Wednesday, December 6, 2017

John Urschel, NFL football player and graduate student

I missed this rather wonderful Sports Illustrated story by Tim Rohan about John Urschel, the former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman and math graduate student at MIT. Here's something from that story that all of you can likely sympathize with: 
Meanwhile, Urschel was also periodically checking in with [CJ's note: MIT mathematics professor Michel] Goemans about the assignments for his reading credits. But “I’m, like, in season, so I’m busy,” Urschel says. “Michel was like, ‘Send me updates, let me know how it’s going.’ I’m really just skimming things. I’m completely blowing off this other stuff.” And the reading that Urschel was “blowing off” covered topics that would be included on his doctoral qualifying exam, which was coming up in February. If Urschel failed that test and didn’t subsequently pass in a certain period of time, he’d be kicked out of MIT. “Basically I’d be screwed,” he says.
After the Ravens’ finished that 2015 season 5-11, well out of the playoffs, Urschel spent all of January cramming for the qualifying exam. He’d work at the chalkboard in his house for 12 hours a day, reviewing the material, making stacks of notes. Then he’d have Louisa Thomas, his soon-to-be fiancĂ©e, quiz him into the night. When the test day finally arrived, Urschel was “nervous like I’ve never been before a football game,” he says. It was an oral exam, so he had to stand in front of three professors who peppered him with questions for three hours.
Also, this hilarious little tidbit, which shows that Mr. Urschel really is a graduate student:
But leaving MIT was still hard. The first time Urschel left for OTAs, he asked an MIT friend to periodically rearrange the things on his desk, to make it look as if he were still there. If anyone asks, just say vaguely that I’m around.
John, don't let grad student secrets out!  

15 comments:

  1. I was surprised to see the mention of the Baltimore Ravens proving the story is current. I had assumed this was an old story from when both grad school and pro sports were less competitive.

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  2. I very much liked the Freakonomics episode that featured him a few months ago. He talks a lot about balancing the NFL and his PhD, and the cognitive effects of playing in the NFL.

    http://freakonomics.com/podcast/brain-damage/

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  3. I used to keep a coffee mug warmer on my desk near to keep the coffee in my cup steaming for those random lunches-turned-8-hour-drinking-sprees.

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    1. You've got to be careful with that--some coffees and some creamer products age poorly, so you might be letting people know your coffee has gone unattended for many hours.

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  4. Guy at desk beside me used to keep a jacket hung over the back of his chair...took me abt a year to realize despite it being there he usually wasn't. Chapeau!

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    1. I hear that's a good Assistant Prof trick too.

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  5. It's no secret that ravens are smart animals.

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  6. Synthetic chemists have the advantage of just putting some water in a flask and leaving it stirring.

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    1. heard stories of this backfiring on some graduate students, and ending their graduate careers

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    2. CJ - care to share? This sounds interesting, because the only way to really know if a reaction is going or not would be to analyze the contents of the flask, at which point one could get angry that others are tampering with his/her reaction.

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    3. I knew of at least 2 grad students while I was in grad school that stirred water for a few days to a week, sometimes adding some water-soluble metals or salts to make colored.

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    4. Story (not from my lab) goes: professor goes out of town, graduate students decide to take a day off, and set up reactions stirring with solvent just in case of return. Professor returns, sees grad students out of the lab, gets another grad student to run NMRs on material, finds its solvent. Kicks one graduate student out of the lab entirely, another gets to leave with a masters or some such thing.

      I think this is hearsay enough and friend-of-a-friend enough (me -> buddy -> another buddy -> lab lore) that it's close to urban legend range, but I believe the story to be true, but I have no proof.

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    5. Hah, that's pretty nuts. If true, one would have to imagine that the ejected graduate students already had a foot in their respective graves.

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  7. One could argue that anyone stirring a homogeneous reaction mixture is just trying to make it look like they are working harder than they really are.

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    1. Psht, some homogeneous reactions require liquid/gas mixing--hydrogenation and aerobic oxidation come to mind--which are impacted by the rate of mixing.

      Surely you are just stirring the pot. :-)

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