Successful musicians that have a Ph.D.


It always comes as something of a shock to discover that a famous musician has a side hustle – especially if that side hustle is a Ph.D.. You would think that between making music and touring all the time, most music artists wouldn’t have the time to read a book, let alone pursue a full course of doctorate studies. Nonetheless, such musicians are more common than you’d think – and the music scene is absolutely swarming with high achievers.

Sterling Morrison

Having been a guitarist for The Velvet Underground, one of the single most influential acts in music history, Sterling Morrison had already done something pretty impressive. However, he could not be held back from achieving further yet, having earned himself a Ph.D. in medieval literature. Morrison’s studies began at the City College of New York, and he was working towards a degree in English until he met Lou Reed while visiting a friend at Syracuse University. When Reed was looking to set up a band, he asked Morrison if he wanted to join, and he became a founding member of The Velvet Underground. Morrison completed his degree while with the band, but went on to a Ph.D. course at the University of Texas after leaving The Velvet Underground. Morrison earned his Ph.D. in medieval literature – with a dissertation on the four surviving poems of Old English poet Cynewulf.

Successful musicians that have a Ph.D.

Dan Snaith

Dan Snaith has performed under several different names – such as Manitoba and Daphni – but is best known for his work as Caribou. Snaith is a purveyor of truly unique instrumental music that flits between various genres, including electronica, IDM, and shoegaze music. His compositions are intriguing, beguiling, and groundbreaking. He takes the listener on sonic journeys that are complexly crafted and deeply layered, but more touching than might be expected from music akin to EDM. It might not be such a surprise, then, that Snaith has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Imperial College London. A lot has been made over the years of the ultimately mathematical nature of music – and while there is undoubtedly some truth to this, it does a disservice to music – and mathematics. Music might be made appealing through mathematics alone, but it cannot be made meaningful. Snaith knows this, and it shows in his music. He constructs songs and albums like a mathematician but infuses them with soul like an artist – and in doing so, proves that the connection between the two is stronger than people think.

Successful musicians that have a Ph.D.

Milo Aukerman

Punk rock band The Descendents are seen as one of the most influential acts within the genre – having paved the way for a generation of punk and pop-punk bands that eagerly declare their debt to group. Their mix of energetic, hardcore music with thoughtful lyricism and offbeat humor carved a space in punk that was both deeply earnest and disarmingly skewed, and this individual style means that their music stands out even today, 34 years after their debut. Frontman Milo Auckerman is known for his distinctly non-punk, nerdy persona – so of all the artists here it makes the most sense that he would have a Ph.D.. Auckerman took a break from the band in the 80s to pursue a Ph.D. in biology, and even worked for a time as a molecular biologist – proving that he truly is the nerdiest person in punk.