Online Guide to PhD in Computer Science Programs
Computer science is often equated with computer programming or software engineering, and the fields do have many similarities, but computer science is much more academic than the other fields, and relies more heavily on knowledge of mathematics and physics. However, getting a degree in computer science can easily lead to a stimulating and lucrative career in Silicon Valley or the other technology hubs of the world.
A student pursuing a PhD program is usually on track to either become a professor or do academic research in the government or private sector. In the computer science field, another option is to work for a major technology corporation like Google or Oracle. Getting a PhD entails doing original research and writing a thesis that you will then defend in front of a panel of your professors and possibly other experts in your field. Some potential fields of research for computer science PhD candidates are:
- Speed of Computation: Since 1965, computers have generally doubled in processing speed every 18 months. This trend is called Moore’s law, and it has been the subject of much research and debate. Some computer scientists believe that any exponential growth like Moore’s law must come to an end, and some think that by continually finding new materials and new processes for computation, the speed of computer processing can continue doubling forever. Computer scientists are constantly looking for ways to shrink the size and increase the speed of computer chips.
- Memory and Storage: Storage and memory go hand in hand with speed of computation, and a computer science student could do compelling research on new ways of storing more data on a smaller chip.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI): Companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook are hard at work finding ways to get computers to crunch through massive amounts of data and identify patterns of behavior that can be used to make money. With the exponential growth in the speed and storage space of computers, computer scientists are getting closer and closer to producing AIs that can interact naturally with humans.
- Signal Transmission: WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, Ethernet, 3G and 4G are all probably familiar terms to anyone who uses a computer or a cell phone, or both. These are data transmission paradigms that were developed by experts in various fields of computer science. There is always research being conducted on how to increase the speed and efficiency of data transfer.
Since they were invented, digital computers have revolutionized every sector of industry and commerce. Computer scientists paved the way for these enormous changes in human society, and the new crop of computer science PhDs will certainly follow in the tradition of innovation.
Potential Careers for Computer Science PhDs
Computer science professionals usually work in academia or for software or hardware companies, but since almost every business sector is growing more and more reliant on computers to conduct day to day operations, someone with a doctorate in the field can probably get a job in any industry. Some fairly common job titles, along with their requisite duties, are:
- Software Engineer: Computer scientists are often hired to tackle difficult software problems at major technology companies. This might mean designing new database management systems for an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or writing the software that enables self-driving cars to avoid collisions.
- Robotics Engineer: Computer scientists that focus on robotics can design machines for everything from manufacturing to space exploration. This job is appealing in that it combines both software and hardware design elements. Robotics engineers can design their creations from the ground up, though many work on teams to design machinery that would be far too complex for one person to create.
- Chief Executive Officer: There is so much venture capital available for new technology companies that many computer scientists want to start their own companies. Computer skills are only part of this equation, and business-savvy and social skills are also important, if not quite as important as the ability to write code and build a product that users will pay for and investors will invest in.
Curriculum for PhD in Computer Science Programs
The classes computer science students take will depend a lot on what direction they want to take their independent research, but even at the PhD level, there are core classes that everyone has to take to build an adequate knowledge base. Some standard courses for computer science PhDs are:
- Statistical Machine Learning: Machine learning involves programming a computer to sift through data and test multiple methodologies or scenarios for achieving a desired goal.
- Web Information Retrieval: This class looks at the basic principles of programming a computer to sift through numerical and text data and return relevant results. Google is a commonly known example of web information retrieval software, but this kind of program is useful in a plethora of circumstances.
- Distributed Systems: The internet itself is a distributed system, with no particular node or sub-network containing all of it. Learning to build and program efficient distributed systems is the crux of this course.
- Software Testing: Industrial and professional grade software comprises millions of lines of code, probably written by dozens or hundreds of different people. There are bound to be mistakes, bugs, and inefficiencies, and the computer science community has established best practices for rooting out these problems and fixing them.
Earnings and Job Prospects for Computer Scientists
While computer science is a broad field with many possible career options, The Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps computer and information scientists into one category for the purposes of reporting salary and job growth.
The BLS has predicted that jobs in computer and information research would grow at a rate of about 19% between 2010 and 2020, which is about average, compared to other occupations. Increased need for cybersecurity, medical software applications and robots, and cloud computing systems are cited as major growth sectors within computer and information science.
The median annual salary for computer and information scientists was $100,660 as of May, 2010, which is over double the median annual salary across all occupations. While working in this field requires a great deal of education, the rewards are substantial, and it is likely that a successful computer scientist will be able to pay off their student loans.
How to Find a Job after Graduating with a PhD in Computer Science
Computer jobs are available all across the U.S. and even globally, but the main concentrations of high profile jobs at well-known companies are in Silicon Valley, California, and New York City, New York. With the notable exception of Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, most of the top technology companies today are based in California or New York. This can be a blessing for computer science students if they want to live in a major coastal city, and if they don’t, the possibility of telecommuting is much higher with technology jobs than with many others. The biggest software companies usually expect their programmers to put in serious hours at the office though, so moving to the city where the company is headquartered is probably the best plan for most computer scientists looking to work at a tech giant.
There are dozens of high quality job boards online with postings for every type of computer work you can think of. A benefit of looking for jobs in the tech industry is that companies usually know how to find good workers, and if you make yourself desirable by working on projects that are visible to the tech community, jobs will fall into your lap.
Studying Computer Science Online
Computer science is uniquely suited to being taught online, as all of the actual work that you’ll need to do is on a computer anyway. Learning to program by looking at text and video resources provided by an online college is very similar to the way that you’d learn if you went to a campus. Having all of the materials available on screen for you to refer back to as needed is crucial when dealing with finicky programming syntax and mathematical algorithms.
Even if all the academic work is easy to do in front of a computer, getting an internship or some other hands-on experience is crucial for getting a job in the computer industry. Competition is high, and the Ivy League Schools, especially Stanford, tend to groom their students for work in Silicon Valley. Who you know really is important for a huge segment of possible computer jobs, so getting some face to face connections with people already in the industry is important. The career center at your college, or even your professors and fellow students, can probably help you make these connections, and any college worth your while will be able to offer some advice and help getting your foot in the door at your first job.
If you’re ready to look at the details of an accredited computer science PhD program that can be completed partly or entirely online, check out some of the colleges featured on this site, and click the links to contact them for more information.