The Offspring's Dexter Holland swaps the guitar for the microscope

When The Offspring's Dexter Holland was in the studio recording his band's third and highest selling punk album Smash in 1994, he was also writing a molecular biology thesis on HIV, but put that on hold for rock 'n' roll.

The 10 days it took to make Smash changed his life; the album is still the best selling independent record of all time. But it also saw Holland take 20 years to go back to university to finish what he started.

Last year, the rock star donned a professor's hat and graduated with a PhD from the University of Southern California.

Diverging paths

"I remember juggling school and being in a band just trying to get by," recalls Holland of not knowing if he would find success beyond his punk circles in Southern California, let alone finish a degree.

"We were just a small punk band on a small label and couldn't afford a lot of time in the studio and the pressure was on the finish this album," he says.

Holland quit his studies as Smash took off. The 52-year-old says he has no regrets.

Life's work

Best known for writing '90s anthems like Self-Esteem and Come Out And Play, Holland says his parents wished his band would be nothing more than a 'phase', but he's proved otherwise and forged a successful touring career ever since.

He's still king of the punk rock kids (they just grew up and so did he) and proof that science and punk rock do mix.

But while he's made a career writing about disaffected youth and one-night stands, he's got his intellectual mind set on shining a light on new ways to eradicate the HIV virus.

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The long-titled dissertation – Discovery of Mature MicroRNA Sequences within the Protein-Coding Regions of Global HIV-1 Genomes: Predictions of Novel Mechanisms for Viral Infection and Pathogenicity – is yet to be published but Holland plans to divide the five chapters into individual research papers and get them published.

"It's a long process. I see that taking anywhere up to two years," he says.

A global dream

He's also talking with Harvard University academics to turn his hypothesis into experimental testing.

"Collaborating with the guys at Harvard is a way to take my research into a practical form," he adds.

"I have always been interested in virology and wanted to contribute in some small way to the knowledge which has been learned about HIV and AIDS," says Holland.

"Over 35 million people worldwide are currently infected and living with the HIV virus," he says.

"Over 1 million people a year die from this disease."

All good things

When he's not at his computer researching, Holland is happiest on the road. He comes to Australia to perform Smash in its entirety at Good Things festival – a retrospective nod to their halcyon days.

"I remember playing the Big Day Out in 1995 when that album went to Number 1 in Australia. It was so surreal and yet so amazing to have had that experience. It only makes sense to relive that moment by touring the album again," he says.  

A life twice lived

So how has fame changed him?

"That album was a huge turning point in my life and fame certainly made it easier because we had more money to do things," says Holland who also runs his own hot sauce brand Gringo Bandito.

"I mean how many students get to do the band thing and then return to their studies two decades later and fulfill both dreams," he says.

"I am also grateful the university accepted me to go back. They took a chance on me and that's all you need to get through, someone to believe in you."