While his iconic ’90s science-themed kid’s show ended back in 1998, Bill Nye‘s celebrity status has lived on. Now that he has a new Netflix show, many millennials who enjoyed his work as kids, are able to relive a small part of their youth. His career has been an interesting one and has started out at Cornell University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.
After getting his degree, he took a job at Boeing and later started to work part-time as a comedian after realizing that he had a knack for entertaining. His comedy and acting career flourished throughout the 1980’s. By 1993, he had started his own trademark show. It ended after five seasons and Nye remained a minor figure in the world of educational entertainment until recently.
With his Netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the World, and his position with the recent March for Science, he has become a household name once again. He has, however, also been on the receiving end of a great deal of criticism for his involvement in both. Much of this has come from the idea that the March for Science may be over-politicizing science (which is meant to be neutral) and that his show is doing the same—politicizing science with left-wing/liberal bias and claiming certain unsettled scientific viewpoints as facts.
One of the current knocks against Nye right now involves how much of a scientist he is, with critics arguing that his engineering degree qualifies him to call himself an engineer. But as an “applied science,” engineering experience doesn’t make him a scientist or an authority on scientific issues. This is all up for debate, of course, but there are many other celebrities out there with impressive educational backgrounds that we never hear about. Here are fifteen celebrities who may be more deserving (or at least as deserving) of the title “science guy” or “science gal.”
15. Donald Sutherland
Now over eighty years old, iconic actor Donald Sutherland, whose career started back in the 1960’s, has worked on well over 100 films and had dozens of parts on television. Just a few of the great films and shows he’s been a part of include the original M*A*S*H, The Dirty Dozen, Ordinary People, and recently, The Hunger Games trilogy. While he was into theater in his early years, Sutherland’s original career trajectory had him on track to become an engineer, and he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto in the 1950’s with a double major in Engineering and Drama. Shortly after graduation, he decided he wasn’t interested in an engineering career and eventually moved to England, attending the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
14. Montel Williams
While many people know Montel Williams for his almost two-decade running talk show, few know much about his life before this. In the early 1970’s, he joined the United States Marine Corps. He served two years and then switched to the Navy, attending Annapolis and eventually rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander before retiring in 1989. He started to work with community leaders while being a military officer, and this is where the original idea for his show came from. While at Annapolis between 1976 and 1980, Williams completed a degree in Engineering with a minor in International Security.
13. Natalie Portman
Looking at Natalie Portman was unfortunately one of the very few good things about the Star Wars prequel films. Of course, she spent plenty of time in those movies dressed up in ridiculous outfits, so that kind of took away the experience. Of course, between V for Vendetta and The Black Swan, along with a few other decent flicks, we know she’s far more talented than you’d think based on her terrible dialogue and lack of chemistry with Hayden “Darth Hissy Fit” Christensen.
12. Danny Grainger
More often than not, athletes go to college on scholarships and usually take relatively simple programs because…well…you know, when one wants to score a multi-million dollar contract, one doesn’t need school getting in the way of athletics. Many of them don’t even bother sticking around for their senior year (depending on the sport) and therefore never get their degree. Former NBA player Danny Grainger, on the other hand, earned his Civil Engineering degree before being drafted by the Indiana Pacers. He spent just over a decade in the NBA, but retired after suffering a couple of injuries. These days, he’s working as an analyst for CBS. He’s 34 now, so a return to playing seems unlikely but not impossible. He’s hinted at looking for coaching jobs in the future so it is unclear whether he will ever put his degree to use.
11. George Miller
Director, writer, producer, and overall gifted movie-making George Miller is probably best known for the Mad Max films, but was also a major player in animal-themed films like Babe, Happy Feet, and their sequels. While he always had an interest in film, his first career was in medicine. In the late 1960’s, he was studying at the University of New South Wales where he finished his studies in the early ’70s. He actually put up a lot of the money for the first Mad Max movie, and saved up for the film while working as an emergency room doctor. He continued to practice and, according to his own recollection, he stayed registered to practice medicine until just after the release of the second film. Along with directing on that second film, he ended up as the set doctor, patching up actors and stunt people if they got injured while shooting.
10. Lisa Kudrow
If your only exposure to Lisa Kudrow was the show Friends, you may have some difficulty looking at her and seeing anything other than a blonde clown with a guitar and no lyrical capability. Phoebe Buffay was one of the funniest characters of the 1990’s and should have gotten her own show (it would have done better than Joey).
Granted, she did a great job as Phoebe, but that character is not like the real Lisa Kudrow at all. She comes from a family of doctors. Her father was a physician and her brother was a neurologist. Her dad studied headaches for much of his career and Kudrow herself took a BSc at Vassar, specializing in Biology. She has also worked as a researcher for her father for a number of years while starting off her acting career.
9. Christy Turlington
Christy Turlington is one of the biggest names in modeling and still looks amazing even as she approaches the age of fifty. Throughout the 2000’s, she became less involved in modeling and started a couple of her own businesses and a charitable organization. She became interested in studying maternal health after experiencing a complication while birthing one of her children. Her first degree was in Comparative Religion and Eastern Philosophy. For her Master’s degree, she attended Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and focused on pregnancy and health of expectant mothers. In 2010, she founded her organization “Every Mother Counts.” The initiative’s goal is to “make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother, everywhere.”
8. Ken Jeong
Actor/comedian Ken Jeong got his first major part on the big screen film in Knocked Up in 2007 when he was 38 years old, but had already scored smaller parts on several TV series for about a decade before that. More recently, this painfully funny man worked on the three The Hangover films, the sitcom Community, and of course, his own show since 2015, Dr. Ken.
Before all of this, however, he was a physician. He studied at Duke and then at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for his medical training. He practiced for a few years but his wife pushed him to pursue his acting career full time, so he eventually quit the medical field altogether to focus on show business. Obviously, Medicine, like Engineering is an applied form of science, as opposed to strictly scientific research fields. But Chemistry and Biology (among other sciences) are important for the field. Hence, the inclusion of a couple of doctors on this list.
7. Eva Longoria
Stunning actress Eva Longoria gives new meaning to the phrase “more than a pretty face.” Her biggest show business role was on Desperate Housewives. But in recent years, she’s been more active as an entrepreneur and activist. She’s an outspoken Democrat who supported Barack Obama and spoke at the Democratic Convention in 2016. Outside politics, she’s started a nonprofit organization that supports kids with mental disabilities. In the world of business, she has co-owned a restaurant and started her own clothing line.
Before all of this, she was a science student and has earned a Kinesiology degree from Texas A&M. Kinesiology is the study of human movement, for those who are unfamiliar with the term. She also completed a Master’s degree in Chicano Studies, writing a final thesis that stressed the importance of Latina women in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math) academic fields.
6. Rowan Atkinson
No, you’re not seeing things. Much like what we said about Lisa Kudrow, if you thought the guy who played Mr. Bean was a moron in real life, you’d be very wrong. Rowan Atkinson is brilliant. Those who know about Rowan Atkinson’s career before and outside of his work as Mr. Bean, know that he is a very funny comedian and has worked some other interesting roles in major films, including Zazu in Disney’s The Lion King and a number of British sitcoms throughout the ’80s.
Before his comedy career took off, however, he excelled at science and has managed to earn a BSc in Electrical Engineering, followed by an MSc in that same discipline. It is impressive that a man whose most memorable career move was playing a clueless person is actually a brilliant scientific mind.
5. Dolph Lundgren
Career tough guy Dolph Lundgren first made a name for himself by playing the intimidating Soviet boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV (nowhere near the best in the series, but still better than V). Since then, the massive Swede has played bad guys and good guys, but was always tough…no matter what. Before he found success in acting, however, he was a student. He left Sweden in the 1970’s but returned after spending some time in the United States. He served a year in the Swedish armed forces, and then completed a degree in Chemical Engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. In the early ’80s, he moved to Australia where he attended the University of Sydney, graduating with a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering.
4. Greg Graffin
Fans of punk music will enjoy our next two list entries, as both are rock/punk artists whose musical talents are complimented by classroom brilliance as well. Greg Graffin, who founded Bad Religion, has degrees from UCLA and Cornell. After graduating high school, he started attending UCLA and completed an undergrad degree with a double major in Anthropology and Geology. He continued his studies in Geology at UCLA and eventually earned a Master’s degree, also in Geology.
After his two UCLA degrees, he slightly switched gears and studied Zoology at Cornell, focusing on evolution for his Doctoral thesis. He has taught classes covering this field for both UCLA and Cornell since his graduation.
3. Dexter Holland
The frontman of one of the biggest punk bands in the genre, Dexter Holland of The Offspring, once said that at a certain age he’d rather be teaching at a university than making music. That’s right, the hollering singer of gems like “Come Out and Play,” “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” and more recently “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” is an academic. In the ’80s and early ’90s, he spent as much time in the classroom at the University of Southern California as he did playing music, earning a BS in Biology and then moving on to a Master’s degree in Molecular Biology. He started a PhD, but put his science career on hold to focus on the band. While The Offspring still toured, he has started working on his research again and is focusing on studying the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). He started back at school in 2013, and he recently said in an interview that he was “in the process” of completing that degree.
2. Mayim Bialik
Any fan of the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory will likely know this, but the actress who plays Amy Farrah Fowler, Mayim Bialik, is a neuroscientist in real life too. In fact, she holds a PhD in that study, which she completed in 2007. Though she started acting back in the 1980’s and had steady work in movies and on television through the ’90s and 2000’s, but kept up with academics throughout those years. Her thesis studied the prevalence of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in people who suffer from Prader-Willi Syndrome, a condition that affects brain function and certain hormones. Her work served as an inspiration and factual basis for a book she wrote on parenting.
1. Brian May
The guitarist and founding member (along with legend Freddie Mercury) of Queen, Brian May is much more known for his tunes than his brain power (not that it doesn’t take brains to make music). Back in the late ’60s, before the founding of the band, May completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. For four years, he then worked on a PhD in Astrophysics, studying dust in space. He stopped his academic pursuits after the band started to gain popularity but returned to study in the 2000’s, completing his thesis for his Doctorate in Astrophysics in 2007. He has continued his research in this field since his graduation and remains a member of the British scientific community, and has an asteroid named in his honor.
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