Computer and Information Research Scientists

Summary

computer and information research scientists image
Computer and information research scientists create new ways to use computers.
Quick Facts: Computer and Information Research Scientists
2012 Median Pay $102,190 per year
$49.13 per hour
Entry-Level Education Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 26,700
Job Outlook, 2012-22 15% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 4,100

What Computer and Information Research Scientists Do

Computer and information research scientists invent and design new approaches to computing technology and find innovative uses for existing technology. They study and solve complex problems in computing for business, medicine, science, and other fields.

Work Environment

Most computer and information research scientists work full time. Those working on independent research may have flexible work schedules.

How to Become a Computer and Information Research Scientist

Most jobs for computer and information research scientists require a Ph.D. in computer science or a related field. In the federal government, a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for some jobs.

Pay

The median annual wage for computer and information research scientists was $102,190 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of computer and information research scientists is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Computer scientists are likely to enjoy excellent job prospects, because many companies report difficulties finding these highly skilled workers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of computer and information research scientists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about computer and information research scientists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Computer and Information Research Scientists Do

Computer and information research scientists
Some computer scientists create programs to control robots.

Computer and information research scientists invent and design new approaches to computing technology and find innovative uses for existing technology. They study and solve complex problems in computing for business, science, medicine, and other fields.

Duties

Computer and information research scientists typically do the following:

  • Explore fundamental issues in computing and develop theories and models to address those issues
  • Help scientists and engineers solve complex computing problems
  • Invent new computing languages, tools, and methods to improve the way in which people work with computers
  • Develop and improve the software systems that form the basis of the modern computing experience
  • Design experiments to test the operation of these software systems 
  • Analyze the results of their experiments
  • Publish their findings in academic journals

Computer and information research scientists create and improve computer algorithms, which are sets of instructions that tell a computer what to do. Some computer tasks are very difficult and require complex algorithms. Computer and information research scientists try to simplify these algorithms to make computer systems as efficient as possible. These algorithms allow advancements in many types of technology, such as machine learning systems and cloud computing.

The work of computer and information research scientists often leads to technological advancements and efficiencies, such as better networking technology, faster computing speeds, and improved information security. In general, computer and information research scientists work on a more theoretical level than do other computer professionals.  

Many people with a computer and information research science background become postsecondary teachers. In general, researchers in an academic setting focus on computer theory, although those working for businesses or scientific organizations usually focus on projects that may produce profits.

Some computer scientists work with electrical engineers, computer hardware engineers, and other specialists on multidisciplinary projects. The following are examples of types of specialties for computer and information research scientists:

Data mining. Computer and information research scientists write algorithms that are used to detect and analyze patterns in very large datasets. They improve ways to sort, manage, and display data. Computer scientists build algorithms into software packages that make the data easier for analysts to use. For example, they may create an algorithm to analyze a very large set of medical data in order to find new ways to treat diseases. They may also look for patterns in traffic data to help clear accidents faster.

Robotics. Some computer and information research scientists study how to improve robots. Robotics explores how a machine can interact with the physical world. Computer and information research scientists create the programs that control the robots. They work closely with engineers who focus on the hardware design of robots. Together, these workers test how well the robots do the tasks they were created to do—such as assemble cars and collect data on other planets.

Programming. Computer and information research scientists design new programming languages that are used to write software. The new languages make software writing more efficient by improving an existing language, such as Java, or by making a specific aspect of programming, such as image processing, easier.

Work Environment

Computer and information research scientists
Computer and information research scientists improve ways to sort, manage, and display data.

Computer and information research scientists held about 26,700 jobs in 2012.

The industries that employed the most computer and information research scientists in 2012 were as follows:

Federal government26%
Computer systems design and related services18
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private13
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences11
Software publishers8

Most computer scientists employed by the federal government work for the Department of Defense. 

Work Schedules

Most computer and information research scientists work full time. Those working on independent research may have flexible work schedules.

How to Become a Computer and Information Research Scientist

computer and information research scientists image
Some computer scientists specialize in computer languages.

Most jobs for computer and information research scientists require a Ph.D. in computer science or a related field. In the federal government, a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for some jobs.

Education

Most computer and information research scientists need a Ph.D. in computer science or a related field, such as computer engineering. A Ph.D. usually requires 4 to 5 years of study after the bachelor’s degree, typically in a computer-related field, such as computer science or information systems. During their first 2 years in a Ph.D. program, students take a variety of computer science classes. They then choose a specialty and spend the remaining years doing research within that specialty.

Computer scientists who work in a specialized field may need knowledge of that field. For example, those working on biomedical applications may have to take some biology classes.

For some computer scientist positions in the federal government, a bachelor’s degree in computer science is sufficient.

Advancement

Some computer scientists may become computer and information systems managers.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Computer and information research scientists must be organized in their thinking and analyze the results of their research to formulate conclusions.

Communication skills. Computer and information research scientists must communicate well with programmers and managers and be able to clearly explain their conclusions to people with no technical background. They often write for academic journals and similar publications.

Critical-thinking skills. Computer and information research scientists work on many complex problems.

Detail oriented. Computer and information research scientists must pay close attention to their work, because a small error can cause an entire project to fail.

Ingenuity. Computer and information research scientists must continually come up with innovative ways to solve problems, particularly when their ideas do not initially work as intended.

Logical thinking. Computer algorithms rely on logic. Computer and information research scientists must have a talent for reasoning.

Math skills. Computer and information research scientists must have knowledge of advanced math and other technical topics that are critical in computing.

Pay

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Median annual wages, May 2012

Computer and information research scientists

$102,190

Computer occupations

$76,270

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for computer and information research scientists was $102,190 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $57,220, and the top 10 percent earned more than $151,900.

Most computer and information research scientists work full time. Those working on independent research may have flexible work schedules.

Job Outlook

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Computer occupations

18%

Computer and information research scientists

15%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of computer and information research scientists is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Computer scientists are tasked with advancing all fields of computing. As demand for new and better technology grows, demand for computer scientists will grow as well.

Rapid growth in data collection by businesses may lead to an increased need for data mining services. Computer scientists will be needed to write algorithms that help businesses sort, manage, and display very large amounts of data. A growing emphasis on cybersecurity also should lead to new jobs, because computer scientists will be needed to find innovative ways to prevent cyberattacks or to track hackers.

In addition, job growth will be driven by advances in robotics, as more advanced robots are developed. Robots are already widely used in manufacturing, and their use is expected to expand in distribution centers and within the military. Computer scientists design the “brain system” of a robot and ensure that the robot does what it is supposed to do. In addition, an increase in software demand may increase the need for computer scientists who create new programming languages to make software writing more efficient.

Job Prospects

Computer and information research scientists are likely to enjoy excellent job prospects. There are a limited number of Ph.D. graduates each year. As a result, many companies report difficulties finding these highly skilled workers. 

For applicants seeking employment in a specialized field, such as finance or biology, knowledge of that field, along with a computer science degree, may be helpful in getting a job.

Employment projections data for Computer and Information Research Scientists, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Computer and information research scientists

15-1111 26,700 30,800 15 4,100 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of computer and information research scientists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Computer and information systems managers

Computer and Information Systems Managers

Computer and information systems managers, often called information technology (IT) managers or IT project managers, plan, coordinate, and direct computer-related activities in an organization. They help determine the information technology goals of an organization and are responsible for implementing computer systems to meet those goals.

Bachelor’s degree $120,950
Computer hardware engineers

Computer Hardware Engineers

Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer systems and components such as processors, circuit boards, memory devices, networks, and routers. By creating new directions in computer hardware, these engineers create rapid advances in computer technology.

Bachelor’s degree $100,920
Computer programmers

Computer Programmers

Computer programmers write code to create software programs. They turn the program designs created by software developers and engineers into instructions that a computer can follow.

Bachelor’s degree $74,280
Database administrators

Database Administrators

Database administrators (DBAs) use specialized software to store and organize data, such as financial information and customer shipping records. They make sure that data are available to users and are secure from unauthorized access.

Bachelor’s degree $77,080
Mechanical engineers

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Bachelor’s degree $80,580
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and vocational subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $68,970
Software developers

Software Developers

Software developers are the creative minds behind computer programs. Some develop the applications that allow people to do specific tasks on a computer or other device. Others develop the underlying systems that run the devices or control networks.

Bachelor’s degree $93,350
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Computer and Information Research Scientists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm (visited July 31, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014