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Is a PhD helpful for a data science career?

A PhD is a great source of building research skills and gaining new or innovative insight by adding to an existing body of knowledge. Data science, on its own, is also a valuable means of research and creating knowledge. If one can imagine how helpful a PhD degree would be to fields like medicine for innovation, the ability to apply this to Data will certainly have some merit and probable benefit also. A PhD is a research degree that provides the challenging but rewarding opportunity to contribute to, and expand your field of study. The primary benefit of obtaining a PhD in the field of Data Science or Artificial intelligence is it allows you to go deeper and practise the work of research as your core focus with the possibility you will unveil something cutting edge and ground-breaking for impact. This can be highly stimulating intellectually but also incredibly rewarding for impact. These are some of the reasons why obtaining a PhD for a data science career though not necessary to practice data science can be incredibly useful! You can also watch Dr Chantel Perry’s session on how having obtained her PhD, helped her switch into a Data Science career here.

Importance of a PhD degree

PhD holders are typically brilliant problem solvers. The countless hours spent on research studies and using diverse sources of knowledge in achieving a purpose, places the degree holder on an excellent trajectory towards solving issues in their field. Many PhD degrees are specialists in their fields, and are greatly desired by many organizations. This is because of their ability to process and analyze complex tasks, and achieve results capable of organizational success. A PhD is perhaps the highest degree any university can give in a particular field of study. It is greatly desired by many organizations, and its benefits to any individual cannot be understated; to complete a PhD degree, one would have to successfully finish a difficult process of developing a research proposal, formulate a research plan, carry out an intense process of research in your chosen field of study, and presenting the results of such research to other experts, who after evaluating your work, would deem it to have met the highest standards in the academic world. This approach to obtaining this degree make any holder of the degree an invaluable asset. 

Benefits of a PhD degree to data science

Data science thrives on research, and more research. Every process of data science would greatly benefit from an organized method of research, one which the PhD degree offers. A PhD degree would be an invaluable asset to data science; it would help to improve the ability of any data scientist to understand any problem and give a capability to solve them. The series of research, and processes of gaining knowledge taken during the course of study of a PhD degree would prove helpful to a data scientist as it could help to solve real-life problems. The years spent learning would prove beneficial, as it gives a foundation for which real life issues in data science could be handled. A PhD degree signifies a highest level of competence in any field. Translating this to the benefits to the field of data science, would mean that the degree equips a data scientist with a high level of competence. The degree also signals that one possesses the requisite analytical skills in such a field that can enable one to carry out rigorous research tasks, because the years spent in studying involves training in statistics and methodology. The degree also showcases to an organization particularly those with research focussed Artificial Intelligence roles in data science that you are capable of fulfilling their data science needs. It is an indicator of an ability in that field, because obtaining a degree in that field, it means one has been able to pass qualifying examinations that demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of relevant concepts, issues, and methodology in such a field of study. The skills gained in statistical analysis and quantitative & qualitative research methodology would really be beneficial to any data scientist. 

Individuals with a PhD degree have developed a knack for experiments and research, worked with real-world & complex data, and proven useful in advancing that field of study. Since a data scientist is expected to be an applied researcher in the industry, the PhD degree would be indeed beneficial. An average PhD degree in data science would deal with mathematics, and research in several applications, most of which would form the backbone of the applied data science jobs. Having such a degree would then help when dealing with the applied/actual data science. 

So Do I Really Need a PhD for Data Science? 

However understand this though, you do not need a PhD to perform a data science role. That said, you will probably stand out better as well as “fit” better for roles focussed on research driven data science and artificial intelligence tasks with it. A great example of this is JPMorgan’s new Quantum Computing Associate program. The role focuses on a research driven opportunity within the firm in the field of quantum computing, see more details here.

The field of data science is expanding very quickly, new techniques and approaches are being created, and massive discoveries are being engineered regularly from this field. If you want to be part of that innovative new discovery process of data science, not just using the libraries and new models and ideas but actually creating them, then a PhD will set you in good stead to pursue this.

About the author


Damola is an ardent lover of technology. He obtained a degree in electrical engineering and currently works as a data scientist. His major interests are in data engineering, computer vision and business intelligence.

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