What did the characters on The Big Bang Theory really study?

SOURCE: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for People's Choice Awards/AFP
Want to become scientists like some of the characters on The Big Bang Theory?

By U2B Staff 

Read all stories

For a sitcom that primarily revolved around socially awkward scientists, The Big Bang Theory enjoyed enough mainstream success for it to run 12 seasons, hitting the right comedic tone to become a pop culture hit. 

For the uninitiated, the series featured characters Sheldon Cooper, Leonard Hofstadter, Rajesh Koothrappali and Howard Wolowitz, young and geeky scientists who work at Caltech (California Institute of Technology), a private research university in Pasadena, California, and Penny Hofstadter, a waitress and aspiring actress who moved to California from Nebraska to realise her acting dream. 


Also becoming part of the cast in later episodes are female scientists Bernadette Rostenkowski and Amy Farrah Fowler.

If you’ve ever been curious about the (possible) higher education of these characters — with the exception of Penny, who didn’t attend college — here’s what we think they could have pursued:  

Sheldon Cooper

Cooper is a theoretical physicist at Caltech. 

Chron notes that “theoretical physicists use mathematics to understand how nature and the universe work in areas where scientists cannot currently perform experiments to gain data. Some of the areas under study are string theory, dark energy and quantum mechanics.” 

If you want to become like Cooper, you’ll need a doctorate to become a theoretical physicist. Institutions such as the University of Manchester, Oxford, Imperial College London and the University of Amsterdam are among the institutions that offer courses related to the field.

Leonard Hofstadter

Cooper’s best friend is an experimental physicist who is a Princeton alumnus.

“Experimental physicists usually work in a lab and seek to test hypotheses and theories, to make discoveries of new phenomena, or to develop new applications of ideas,” notes theUniversity of Arkansas at Little Rock.

An undergraduate degree in the field might not be sufficient to become a physicist — postgraduate qualifications such as an MSc, MPhil, or PhD will help you become an experimental physicist.

Institutions such as the Universiteit Utrecht and Swansea University are among the universities that offer programmes related to the field.

Rajesh Koothrappali

Koothrappali is an astrophysicist and Wolowitz’s best friend.

Swinburne University of Technology notes: “Astrophysicists try to understand the universe and its contents, including stars, planets, galaxies and celestial objects, by applying the laws of physics”. 

For a deeper explanation, PhD candidate Renee Spiewak said, “An astrophysicist might study galaxies, planets, stars or other celestial objects such as black holes and asteroids. An astrophysicist might look back to the beginning of the universe and try to understand how it formed, and some astrophysicists might even try to predict how the universe will end.”

A master’s or (better yet) a PhD will help you hone your skills to become an astrophysicist. Universities such as Oxford, Manchester and the University of Edinburgh offer programmes in the field. 

Howard Wolowitz 

Wolowitz is an aerospace engineer who studied at MIT. He is the only one out of the quartet of Cooper, Koothrappali and Hofstadter who doesn’t have a PhD, but stood out for eventually becoming an astronaut.

For those who are unfamiliar, aerospace engineering is concerned with the design, development, testing and production of aircraft, spacecraft, and related systems and equipment, notes Penn State.

Institutions such as Manchester, TU Delft and KTH Royal Institute of Technology offer master programmes in the field.


Bernadette Rostenkowski

Rostenkowski is a microbiologist who scores a high-paying job at a pharmaceuticals company after obtaining her PhD.

The Microbiology Society notes that microbiologists work towards understanding microbes, and may work in many places, from labs in universities, research institutes and industrial companies, to investigating microbes in fieldwork. 

Universities such as Nottingham and Manchester offer PhDs in the field. 

Amy Farrah Fowler

Fowler is a neurobiologist who has a PhD in neurobiology; her research focuses on addiction in primates. 

Neurobiology is an interdisciplinary field. “Neurobiology is concerned with uncovering the biological mechanisms by which nervous systems mediate behaviour,” notes Harvard University.

Institutions such as Duke and the University of Chicago offer PhDs in the field.