage about him.

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