Studying complex problems in computing for business, health, and science

by Donald L. Johnson

The 27,900 computer and information research scientists in the U.S. workforce represent a small fraction of the 2.6 million workers working in the computer and mathematical sciences. However, they are likely to experience excellent job prospects, because many organizations report difficulties finding these workers. Computer and information research scientists study and solve complex problems in computing for business, health, and science. Most jobs in this field require a graduate degree (often a Ph.D.), although a bachelor’s may be sufficient for some jobs. These scientists work with other scientists and engineers to solve complex computing and computational problems and are often involved in research and development projects in the physical, engineering, and life sciences. Computer and information research scientists must have knowledge of advanced math and other technical topics such as robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence. If they work in a specialized field, they may need knowledge of that field. For example, those working on biomedical applications may have to take some biology classes. They are employed by the federal government (primarily the Department of Defense), by research and development organizations, computer systems design firms, and colleges and universities.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for computer and information research scientists was $111,840 in May 2016 and for those employed in research and development activities in the physical, engineering, and life sciences, the median wage was $123,180. By comparison, the median pay in May 2016 for all occupations was $37,040. Jobs for computer and information research scientists are projected by the BLS to grow significantly faster than for all occupations, all engineering occupations, and all physical science occupations.

Projected Employment Growth, Computer and Information Research Scientists, 2016-2026

chart of Projected Employment Growth, Computer and Information Research Scientists, 2016-2026

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 2017.

About the author
Donald L. Johnson has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Tennessee and serves as senior researcher and principle investigator for ORISE workforce studies. With more than 20 years of experience in surveying both industry and academia, he has conducted dozens of analyses related to science and engineering labor market trends, and on issues such as workforce skills, adequacy of labor supply, education requirements and employment demand.