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Should I Pursue a PhD in Computer Science (CS)? Pros and Cons!

For some students it's clear that they wish to work in the industry after obtaining a degree in computer science, usually a bachelor degree or a master's degree. An alternative career path is to pursue a doctorate degree or PhD in computer science which roughly leads to either an academic career at universities or in the industry at research laboratories.

The decision of whether to pursue a PhD or not should not be taken lightly: the road is long and you must be thoroughly motivated to do research and to produce those publications. Also, just because you can do a PhD that does not mean you should. Having a PhD is not a requirement for a happy life although it might be just your thing if you like research and developing new technical knowledge.

How eager are you to do science?

How eager are you to do science?

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Why do a PhD in computer science?

Computer science is an interesting field because it combines technical ideas with practical applications. If you're a code monkey then developing software at a software company may be more suitable for you. If you're interested in advancing the state of the art at a big company with a research department, such as Google and Microsoft, then a PhD is a good choice.

If your ambition is to have an academic career at a university then a PhD is pretty much mandatory as it is a requirement to work there. If you are considering to join the industry then you must weigh the pros and cons of getting a PhD. For many jobs in computer science you'll become over-qualified when you have a PhD and employers may not hire you anymore unless it's a research position. Jobs may also be more difficult to find that match your desires, both at work and financially.

Basically it boils down to how much you like doing research and how much you're willing to give up to do it. Are you willing to put in the hours and the years in which you could have been earning a nice paycheck? If you have a strong desire to do research then a PhD is really for you. The academic world may seem safe and far away from real-world worries but it's good to evaluate whether you're best suited for the academic world or working in the industry.

There are many documents on the internet that discuss the issue in more detail and I suggest you read many of them. I have linked to some of them later in this article.

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I think my conclusion is that if you're in doubt and you do not (yet) have a rock-solid reason to do a PhD then start working first. If one or two years of working experience teach you that it is not what you want then you can always look around for a PhD. You will be a lot more motivated to do the PhD when you know why you want it. It has also been said that the best PhD students are those with some working experience as they're more used to the realities of the system.

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It's clear that there can be many wrong reasons to do a PhD. You shouldn't do is for any prestige or to prove your worth. Don't be afraid to say no, even when you are offered a PhD position at your current university. Ultimately, it'll be several years of your life that you are putting into it. I'm just saying this because there are indeed people who decide to do a PhD without giving any consideration to the other options available.

Here are some useful links to articles that discuss the issue:

Have you done a PhD or are you considering to do a PhD? Why did you (not) pursue a doctorate degree in computer science? Post a comment below to share your opinion.

This article was written by Simeon Visser. I am earning money online by writing here at Would you like to earn money online as well? Read the success stories and sign up today to get started!


aw88 on February 22, 2012:

Thanks for the article! Do you know more about the career possibilities with a PhD in CS, in terms of job security, jobs and wages? I refused a PhD scholarship a few months ago to go to work in the IT sector, but I might see myself coming back to this decision as I found my university studies way more fascinating than what I'm doing now.

simeonvisser (author) on March 24, 2011:

Thanks for your insights There is indeed the risk that you'll be working on something very theoretical that doesn't really help society. I'm still pondering what I should do. It may be better to work first to see what the real world is like. I can then decide whether to commit to a long-term research project in the academic world or not. on March 24, 2011:

This reminds me of my time at Uni - a long time ago - yes I got a scholarship and could have done a Phd but decided I should contribute back to society - but then I wasn't doing anything as practical as CS - I still think I made the right decision because even though you can get treated like crap in the real world for the acquired attitude that knowledge is really to know how much you don't know! (The rest of society seem to have a lot of difficulty with this!) but then the socalled real world does give you insights into what people really need, what they struggle with, how badly they can be treated and what Phds should be contributing to advance the lot and opportunities of others. Thanks for this article SimonVisser.

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