I recently learned that eminent physicist Freeman Dyson does not have a doctoral degree. Does he have a graduate (magistrate) degree though? Or can he be described as a highly successful graduate-school dropout? The only formal degree listed in his official biography is an undergraduate (baccalaureate) degree in mathematics.

  • I posted it here actually more out of self-interest than academic historical interest. I think it is inspiring that so much can be done without a formal advanced degree. I haven't heard of that being done before in modern physics. Regarding the second question, I did think of how much education has changed and probably should have specified "modern" scientists and mathematicians. – Nicole Sharp Dec 18 '17 at 11:44
  • According to the link you provided, it says that Freeman Dyson has a Master's degree. I don't see any citation for that though, and it is not mentioned in his online biography. Michael Faraday was always one of my favorites too for being largely self-taught. – Nicole Sharp Dec 18 '17 at 11:44
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    Would usually -1 a question about a specific individual, but the idea that a famous physicist might not hold a graduate degree's pretty interesting. – Nat Dec 18 '17 at 12:07
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    I'm not convinced that Dyson's case is "inspiring" in the sense that it's something one could or should try to emulate. As detailed in answers to this related question Dyson managed it because (1) he was blatantly a genius and (2) he came of age academically during a vast, horrific war which made such an unholy mess of the world that bureaucratic niceties were occasionally overlooked. – Pont Dec 18 '17 at 14:14
  • The mathematician André Joyal, now an emeritus professor, apparently doesn't have a PhD, and that wasn't due to WWII. – David Roberts Dec 19 '17 at 0:37

According to both Freeman Dyson's homepage at the IAS and the accompanying C.V., he never earned another degree after his B.A. While unusual, this was much more possible at the time, since research in general was less well supported and organized. A number of other notable contemporaneous researchers (e.g., Ed Fredkin) also never earned a doctorate.

In the modern world, this is much more difficult, though similar recognition can be obtained as, e.g., a Professor of Practice.

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The Cambridge University Annual Register for 1968-69 (which is the only copy I have to hand) records just a Bachelor of Arts degree awarded in 1945 to FJ Dyson of Trinity College. (At Cambridge the BA degree is awarded for studies in sciences not just arts subjects.) He would have been qualified for the award of the Master of Arts degree without any further academic work or examinations. The University website explains that "if you hold a Cambridge BA, you may proceed to the MA not less than six years from the end of your first term of residence, providing that you have held your BA degree for at least two years." Many BA graduates do not bother to take the MA degree. Nevertheless for formal purposes at Cambridge the MA degree is regarded as ranking higher even than master's degrees awarded for actual academic work.

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