Job profile: Become a computer research scientist
Posted on
April 28, 2020
So you want to be a computer research scientist. Here's what you have to look forward to.

Computer science refers to the science of computing and computing devices, with emphasis on the academic and algorithmic basis of computing, software and hardware, and their application in information technology. Competent computer research scientists have in-depth knowledge of advanced mathematics, including discrete math, the theory of computing, algorithms, data structures, programming languages, hardware design, and data modeling and processing.

What is the job?

Computer research scientists explore computing technology with the purpose of making existing technologies more effective, efficient, and robust, finding solutions to difficult problems, discovering novel applications for existing technology, and inventing new technologies. This role suits individuals who have an innate curiosity and passion for advanced mathematics.

With their understanding of computer science and applied technology in various aspects of everyday life, computing researchers serve as an interface between the science of computing and humans who apply technology in industry, commerce, government, medicine, public institutions, academia, and the personal sphere. Their goal is to make technology more effective, accessible, efficient, and robust.

In the U.S., computer research scientists work mostly in the federal government, research and development in engineering and life sciences, computer systems design, academic and professional institutions, and software publishing firms. Those who work in software publishing, scientific research and development, and information systems design and services, generally earn more than researchers who work in academia or the government.

Working for a Living: Algorithms and more

Computer research scientists work in different fields of technology, such as programming, data science, computer architecture, artificial intelligence and robotics. Their work tends to be more theoretical.

All computing tasks, whether simple or challenging, use algorithms. Computer research scientists research, create, and refine algorithms for application in science, medicine, business, academics, and administration.

Some algorithms can be very complex. Computer research scientists focus on simplifying intricate algorithms, enabling more efficient application of algorithms, and designing new algorithms that bring about technological advances, such as in cloud computing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

They also create algorithms for use in data science. These algorithms make it possible for data analysts to sort, manage, and present data, and identify and analyze repetitions of data series in very large sets of data, enabling organizations to derive valuable insights. Effective data analytics algorithms have proved very helpful not only in business and industry, but in medicine, public administration, and education.

So you want to be a computer research scientist. Here's what you have to look forward to.

Other common tasks undertaken by computer research scientists include the following:

  • They have a key role in improving cybersecurity.
  • They look into underlying problems in computing technology and formulate theories and standards to address the same.
  • They work with engineers and other computing professionals to find solutions to complex issues.
  • They develop new programming languages, tools, and methodologies, and refine existing languages in order to streamline software development.
  • They invent advanced computer architecture so as to enhance the performance of computers and networking infrastructure. We have computer scientists to thank for ever-increasing processing speeds and advances in networking technology.
  • They design and upgrade software that controls the actions of robots. They also work together with engineers who design robotic hardware in order to assess the performance of robots and improve their effectiveness and efficiency.
  • They design and improve the fundamental software systems that comprise the core of computing, devise methods for testing the same, and perform in-depth analyses of test results.
  • They present their research in academic journals and at conferences.

Keep an eye on

Rapid advances are being made in artificial intelligence, robotics, data science, cloud computing, cybersecurity, computer-assisted education, and bioinformatics. Computer scientists play a vital role in bringing about these changes. It is important for computer research scientists to stay up-to-date on the latest advances in their area of specialization.

Background: Knowledge and training

The academic qualifications required for this role are relatively high. Most computer research scientists hold at least a master's degree in computer science or computer engineering. Quite a few computer and information research scientists hold a doctorate. A bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field is acceptable for some roles in the U.S. federal government.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal government was the largest employer of computer and information research scientists in 2018. Bachelor's degree holders generally earn less than master's degree and doctorate holders.

Typically, computer research scientists do not need work experience to begin a career in this field. What is most important is holding a degree in computer science or a related subject, with relevant research experience. Having published research work is an advantage.

Apart from in-depth knowledge of advanced mathematics, computer scientists need strong analytical, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, and logical-reasoning ability. Curiosity is also essential.

Joining professional associations, such as IEEE, ACM, and CRA, is a good way to build on knowledge, meet others in the field, and establish professional relationships. Attending conferences is another way of increasing knowledge and staying abreast of advances in one's area of work.


Though credentials are not required for all computer research roles, some computing researchers may benefit by enrolling in continuing education programs available from universities, professional associations (such as the DevOps Institute), online platforms, and industry leaders such as Microsoft and Cisco.

So you want to be a computer research scientist. Here's what you have to look forward to.

Credential programs enable holders to upgrade their knowledge and skills, maintain currency, and enhance their professional value. Certifications may be particularly helpful for researchers who work in industry. Vendor-neutral and industry certifications might be of interest to research scientists who specialize in computer architecture, data science, programming languages, robotics, or information security.

The Association for Computing Machinery offers educational programs for those interested in computing as a science and a profession. Additional details are available online.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society offers courses in cloud computing, software design, embedded software, cybersecurity standards, and the Internet of Things. Details are available online.

The Computing Research Association (CRA) offers programs for computing researchers. Details are available online.

Research scientists specializing in data science might be interested in the SAS Certified Data Scientist certification from the SAS Academy. Details are available online.

Microsoft offers MCSE certifications in Core Infrastructure and Data Management and Analytics. Details are available online.

Certificates in specific programming languages may suit those looking to further their knowledge of particular languages.

Job prospects for computer research scientists look promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities in computer information research are expected to grow by 16 percent during the period 2018 to 2028, which is better than average.

About the Author

Reena Ghosh is an independent ghostwriter who writes promotional, developmental and explanatory content for individuals and businesses. She came to professional writing with work experience in financial services operations and corporate communication. Reena speaks three languages and hopes to learn Sanskrit. She is a wanderer who spends time in West Bengal, Goa and any place that pulls.

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