The Postgraduate Trivia Blog

A blog by nathaliephd

Postgraduate trivia; not so trivial

by nathaliephd
on August 01, 2013
Once again I was reading discussion threads/blogs on the Postgrad Forum, where I often get inspiration for my writing. After all, as a professional in Higher Education, I want to write about what is important to students (well, at least of interest to them). There was a blog about famous people with Masters and PhDs which gave some humorous examples and I thought it merited further research. What (pleasantly) surprised me was the array of disciplines studied by celebrities with higher qualifications. I won’t discuss well-known politicians and scientists, here, as many of them have degrees in their area of work. There are notable exceptions, though: George Bush who has a Masters of Business Administration (which raises a few questions!); Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, who was a chemist; George Pompidou, former French President, who had studied literature and; Newton who was a philosopher.

Below is a list of brainy famous peeps, actors, artistes and sports personalities, who before deciding that the limelight was their preferred career destination undertook postgraduate studies. Some might actually surprise you! Most of them have pulled stunts that are best not attempted at home, postgrad boys and girls, unless you are sure you can make it in show business!
• Brian May, Queen’s guitarist, didn’t set out to become a music legend. In fact, he studied physics, started a PhD and….. took a 30 year leave of absence before graduating with his doctorate from Imperial College London. Now, I am no expert but I don’t think this is the recommended approach to finishing a PhD AND that's got to make a dent in Imperial's completion rate stats!
• Action movie villain, Dolph Lundgren (if you were born after 1990, don’t worry if you don’t know who he is!) has a Masters in chemical engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden but gave up his PhD despite being a Fullbright scholar. Was it just a ticket to Holywood or did he just manage to find the chemical formula that turns things into gold?
• Miuccia Prada of the Prada fashion house has a PhD in political science which in Italian fashion may be very helpful (Hmmm, the Devil wears a PhD gown...).
• A man after my own heart and fellow molecular biologist, lead singer of Offspring, Dexter Holland (was that really the name on his diploma?) has a Masters in the subject and attempted to gain a PhD in the same discipline. However, the appeal of show business proved more attractive and he quit his PhD in favour of his music. A wise financial move, it seems. As for the quality of the artistic output, I'll let you be the judge!
• Silence of the Lambs star and one of my favourite actresses, Jodie Foster has a Masters in English Literature. Did you also know that, if you watch her films in Spanish or French (I know, some of us are that weird), she actually dubs her own movies? Her father being a diplomat, she gained trilingual fluency whilst growing up abroad.
• James Franco, of 27 hours and Spiderman movies, actually has a PhD in English Literature which will probably prove helpful if he decides to use his acting talent on a theatre stage.
• Another PhD in Literature graduate (I knew there was some money in it….), Philippa Gregory graduated from Edinburgh University, Scotland before writing best-sellers such as The Other Boleyn Girl.
• Sterling Morrison, co-founder and guitarist of rock band Velvet Underground, Morrison was awarded a PhD in medieval studies at the University of Texas at Austin in 1971, although those of you in know will notice that means he did so after the band split.
• In addition to his talents on a basketball court, Shaquille O’Neal has a PhD in Education from Barry University. What is even more impressive is that he did so mostly through online/distance learning. His PhD explored how company bosses use humour in the workplace (cue, see my blog on “Weird Science”) and with a laugh like his, he was well-placed to conduct that research project.
• Art Garfunkel, who has lived and performed in Paul Simon’s shadow, is actually a very clever cookie, with a bachelor’s degree in art history AND a master’s degree in mathematics.
• One of the most attractive presenters on British television, University of Manchester’s, Professor Brian Cox managed to combine his research in astrophysics with a successful music career, being the keyboard player for the popular 90’s Irish pop band D:Ream.
What lessons can we draw from this?
 That postgraduate education is a catalyst for artistic and performance sports success?
 That postgraduate degrees provide skills which can be useful in non-academic pursuits (a bit tenuous in the context of this blog)
 That universities worldwide are hotbeds for the icons of future generations?
Well a bit of all of this really but the more fundamental point here is about the value of postgraduate degrees. Joking aside and because realistically, not many postgrads will end up being superstars, are postgraduate degrees worth the investment in time and money? I love the quote “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest” from an unknown author but commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin. Is it however that the higher the qualifications and hence the more significant the investment, the greater the returns? Is there a linear correlation?
There are many reasons for doing a Masters or a PhD, each as valid as the other. There is nothing wrong with studying a subject about which you are passionate and studying it in more-depth or in a more specialised way makes perfect sense. People don’t generally do a Masters degree or a PhD because they want to be perpetual students. First of all, postgraduate studies are not easy! The pace and the amount of (self) study is a definite step-up from undergraduate studies.
A Masters might be your preparation for a research degree and perhaps even an academic career. In addition, for a number of professions outside of academia, such as engineering, postgraduate qualifications are the gold standard of that industry so in essence, a career requirement. In many countries a Masters is now the norm so something to keep in mind if you want a job overseas. Despite the fact you may read that employers value experience more, it may be of interest for you to know that the average unemployment rate of postgraduates is generally slightly lower than those with a bachelor’s degree.
Postgraduate degrees will provide you with opportunities to gain practical experience and therefore to enhance your employability. It will make you stand out, but make sure you make the most of internships, summer expeditions, placements and periods of study abroad. Not everyone who interviews you will have done a postgrad and they may have a certain perception of higher degrees. Make sure you know how to demonstrate to employers why you chose to do a Masters degree (passion will go a long way), how it is relevant to the job/sector you want to work in and what skills your postgrad has given you over and above your undergraduate degree.
You are doing a postgrad because you want a higher starting salary? Well, the official statistics are with you on that one and in the States, employees with a higher degree command higher starting salaries. However, there are differences between sectors and between professions. Starting salaries are only one measure and your postgrad qualifications may have a long-term effect on your career achievements. Armed with your masters or PhD, will you have more confidence to climb the career ladder? After all, all that stands between the graduate and the top of the ladder is the ladder itself. And, as the above have shown, it needn’t be a different ladder to reach the stars!


27-Oct-13, 08:38
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