What is a Ph.D. in Computer science salary? [Data and Career Options]

Computer science is a popular field within information technology, with many practitioners in academia and industry. Most people think people in computer science, especially Ph.D. holders, are well paid, but is it true? What is a Ph.D. in Computer Science salary?

A Ph.D. in Computer Science could help you earn between $36,231 to $292,000, with an average of $101,303. Actual salary may depend on experience, job title, and location. You will likely earn more in industry than academia with a Ph.D. in Computer Science.

In this article, we try to figure out how much salary can a Ph.D. holder in Computer Science earn. We also explore career options for someone with the qualification and how you can earn the degree. Finally, we also look at whether getting a Ph.D. in Computer Science is worth it. 

The Salary Of A Computer Science Ph.D Graduate and Engineer

It is possible to earn a six-figure wage after completing a PhD in computer science and computer science PhD graduates are often in high demand for professions such as computer scientist, data scientist, computer engineering, and many other professional positions. 

Computer Research Association$70,000$200,000

Source: Payscale, Salary, Glassdoor, CRA, SimplyHired

You can see that the average salaries for those with a degree in computer science are very favorable. Those with a master’s degree, or PhD often command high salaries in a professional setting.

What will you earn with a Ph.D. in Computer Science?

The salary for people with a Ph.D. in Computer Science can vary widely. A Ph.D. in computer science could help you earn between $36,231 to $292,000, with an average of $101,303. 

The salary range and average are based on self-reported figures from popular job and career website users. This could explain why the numbers vary so widely between websites. 

Actual salary may also depend on many other factors, such as:

  1. experience,
  2. location, and
  3. job scope.

The salary can also differ on whether or not you are in academia or industry. As a general rule of thumb, if you are in the industry, you are likely to earn more. 

For example, if you take up a job as an assistant professor, you will earn, on average, $98,000 annually. A similar entry-level industry position, such as a data scientist, could earn you, on average, $217,335 per year. 

What Is a Doctorate / PhD in Computer Science? 

A Doctorate in Computer Science or a Ph.D. in computer science is a research-focused degree designed to prepare you for future academic or industry positions.

To earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science, you must first complete a novel research, usually written and documented in a thesis. You spend time planning and conducting investigations and then analyzing the database you have created. Presenting the data in new and interesting ways. 

At the end of the degree you then defend your thesis before a committee of experts in computer science or a Viva Voce. Graduating with a Ph.D. in Computer Science may take years of effort.

Common topics researched include but are not limited to:

  • programming language,
  • artificial intelligence,
  • computational science,
  • or big data. 

A Ph.D. in Computer Science is considered a prestigious degree.

People who hold the degree are often held in high regard by people within and outside of their field.

Why Get a Doctorate in Computer Science?

Obtaining a Doctorate in Computer Science is ideal for those who are genuinely interested in pursuing research, contributing to the field’s cutting-edge development, or potentially joining industry research teams at companies like Google or Facebook. 

It’s crucial to have a real passion for exploring unique contributions to the field, which often involves long hours of focused study.

Starting with undergraduate research can help clarify if this path is right for you. There are some career options that mean you don’t even need to have a PhD and you can still earn a high salary for computer science skills. 

1. Research Opportunities – Feilds of research

A Ph.D. in Computer Science is an excellent opportunity to perform original research in an area that interests you.

You get to spend time exploring ideas and techniques that are on the cutting edge of science and research. 

As you build up your expertise and build a reputation as an expert in the field, you can translate that knowledge and skill into industry or academia. That’s where the biggest six-figure salaries can be found. 

2. Career Paths and Development – Want to become a professor?

Many people undertake a Ph.D. in Computer Science for their careers and to access higher pay scales at the companies they are working at. PhDs often command higher salaries than those with a masters. 

This is because the research process prepares you for a wide range of career options once you graduate. A Ph.D. can also give you a competitive edge, improving your career prospects at highly competitive companies such as Google, Facebook and other big names. 

A Ph.D. in Computer Science also allows you to enter the academic world and move up into a tenured university professorship. Some people have the dream of teaching in a university and becoming a computer science professor.

However the university system can be a minefeild to navigate and very tough for young PhDs. 

3. Personal Growth

Many also undertake a Ph.D. in Computer Science for personal growth reasons. Completing a Ph.D. is a challenging endeavor, requiring immense focus and problem-solving skills. You also need to have critical thinking and the ability to understand data sets well. 

As a result, a Ph.D. holder in Computer Science often can show the ability to approach complex problems well. They understand the problem and then they can develop a systematic, analytical, and data-driven approach to solve them.

What jobs are available to someone with a Ph.D. in Computer Science?

With a Ph.D. in Computer Science, you can work in the academic world and industry. This is because the skills and expertise you gain from the degree are valued in both fields. 

Within the academic world, you may start as a postdoc, refining your research skills further before progressing through the academic ranks. If all goes well, you should be able to end this career journey as a tenured professor, earning a median salary of up to $200,000 a year.

In industry, your career options become varied and broad.

You may become a software engineer, data scientist, computer networking or cyber security specialist etc. These jobs pay 6-figures on average and should help you enter firms like Microsoft or Google.

You can also enter industry as a researcher, working in research and development labs for companies and research institutes.

A Ph.D. in Computer Science can also propel you into management or as a C-level executive in tech companies. Common positions include the Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), or the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Where can you earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science?

You can earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science at university. Many universities, especially in the top 1%, offer the degree. Some of the most prestigious universities where you can study a Ph.D. in Computer Science are:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Stanford University
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • University Of California, Berkeley
  • University of Oxford

However, before enrolling in a Ph.D. in Computer Science program at any university, do your homework first. Ensure that the supervisor has the expertise to support you and that the university is committed to ensuring you graduate. 

If not done well, Ph.D. can be a horror story for you. There have been countless stories of students undergoing depression and stress due to unsupportive universities and supervisors. 

You may also require specific equipment and tools depending on your research topic. In this case, try to make sure the research lab within your university has them, or at least you know where to access this equipment. 

Is it Worth Doing a Ph.D. in Computer Science?

Whether a Ph.D. in Computer Science is worth it or not depends largely on your individual career goals and interests.

Use this decision tree to see if a Ph.D. is right for you:

  1. Start
  2. Are you passionate about conducting cutting-edge research and making significant contributions to the field of computer science?
    2.1. Yes -> Go to step 3
    2.2. No -> Go to step 5
  3. Are you interested in joining industry-leading tech research teams where a Ph.D. is often a prerequisite?
    3.1. Yes -> Go to step 4
    3.2. No -> Go to step 8
  4. Are you prepared for the time and effort commitment required by a Ph.D. program?
    4.1. Yes -> A Ph.D. in Computer Science is worth considering
    4.2. No -> A Ph.D. might not be a good fit
  5. Is your primary goal to be a software engineer or to work on applied aspects of the discipline?
    5.1. Yes -> Go to step 6
    5.2. No -> Go to step 8
  6. Are you willing to gain industry experience and learn on the job without the time commitment of a doctoral program?
    6.1. Yes -> A Ph.D. might not be necessary. Industry experience could be more valuable
    6.2. No -> Go to step 7
  7. Are you excited about the prospect of in-depth exploration and problem-solving, even if it means less immediate financial compensation?
    7.1. Yes -> A Ph.D. in Computer Science is worth considering
    7.2. No -> A Ph.D. might not be a good fit
  8. Are you able to gain admission into top-tier institutions offering unique learning opportunities and exposure to the forefront of computer science research?
    8.1. Yes -> A Ph.D. in Computer Science is worth considering
    8.2. No -> Consider other options based on career goals and resources available
  9. End

The decision to pursue such an advanced degree should be made after thorough consideration of your aspirations and inclinations.

If your passion lies in cutting-edge research and making significant, unique contributions to the field of computer science, a Ph.D. could be a worthwhile pursuit. It’s particularly useful if you wish to join research teams in industry-leading tech companies like Google’s DeepMind or Facebook’s artificial intelligence team, where a Ph.D. is often a prerequisite. 

However, if your primary goal is to be a software engineer or to work on applied aspects of the discipline, a Ph.D. might not provide much-added value.

Instead, industry experience could serve you better, allowing you to learn on the job and advance your career without the time commitment of a doctoral program.

Additionally, the reputation and resources of the university program you’re considering play a crucial role in assessing the worth of a Ph.D. If you have the opportunity to gain admission into top-tier institutions, the potential for unique learning opportunities and exposure to the forefront of computer science research could make the investment of time and effort worthwhile.

It is also essential to consider the trade-offs involved. Pursuing a Ph.D. typically involves years of focused study and rigorous research, often with less financial compensation than you might earn in industry roles. However, if you find the process of in-depth exploration and problem-solving exciting, these aspects might be less of a deterrent.

Wrapping up – Salary of a computer science PhD

A Ph.D. in Computer Science can act as a gateway to a plethora of career options in the fast-growing field of technology.

Graduates of computer science doctoral programs can assume various roles such as a computer scientist, data scientist, computer engineer, or a computer science professor. They are equipped with a deep understanding of complex software applications, algorithms, and computing systems.

The doctorate in computer science salary often reaches six-figure annually, with the potential to command even higher salaries depending on the job title and responsibilities.

A professional with this degree might earn a median compensation that is significantly above the average salaries of those with a Master’s degree in the field. Such lucrative career opportunities are not uncommon in major tech companies like Apple, where Ph.D. graduates often specialize in areas like software development or data science.

Computer science Ph.D. graduates can also work in academia, enhancing the knowledge of prospective students while conducting research to find long-term solutions to complex computing problems. Many schools offer postdoctoral positions that emphasize research and teaching, allowing Ph.D. candidates to reserve a foothold in the academic world.

Outside of tech and academia, opportunities in fields like healthcare also exist, where computer science expertise can significantly enhance system efficiencies.

The ever-growing demand for Ph.D.s in this field proves that it is a worthwhile investment for those who aspire to be at the forefront of computer and information technology.

If you want to start your application to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science program, consider checking out our guide on applying to graduate schools.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.