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Celebrities with PhDs

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We might not always think of celebrities as being the sharpest tools in the toolshed, but you may be surprised to hear that in addition to many celebrities with degrees at bachelor and master’s level, there are also a number of celebrities with PhDs; this is the highest degree level in many countries, and you may be surprised to see some unexpected names!

See below for a look at an eclectic selection of famous people and celebrities with PhDs, plus an image gallery of some lucky celebrities awarded honorary degrees, from famous frogs to heavyweight boxers!

1.  Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel is Germany’s current head of government, or ‘Bundeskanzler’ as she is known within her nation.

Born in East Germany, Merkel is the first citizen of the German Democratic Republic and the first woman in German history to hold the position of chancellor. She is also the first female leader of the Christian Democratic Union (the second-largest political party in Germany).

Not only can Merkel speak Russian fluently, she is also a proficient mathematician and physicist. Her first degree was earned at the University of Leipzig in the field of physics, before she moved on to work within the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Science in Berlin. This is where she earned a doctorate degree for her research on quantum chemistry.

2.  Brian May

Lead guitarist for world-famous rock band Queen, Brian May is also a pretty smart guy. Born in the UK, May took his first degree in mathematics and physics at Imperial College London before undertaking a doctorate degree in astrophysics research. Before May was able to complete his PhD, however, Queen shot to fame and he was forced to abandon his academic research – though not before co-authoring a number of research papers.

It wasn’t until 2006 that May returned to finish his PhD at Imperial College, but he’s now a fully qualified member of the celebrities with PhDs club, continuing to pursue his academic interests with the Imperial Astrophysics Group.

3.  Martin Luther King Jr.

One of the most memorable civil rights activists of the 20th century, Martin Luther King Junior (Jr.) was also a Baptist minister, humanitarian and theologian.

Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King led a number of non-violent protests and boycotts to further the cause of racial equality before being assassinated in 1968. His death led to many riots and protests in the US, as well as international outrage.

Before becoming a well-known activist, King studied a great deal, earning a BA in sociology and a B.Div (Bachelor of Divinity) in Georgia and Pennsylvania before moving on to complete his doctorate studies in systematic theology at Boston University in Massachusetts in 1955.

4.  Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice was the second African-American to become secretary of state, and also the second female to do this job. Serving under the Bush administration (2005-2009), Rice was also the first woman in history to become the president’s National Security Advisor.

Rice has a BA in political science (politics) from the University of Denver and a master’s degree in the same subject from the University of Notre Dame. Six years later, following an internship in the state department and studies in Russia, she went back to study at the University of Denver to gain her PhD in political science.

Since finishing her time in office, Rice has served as provost and as a professor at Stanford University in California.

5.  Shaquille O’Neal

Perhaps an unlikely addition to the list of celebrities with PhDs is NBA basketball champion Shaquille O’Neal; well known as a big player on the pitch, O’Neal is also an advanced academic. After finishing his professional basketball career, O’Neal went back to school in Florida to earn his doctorate degree in leadership and education. His prior degrees were gained while playing for the NBA.

O’Neal says the main motivation behind his PhD studies was to fulfill a promise to his mother and to ensure he could hold his own in conversation with business executives.

6.  Miuccia Prada

The owner of global luxury fashion brands Prada and Miu Miu, Miuccia Prada is also high-achieving in the academic arena, holding a PhD in political science from the University of Milan in Italy.

Having taken over the family business from grandfather Mario Prada, who founded the company in 1913, Miuccia Prada made the brand what it is today through hard work and passion for the industry. A member of the Communist Party during her youth and a proud revolutionist and feminist, she initially had doubts about entering the fashion industry, before realizing her talent as a designer.

In 2014, Miuccia Prada was listed as the 75th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes, with an estimated net worth of US$11.1 billion.

Image source: Vogue

7.  Brian Cox

Ok, so science fans are unlikely to be surprised to see Brian Cox on a list of celebrities with PhDs. But did you know the famous English physicist and television presenter gained his DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy) in high-energy particle physics at the University of Manchester?

Nowadays, in between filming popular BBC documentaries such as Wonders of the Universe and Human Universe, Cox is employed as a professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester.

Other interesting achievements include becoming keyboardist for D:Ream, an Irish pop-rock band from the 1990s, and being named one of People Magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive (see, science is sexy!) in 2009.

8.  James Franco

One of many celebrities with degrees from multiple universities, James Franco is also well on his way to adding his name to the somewhat shorter list of celebrities with PhDs. He is currently studying towards a PhD in English at Yale University, in between various film projects.

Perhaps best-known for his acting roles in films such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes and This is the End, Franco also has a history of writing and directing short films and TV shows.

Franco’s Hollywood success, however. has not stopped him from pursuing his education. In 2006 he completed his undergraduate degree in creative writing at UCLA, before moving on to undertake an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) at Columbia University, a filmmaking program at New York University and a fiction-writing program at Brooklyn College (CUNY).

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Written by Laura Tucker
Laura is a former staff writer for TopUniversities.com, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life.

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1 Comment

Hi Laura, very interesting! I didn't know these celebrities had a PhD.