John Urschel is a former NFL player for the Baltimore Ravens. After an exciting career in the league, the retired NFL player is now a math professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Urschel retired from the NFL at the age of 26, a day after reporting to camp, and had a training session. “I really, really, really wanted to retire quietly,” Urschel told Sports Illustrated. “No one notice. Just retire and everything keeps on going, without a single story. Like one little byline, and that’s it. And then there’s nothing else, just ride off into the sunset.”
Following his retirement, he released a statement addressing his early exit from the NFL. He expressed his excitement about taking Ph.D classes at MIT in the fall, adding that his fiancée was pregnant with their first child.
But his career towards becoming a professor began two years before he decided to retire. In the spring of 2015 after his rookie year, he applied to the doctoral program in math at MIT, to take classes in his free time.
A graduate of Penn University with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he enrolled at MIT and took four classes as a full-time student in the spring of 2016, during the NFL offseason. The NFL offseason is a period when teammates are working out and vacationing. However, he was living in Cambridge, Mass., studying numerical linear algebra and random matrix theory, working on complex mathematical proofs, and attending lectures by visiting professors, according to Sports Illustrated.
In 2017, after three NFL seasons, he decided to retire to follow his passion for math. In 2021, he completed his PhD in mathematics, focusing on matrix analysis and computations, with an emphasis on theoretical applications for real-world situations.
He is now one of the 16 newly recruited faculty members in MIT’s School of Science for the Fall 2023 semester. He was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study and a junior fellow at Harvard University before returning to MIT as an assistant professor of mathematics this fall, according to MIT.
Meanwhile, his interests on his faculty bio page include numerical linear algebra, spectral graph theory, and certain aspects of theoretical machine learning. Urschel is currently aspiring to increase diversity in the field of mathematics, where only seven percent of professors are Black, Black News reported. He hopes to achieve this feat by inspiring more black students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.