PQB Interview: Emily Pike

As a quiz bowl player, Emily Pike led teams at DeKalb High School and at Minnesota’s Carleton College. With the latter, she was part of the 1999 NAQT Undergraduate Championship. While pursuing a medical degree, she appeared on two winning teams at the Chicago Open, one of quiz bowl’s most prestigious events. Today, she is a physician and Vice President of Operations for National Academic Quiz Tournaments. Play Quiz Bowl spoke with Emily about her playing career, how it helped her down the line, and how new players can find success.

Play Quiz Bowl – How did you get involved in quiz bowl?

Emily Pike – It’s fun to think back at how I got involved with this activity that has so powerfully shaped me personally and professionally.  I started playing quiz bowl in 7th grade after hearing on the daily announcements that there was a team starting up at my middle school.  I remember thinking that such a team sounded like exactly the sort of thing I’d love doing.  My coaches were the special ed teachers at our school, and we practiced by reading questions to each other out of some book of general knowledge questions.  One of my first quiz bowl matches was on a buzzer system where the buzzers were doorbells and there was no lock-out feature.

PQB – Tell us a bit about your playing career – where did you play? What were some of your career highlights?

EP – I played in middle school and high school in DeKalb, Illinois (Go Barbs!), and then I played for Carleton College with Eric Hillemann as my coach.  I cried after my last high school match because I thought I’d never get to play again.  I was so excited to find out after I arrived on campus that Carleton had a team and that I could continue competing.  Little did I know that I had one of the few active coaches left on the college circuit to help me grow as a player, as a question writer, and as an editor.

After Carleton, I went on to medical school at Loyola in Chicago.  There was no active team there, but I spent a lot of my free time (more than I anticipated having as a med student!) writing and then editing questions for NAQT.  They liked what I had to offer, and I became a member the following summer.
Specific memories of my quiz bowl career have largely faded, but the quiz bowl accomplishment of which I’m most proud is winning the NAQT Undergraduate National Championship in 1999.  My teammates and I set that as a goal for ourselves, developed a study strategy with Eric’s help, and worked really hard to win the title.  Two of my favorite quiz bowl memories are from that tournament:  one is that Rob Hentzel (now my husband) read the game against Iowa in which we clinched the championship, and the other is that Eric Bell gave me a huge hug as I started crying as the timer buzzed in our last match of the tournament.

– In general, what was your favorite thing about playing quiz bowl?

EP – I loved traveling and spending time with my teammates.  In college, we drove all over the place for events:  Kansas City, St. Louis, Ann Arbor, Chicago, plus cities closer to Northfield like Ames and Minneapolis.  We really got to know each other well in all those hours on the road.  We had silly rituals.  We were a chosen family for each other.

PQB – How did quiz bowl help you excel as a student?

EP – I’m not sure that it did. :)  I’m sure some of my college grades could have been improved by spending some of my quiz bowl time on studying for exams and writing better papers!

PQB – You’re one of two female players to have won the Chicago Open (an extremely difficult summer tournament for the game’s elite players) multiple times. What are your best memories of those events?

EP – I had no idea that I was only one of two with this honor, and, honestly, I don’t remember winning Chicago open more than once!  The main thing I remember about Chicago Open is loving Subash’s biology questions because I got lots of points for my team on them.

PQB – What skills that you gained or improved with quiz bowl has helped your career as a doctor?

When I was in medical school at Loyola, I realized that years of playing quiz bowl provided me with a huge web of facts in my brain.  This sticky web made it easier for other bits of information to get caught because I could make connections with other things I already knew.  I like to think that it gave me an advantage in memorizing all the ridiculously small details that medical students are expected to learn (which then get forgotten because they aren’t actually useful in real-life medical practice!).

Quiz bowl is also good mental training for processing information quickly to get to an answer, which is something I do a lot as an urgent care physician.

PQB – What advice would you give to a new quiz bowl player who wants to get better?

EP – In addition to playing lots of questions, I’d say choose a subject that you’re interested in, read multiple sources on that topic, and then write questions on it.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

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