Science and geeky smarts are at the heart of The Big Bang Theory, and the CBS sitcom has charmed audiences around the world with the plucky physicists and aerospace engineers at the center of it. But whereas their characters hold multiple Ph.D.s and could hold their own alongside guest stars like Bill Nye, the cast is varying degrees of academically accomplished.
Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, and Howard get their expertise from UCLA professor David Saltzberg, tasked with supplying technical material for jokes that have to factually check out, but only Raj (Kunal Nayyar) has the superior space knowledge. Though the cast ranges from holding degrees in neuroscience to being high school dropouts, they’re some of the highest-paid actors in television history, so a few Ph.D.s aren’t standing in the way of their stardom.
Genius Leonard Hofstadter might have gotten his PhD at 24, but the only time Johnny Galecki spent at college was when he and the cast went to UCLA to visit the physics department to gather initial research for the show. But what he lacked in book smarts he made up for in street smarts, and that was him really playing the cello!
Born in Bree, Belgium, Galecki’s American parents moved constantly due to his father’s position in the US Air Force. According to him, he’s a self-professed “school drop out” at 14 who constantly ditched class, and wanted to pursue his dream of acting. When he started work on Roseanne, his most famous series outside of The Big Bang Theory, he was in his early teens and living completely on his own.
In some ways Kaley Cuoco may get a pass for not understanding the scientific concepts thrown around her at warp speed by the rest of the gang, because as Penny she was never expected to. In interviews, Cuoco has said that she hasn’t picked up on anything they’ve been talking about even after more than a decade.
Cuoco received her general education via home schooling, enabling her to graduate two years ahead of most of her peers. This freed her up to begin working on series like 8 Simple Rules. While she studied, she also ranked regionally as an amateur tennis player, from the time she was 3 until she was 16.
Bernadette Rostenkowski pursued her degree in microbiology, something which actress Melissa Rauch knew nothing about prior to joining the cast but enjoyed exploring (her favorite experiment involved rhesus monkeys). Bernadette did grow up in a religious household, something the character shares with Rauch.
While attending Marlboro High School, Rauch became interested in acting and improvisation, going so far as to make her Bat Mitzvah a Comedy Club” theme. She graduated from Marymount Manhattan College in New York City with a focus on art and acting, and even produced her own performance piece that toured in Los Angeles.
John Ross Bowie
John Ross Bowie, who played snide physicist Barry Kripke, almost didn’t pursue acting at all, having grown up in New York City’s theater district and seen so many of his friends struggle. He knew if he never pursued it he’d regret it, but he could have easily fallen back on a career as a writer thanks to his English degree from Ithaca College.
He was a member of the famous Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City, and performed around the country with a sketch comedy troupe. He has several writing credits to his name on IMDb, but he’s best known for The Big Bang Theory and Speechless.
Prior to her debut on The Big Bang Theory as Raj’s fiancee Anu, Rati Gupta was on a pre-med track at Northwestern University, where she also double majored in dance and psychology. She was a “medical geek” before ultimately deciding that dancing was her true love.
She moved to Los Angeles and decided to become a hip-hop dancer, and her work can be seen in videos for Flo Rida and Lupe Fiasco, among others. Her commitment to excellence certainly reflected the all-business no-nonsense hotel concierge that Raj’s parents arranged for him to marry.
It didn’t take much for Kevin Sussman to relate to Stuart Bloom, who’s only interest seemed to be in comic books and getting women’s phone numbers, because the writers drew from his own experience working at a mom and pop comic shop in New York City during his college years.
Sussman attended the College of Staten Island for a year before he went on to graduate from Manhattan’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. His theater training was finalized by studying under acting coach Uta Hagen for an additional four years, before he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his love of acting, cast soon after as Betty’s boyfriend Walter on Ugly Betty.
As astrophysicist Raj Koothrappali, Kunal Nayyar needed to sound knowledgeable about the cosmos, and as it turns out Nayyar is adept at topics of space, evidenced by his great success during a pop quiz via Huffpost Live.
Nayyar pursued his higher education at the University of Portland, Oregon, earning a BA in Business Administration. He got bitten by the acting bug and, after participating in the American College Theater Festival, decided to attend Temple University in Philedelphia, where he received a Master of Fine Arts in theater. He’s also a published author, and his book Yes, My Accent Is Real is out now.
Though he played engineer Howard Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory, Simon Helberg has admitted in interviews that in order to get Howard’s space dialogue down, he had to study the scripts very carefully, and get the help of real engineers on the set.
Herlberg studied acting at New York University’s famous Tisch School of Arts, and trained with the Atlantic Theater Company. Howard may have been delusional when it came to dating women but he was great at the piano, and Helberg’s real skills as a pianist were allowed to shine.
Sheldon Cooper may have been known for rattling off extensive monologues overflowing with polysyllabic science jargon, but Jim Parsons doesn’t have a degree in science, and had to study his dialogue like a foreign language he recited without knowing its meaning.
Parsons received his undergraduate degree from the University of Houston, and received his master’s degree from the University of San Diego in classical theater. A well respected thespian, Parsons has long been found on the stage, and will soon be seen on Broadway for the new revival of “The Boys in the Band,” which is produced by Ryan Murphy and David Stone.
Of all the cast, Mayim Bialik is the only one to have an actual degree relevant to her character – neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler. Bialik has a PhD in neuroscience from the Universe of California, Los Angeles, and was able to understand a great deal of the dialogue she was given to recite, making her expertise grounded in reality.
Prior to pursuing higher education, Bialik was a child star, appearing on the ’90s hit series Blossom. When she’s not on The Big Bang Theory, she can be found discussing neuroscience and the behavioral hormone bonding between mothers and infants.