Is a PhD in Computer Science Worth It? [2021 Guide]

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Is a PhD in computer science worth it? If you want the opportunity to engage in in-depth study of computing topics, conduct original research, and prepare for a job in the field of technology, then a doctoral degree in computer science may be the right fit for you.

Is a PhD in Computer Science Worth It

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Computer science experts use research and theories to fuel practical technology developments that make life safer and easier. If that idea intrigues you, then it may be time to enroll in a traditional or online computer science PhD program.

Is a PhD in Computer Science Worth It?

software developer working in his office

Yes, a PhD in computer science is worth it for many students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting 5% job growth in computer and information technology occupations over the next 10 years.

Common computer science careers in this field include:

  • Computer and information research scientist
  • Postsecondary teacher
  • Software developer
  • Computer and information systems manager
  • Computer network architect

Technology is a continually growing industry. Working in this ever-evolving sector can be exciting, and earning a PhD may give you even more opportunities to explore (and even make) cutting-edge developments in the field.

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Databases, software programs, and hardware systems can work together to solve real-world problems. The work that you do may offer solutions to serious issues in fields like medicine, education, and agriculture.

With a doctoral degree, you may qualify for top leadership roles at technology companies and other organizations. Your advanced online computer science degree may even earn you a title like chief technology officer or chief information officer.

A PhD is also usually the best path for those who want to enter academia, filling roles like researcher or professor.

Joining the faculty of a college may give you opportunities to teach others who will go on to make important contributions to the field of computers and technology, and to conduct original research yourself.

How to Decide Whether a PhD in Computer Science is Right for You

Computer Programmers having a break from work

Pursuing a doctoral degree involves a commitment of time, money, and brainpower, so it’s important to make sure that it is the right path for you. To decide whether you should return to school for a PhD in computer science, keep in mind your interests and your career goals.

A doctorate in computer science may be right for you if you can relate to some or all of the following:

1. You want to make a lasting contribution to the field of computer science.

PhD programs often focus heavily on research. Not only may you learn about the latest research developments in this field, but you may also receive training on conducting your own scientific studies.

The research and experiments you do may help you invent future technology, write new programming languages, or develop advanced computing theories. Getting a doctorate can help you build a foundation for your scientific endeavors.

2. There’s a particular area of computer science that fascinates you.

Computer Network Architects checking the data center

In a bachelor’s or master’s degree program, you may have received broad overviews of the computer science field. While you may have enrolled in a specialization track, your program likely covered a large variety of topics.

A PhD program may be your opportunity to really narrow your focus in the field of computer science. You may build your dissertation project around one specific computing topic of your choice and spend years studying it.

3. You have your sights set on a career in academia.

Universities typically want their faculty members to hold doctoral degrees. Particularly if you want to obtain a full-time tenured position, you’ll likely need to earn a PhD first.

Working at a university may allow you to influence up-and-coming leaders in computing. You may also be given opportunities to perform research and involve students as your assistants, and have access to grants to fund your studies.

4. You want to be a corporate leader.

IT director checking his staff

Companies need technology professionals. In corporate settings, the most senior positions (such as IT director or chief technology officer) may be available only to candidates with doctorates.

These may be some of the company’s highest-paying jobs. With a doctoral degree, you may also be in a position to start your own company, and take its leadership into your own hands.

5 Things You Can Do with a PhD in Computer Science Degree

There are a variety of jobs that someone with a PhD in computer science might take on. You may spend your days as a researcher or a university faculty member, or find employment in a corporate setting.

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Here are just a few of the careers that someone with a doctorate in computer science might pursue:

1. Computer and Information Research Scientist

Computer and Information Research Scientist checking cables in data center

As a researcher, you may investigate ways to solve problems through computing or robotics. Your work may center around artificial intelligence, programming languages, cloud computing, or hardware components. Research scientists often collaborate with experts from a variety of disciplines.

Together, you may tackle issues in healthcare, manufacturing, technology, education, business, and other fields. Many research positions are with the federal government. Tech companies and universities also hire computer researchers.

2. Computer and Information Systems Manager

Computer and Information Systems Manager in a meeting

As a professional who is in charge of an organization’s computer-related responsibilities, you may hold a title like IT manager, chief information officer, or cybersecurity director.

As a computer manager, you may have the final word on all issues related to your organization’s computers and networks. Because this is a management position, you may coordinate team members, head up departmental budgets, oversee projects, and negotiate contracts.

3. Computer Network Architect

Computer Network Architects checking the data room

As a computer network architect, you may plan and build communication systems for computers. Network engineer is another common name for this job.

In this role, you might also be responsible for making system repairs or upgrades. Your extensive knowledge of computers can help you build networks that are as effective and efficient as possible.

Industries like technology, education, insurance, and telecommunications depend on computer network architects.

4. Postsecondary Teacher in Computer Science

Computer Science Teacher checking his student's work

College professors pass on their computer knowledge to students. As a faculty member, you may teach undergraduate or graduate students.

You may also head up research projects with the assistance of students. There may be associated responsibilities, such as applying for grants or publishing your findings. Some professors are full-time employees who can obtain tenure. Others teach part time, sometimes holding another job outside the university setting as well.

5. Software Developer

Software Developers enjoying their work

If you have a creative mind that enjoys thinking up new software programs and bringing them to fruition, then you might be interested in being a software developer. Software developers may design individual applications or full-fledged operating systems.

Some software developers work for computer companies. Others are hired by businesses to design proprietary software for particular tasks. Industries that commonly need software developers include insurance and manufacturing.

PhD in Computer Science Degree Alternatives

Information Security Analysts in data center

Although a PhD in computer science might be your first choice for doctoral studies, it’s worth exploring whether there might be a different program that better suits your needs.

  1. Doctor of Computer Science. This professional doctorate may suit those who want to work in business rather than academia. You may study topics like algorithms and cybersecurity, and may write a dissertation.
  2. PhD in Informatics. In an informatics program, you may study methods of making data accessible and beneficial. Informatics is often associated with healthcare, but also has applications in art, design, and language.
  3. PhD in Software Engineering. If building software systems is where your passion lies, then you may find success in a software engineering program. Your work may improve the safety and efficiency of programs.

To determine which of these programs is best for you, you may want to compare curricula and program outcomes.

Computer Science Careers & Salaries

Computer Science Careers & Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average job in computers and technology pays a median salary of $91,250 per year.

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Here are a few of the common jobs that someone with a PhD in computer science might pursue, along with their median annual salaries:

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Computer and Information Systems Manager $151,150
Computer and Information Research Scientist $126,830
Computer Network Architect $116,780
Software Developer $110,140
Information Security Analyst $103,590
Database Administrator $98,860
Computer Systems Analyst $93,730
Computer Programmer $89,190
Postsecondary Computer Science Teacher $85,540
Network and Computer Systems Administrator $84,810

These figures reflect median salaries for employees across all levels of education. This means that some of these occupations may only require a bachelor’s degree. However, a graduate degree like a PhD or master’s in computer science is valuable to many students and may allow you to earn even more with a doctoral degree. Pay can also vary widely based on factors like experience and geographic region.

Getting Your PhD in Computer Science Degree Online

PhD in Computer Science Degree student studying online

Becoming a computer science expert means that you may spend your career on the cutting edge of technological developments. This field offers the potential for high salaries and exciting growth opportunities.

With a PhD in computer science, you might become a researcher, a professor, or an industry leader. Jobs with colleges, government agencies, and corporations are widely available, with more being added every year.

For an education that can help open the door to many different career paths, take a look at the PhD in Computer Science programs that many accredited universities have to offer.

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Jordan Meeks
WRITTEN BY
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.