Posted by: Dave Richeson | October 6, 2010

Musicians with PhD’s

Yesterday I saw this tweet on appear in my Twitter stream:

@mergerecords NPR’s Science Friday talks to Dan Snaith about @caribouband and mathematics! http://www.sciencefriday.com/arts/2010/10/math-x-music-caribou/

It turns out that Dan Snaith, who is essentially the electronic band Caribou, has a PhD in mathematics. (According the math genealogy project he received a PhD in number theory in 2005, Kevin Buzzard was his thesis advisor, and the title of his dissertation was Overconvergent Siegel Modular Symbols).

I was aware of some other musicians that had PhDs, but I wondered how long the list was. So today I did some internet research and came up with the following list of rocking academicians. (I wonder if the School of Rock has a PhD program…[Update: I forgot that Yo La Tengo attended the Academy of Rock.]) I tried to get this information from reliable sources, but in the end it was all “internet research.” Please let me know if I’ve got anything wrong. If you know of others, leave them in the comments.

I was happy to discover that quite a few of these musicians are from bands I like a lot (Bedhead, The New Year, The Velvet Underground, Ladytron, Squirrel Bait, The Descendents, etc.).

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Responses

  1. I don’t know whether it counts, but Brian May may belong to this category, too.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_May

    • Yep. He’s already on the list above.

  2. Dexter from the Offspring was a PhD candidate in molecular bio at USC, but left to be a rock star. Perhaps like Brian May he’ll go back later. Then again, I understand May’s PhD work was in an area that didn’t progress much over the decades, so his old notes were still relevant.

    I should think there are lots and lots of musicians with PhDs, though relatively few make their living that way, let alone achieve a degree of fame.

    In the neuroscience lab I work in, there are two PhDs who perform occasionally. One grad student who sings. There’s a PhD at another lab who I know plays something. There’s probably a lot more that I don’t know of.

    • I had Dexter on the list temporarily, but decided to stick with people who finished. Also Art Garfunkel has a masters degree in math.

      I was going to add that the implicit criteria for the list was more-or-less people who made a career as a musician (at least for a while), people in bands I was familiar with, and rock or electronica musicians. Obviously there are many, many PhDs who are musicians—hobbyist or classical musicians.

  3. No women on the list. Bummer. Anyone know any women who’d fit these criteria?

    • Sue, Mira Aroyo is a woman. But I had the same thought as you. Actually, other than Mira, they are all (I think) white males.

    • Hi:
      A couple to add to your list of musicians with doctorates:
      – Carla Thomas (Gee Whiz), Ed.D.
      – Roberta Flack, Ed.D.

      -j-

  4. May want to check out Flaviano Giorgini (http://www.le.ac.uk/ge/pages/staff/staff_pages/giorgini.html) who has been in & out of several punk / pop bands … Rattail Grenadier, Squirtgun, Simians…

  5. i don’t know if this counts but it’s interesting:
    – hadji bakara (wolf parade) has his masters in english at mcgill
    – mylo (producer/dj) quit his phd in philosophy to be in music

  6. The experimental saxophonist John Butcher has a physics PhD.

  7. + Brandt Peterson of Heatmiser

  8. Late call, but for those who hit this site through web search, two extreme metal musicians:

    – Dr. Mikannibal (physics) joined Japanese band Sigh in 2007. Has since recorded an EP and a full-lenght with them.

    http://ufmg.academia.edu/WagnerLamounier (economics) was a founding member of Sepultura, but did not release anything with them; he later went on with Sarcofago, and released a few albums: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarc%C3%B3fago

  9. Dan Yemin of Lifetime/Kid Dynamite/Paint it Black has a PhD in Psychology from Widener University

    not a PhD but Tom Schols of Boston has a Master in Mechanical Engineering from MIT (which is like have a PhD at any other school)

  10. Chris Bowd of L.A. sub-popular bands Modern Industry, Flower Leperds and Abandoned – PhD in Exp. Psychology from Washington State University (1998), current Research Scientist at University of California San Diego, Dept. of Ophthalmology.

    Hate to blow my own horn… I’m just keeping the list on track. C-


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