May studied physics and mathematics at Imperial College London, graduating with a BSc (Hons) degree and ARCS in physics with Upper Second-Class Honours. He then proceeded to study for a Ph.D. degree, also at the Imperial College departments of Physics and Mathematics, and was partway through this PhD program, studying reflected light from interplanetary dust and the velocity of dust in the plane of the Solar System. When Queen became successful he abandoned his physics doctorate but co-wrote two scientific research papers: MgI Emission in the Night-Sky Spectrum (1972) and An Investigation of the Motion of Zodiacal Dust Particles (Part I) (1973), which were based on his observations at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife. He is the co-author of Bang!
The Complete History of the Universe with Sir Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott, which was published in October 2006. In October 2007, more than 30 years after he started his research, he completed his PhD thesis in astrophysics, entitled A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, passed his viva voce, and performed the required corrections. He officially graduated at the postgraduate awards ceremony held in the Royal Albert Hall, on the afternoon of Wednesday 14 May 2008. On 17 November 2007, May was appointed Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, taking over from Cherie Blair, and installed in 2008