Computer and Information Research Scientists

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Computer and Information Research Scientists Do[About this section] [To Top]

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 of Computer and Information Research Scientists

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 and present their findings at conferences

Computer and information research scientists create and improve computer software and hardware.

Creating and improving software involves working with 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. The algorithms allow advancements in many types of technology, such as machine learning systems and cloud computing.

Computer and information research scientists design new computer architecture that improves the performance and efficiency of computer hardware. Their work 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 at 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 for Computer and Information Research Scientists[About this section] [To Top]

Computer and information research scientists hold about 25,600 jobs. The industries that employ the most computer and information research scientists are as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 28%
Computer systems design and related services 18
Information 14
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 12
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 11

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

Computer and Information Research Scientist Work Schedules

Most computer and information research scientists work full time. About 1 in 10 work more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become a Computer or Information Research Scientist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Computer and Information Research Scientists near you!

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.

Computer and Information Research Scientist 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 earning a 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 in the program 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.

Advancement for Computer and Information Research Scientists

Some computer scientists may become computer and information systems managers.

Important Qualities for Computer and Information Research Scientists

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 present their research at conferences.

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 programming 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.

Computer and Information Research Scientist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for computer and information research scientists is $108,360. 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 $66,030, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $165,600.

The median annual wages for computer and information research scientists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Computer systems design and related services $117,480
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 115,300
Information 112,590
Federal government, excluding postal service 104,390
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 97,280

Most computer and information research scientists work full time. About 1 in 10 work more than 40 hours per week.

Job Outlook for Computer and Information Research Scientists[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of computer and information research scientists is projected to grow 11 percent through 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

The research and development work of computer and information research scientists turns ideas into industry-leading technology. As demand for new and better technology grows, demand for computer scientists will grow as well.

Rapid growth in data collection by businesses will lead to an increased need for data-mining services. Computer scientists will be needed to write algorithms that help businesses make sense of very large amounts of data. With this information, businesses understand their consumers better, making the work of computer and information research scientists increasingly vital.

A growing emphasis on cybersecurity also should lead to new jobs, because computer scientists will be needed to find innovative ways to prevent cyberattacks.

In addition, an increase in demand for software may increase the need for computer scientists who create new programming languages to make software writing more efficient.

Computer and Information Research Scientists Job Prospects

Computer and information research scientists are likely to have 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. Later in the decade, prospects will be even better, as older computer and information research scientists retire.

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, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Computer and information research scientists 25,600 28,300 11 2,700


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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