What is the motivation behind deciding for a doctorate degree? Does it quench an insatiable thirst for knowledge? Is the prospect of financial gain for Ph.D. holders too attractive to ignore? Or is it the prestige that comes with being one of society’s intellectual elites?

To many of us, the quest for a Ph.D. degree might sound a little strange, ambitious even. Completing an undergraduate degree is challenging enough but earning a Ph.D. is on a whole different level. It is exceptionally difficult and demanding. It requires stamina, discipline, and strong will; lest it breaks you.

But the truth is, some people are cut out for the life of a doctorate degree holder. They find joy in giving up the comfort of normal work hours. They find fulfillment in defying the simplicity that comes with sticking to a routine. That’s how life must be for the sharp and the extremely dedicated: it’s all about pursuing the pinnacle of academic achievement.

A doctorate degree has become a status symbol of sorts. People may have different opinions on it but it does leave them in awe nonetheless. Today, some of the most famous and the richest have proven their academic commitment with a Ph.D. degree. Truth be told; these individuals never had to share the plight of most Ph.D. students today who struggle with loans or research grants.

Like everyone else, however, they had to face the harsh reality that the path to a Ph.D. degree is certainly not for the faint of heart. And that no amount of fame and fortune made them exceptions to the rule.

PhD degree holders

Curious as to who these famous personalities might be? From history to Hollywood, we list the brainiest bunch and probably the most committed famous people.

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal, whom everybody calls “Shaq” is a household name. Shaq is an NBA superstar who is a towering 7 feet tall. During the peak of is career, he was credited numerous times for leading his team to championships. And if that’s not impressive enough, he went on to win an Olympic Gold medal. Whether you are into basketball or not, you are most likely to know that the man is a living legend.

On June 1, 2011, he shocked the world with his plans to retire from the NBA. He posted on his Twitter page, saying:

“We did it. Nineteen years, baby. I want to thank you very much. That’s why I’m telling you first. I’m about to retire. Love you. Talk to you soon.”

After his official retirement, he became the Turner Network Television’s NBA analyst. His plans pretty much worked out for him as he was able to sit alongside other legends Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith. He also became a part of various blockbuster movies, which proved that he could play in courts of any kind, so to speak.

Shaquille O’Neal might have dominated the NBA but in the academic arena, he proved to be just as exceptional. Today, it wouldn’t be odd to call him Dr. Shaq. He earned a Doctorate Degree in Education from Barry University in 2012, with a special focus on Organizational Learning and Leadership.

True to his comedic side, Shaq’s dissertation looked into how CEOs and business leaders use humor in the workplace. During his graduation, the four-time NBA champion credited his parents for his compassion and love for learning. Life’s certainly a ball for Dr. Shaq!

 Mayim Bialik

She is “the quirky girl with the signature flower hat”. Mayim Bialik‘s most notable role was Blossom Russo in the NBC television sitcom “Blossom” which aired from 1990 to 1995.

Continuing her golden streak on TV, she is a series regular on the #1 comedy in America, CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory”. She plays Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist and a sassy one at that. The role earned her a Screen Actors Guild and four Emmy nominations.

Mayim is also a YouTuber who posts videos on parenting, religion, and the occasional political commentaries. On top of that, she authored #1 bestsellers that aimed to teach “teen girls and teen boys about the science and pressures of growing up male in today’s world”.

Most importantly, Mayim Bialik has a Ph.D. She is among the celebrity Ph.D. degree holders that continue to make it big in Hollywood. She earned her doctorate in Neuroscience from UCLA in the fall of 2007.

Her thesis studied “the role of oxytocin and vasopressin in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome”. She confesses her utmost respect for scientists and is ecstatic at the fact that she does play the part on TV.

James Franco

James Edward Franco, a name everybody recognizes. He has played roles ranging from the TV series Freaks and Geeks to the best-friend-turned-villain in Spider-Man. Acting comes naturally to James because creativity runs in his veins. He is the eldest son of a children book’s author and a businessman.

James dropped out on his first year at UCLA to pursue his acting career. However, he proved that academics was still a priority and went back to school for a Ph.D. In 2010, James Franco started his Ph.D. in English at Yale University.

“Acting kind of worked out, at least to the extent that I could make a living at it. But after eight or nine years of that, I decided that I wanted something else.”

That something else was education. For Franco, earning his Ph.D. degree was of utmost importance. True enough, he managed to succeed.

Miuccia Prada

Prada is a quintessential luxury brand. The fashion empire is headed by Miuccia Prada, head of fashion design. The Italian fashion designer is most notable for her minimalist designs.

“I don’t think there is a look for an intelligent, militant woman. She can wear anything she wants”

She, together with her brother, sister, and husband, owns 80% share of Prada. However, it was in 1988 when Miuccia launched her women’s wear collection that gained her critical acclaim.

Miu Miu, her secondary line inspired by personal wardrobe choices is a massive hit. Much like Prada, Miuccia exceeded the expectations of the fashion world when she earned a Ph.D. in Political Science. She does not only breathe fashion; she also exudes intellect.

Ashley Judd

A woman of beauty and dexterity. Ashley Judd is a feminist fighting for social justice. She has been working closely with various NGOs, community-based organizations, and government agencies since 2004. Now, Ashley is the Global Goodwill Ambassador for UNFPA. She also serves as the Global Goodwill Ambassador for Population Services International, as well as for Polaris Project.

Ashley starred in many critically acclaimed independent films such as Ruby in Paradise. The movie won the Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. On top of her humanitarian efforts and movie commitments, she committed to conquering another feat. In 2016, she announced that her application to UC Berkeley was accepted.

She pursues a Ph.D. in Public Policy in the prestigious institution. With a heart that never ceases to push for change, we are sure that she is well on her way to a successful Ph.D. completion that will take her life advocacy to a new level.

Peter Weller

Peter Weller is not your typical charming leading man. He is more than that notable chiseled look, too. As a respected actor, Peter delivers. His unforgettable roles include a Cyborg cop in RoboCop and RoboCop II.

Peter also had his stint in directing where he received an Academy Award nomination. In his 1993 short film, Partners, he proved to be a rare gem in the entertainment industry. His genius was not limited to the film industry, though. In 2014, Peter Weller received his Ph.D. in Arts History from the University of California in Los Angeles.

Rachel Maddow

A world-renowned political journalist, Rachel Maddow is the woman behind MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show”. In this Emmy Award-winning program, Rachel discusses the biggest political stories.

She engages in a lively debate with guests to make sure that all sides of the issue are covered. Rachel Maddow will take on any story, including those that no other cable news show is willing to take the risk with. Rachel means business!

In 2012, Rachel released her book titled “DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power”. Unsurprisingly, the book instantly made it the New York Times bestsellers list in March of the same year. The Rachel Maddow Show remains to be the most successful shows in MSNBC history. It owes its success to, among other things, its honest, opinionated, and educated host.

Rachel Maddow earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from Oxford University. Her academic achievement is certainly an important factor in maintaining the show’s credibility.

Brian May

The “Queen” became the quintessential British rock band in the 7os. They gave us the timeless anthem, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Brian May is the world-class guitarist and founding member of Queen. He is the band’s lead guitarist whose guitar solos captured the heart of millions of adoring fans worldwide. But Brian is not your typical music-loving, fame-embracing band member; he is a genius in his own right. The man has a Ph.D., in Astrophysics, no less. “We are all scientists,” he once said.

Alongside his many awards from his music, his passion for Astrophysics never ceases. Today, he serves many advocates a number of global causes. One of which is animal welfare. In 2005, he was appointed as Commander of the Order of the British Empire for “services to the Music Industry” and his charity works.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is no one in America who does not recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. He made a seismic impact on the fight for racial equality and relation in the United States. King, Jr. is the greatest figure behind American history’s biggest civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968.

Throughout his activism, Martin Luther King, Jr. became known for hitting a chord in people’s hearts with his inspirational speeches. He moved the world with his words. A key player in the fight against legal segregation of American citizens in the United States, King, Jr.’s tireless efforts and courage brought about the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”

King Jr. became the youngest person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 35. To this day, he remains as one of the greatest figures in American history.

PhD degree holders

But before he became a civil rights champion, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a dedicated minister at his congregation, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and led a regular life. In 1995, he earned a Doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston University.

Deciding to get a Ph.D. degree is not something you do on a whim. These Ph.D. degree holders have proven that they can thrive in a competitive, demanding, academic environment and survive what could sometimes be a lonely path to a doctorate degree. And it is all worth it: these famous people’s Ph.D. earned their colleague’s respect and admiration and made them indispensable figures in their field.

If you’re thinking about, or in the middle of, earning your Ph.D., take a clue or two from these incredible individuals whose love for higher learning certainly paid off.