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Computer and information research scientists salary & career outlook

Computer and information research scientists study and solve complex computing problems that have implications for business, medicine, science and other fields. It's a highly skilled, high-tech profession where naturally critical thinkers, talented problem-solvers and those with a knack for logical analysis tend to have better-than-average chances for success.

The specific duties required of computer and information research scientists' duties can vary, but typical projects often include some variation on the following tasks:

  • Developing theories and models to address core issues in computation
  • Inventing new tools and methods to improve human-computer interaction
  • Designing experiments to test software systems and analyze their output
  • Publishing research results in academic journals or reporting findings to clients

Most computer and information research scientists work full time, but some may work on an independent basis and have more flexible schedules.

Computer and information research scientist salary trends

Thanks to the demanding nature of the job and the advanced training required of its professionals, computer and information research scientists tend to earn a fairly comfortable living. According to the BLS, computer and information research scientists earned a mean annual salary of $109,260 in 2013, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning up to $61,300 and the top-paid 10 percent taking home $158,800 or more.

The particular industry in which computer and information research scientists find work can exert a fairly strong influence over their salary expectations. Here are the five highest-paying industries for professionals with computer and information research scientist training in 2013, according to the BLS:

  • Other information services: $137,420
  • Other professional, scientific and technical services: $124,930
  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: $120,570
  • Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing: $119,890
  • Management of companies and enterprises: $119,530

Computer and information research scientists working in and around Silicon Valley earned an impressive figure of $133,090 in 2013, but the cost of living in that part of California is also famously high. Some 2014 affordability analysis done by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) reveals some areas where the raw 2013 salary numbers may be lower but where each dollar earned tends to stretch farther:

  • Indiana: $102,300 average annual salary; ranked 5th in affordability
  • Mississippi: $90,980 average annual salary; ranked 1st in affordability
  • Alabama: 103,900 average annual salary; ranked 8th in affordability
  • Texas: $107,940 average annual salary; ranked 12th in affordability

Training and expertise can also have a significant effect on your earning potential, so candidates with doctoral degrees in computer science or years of experience in the workforce may command higher salaries and fare better on the job market than their less-experience or less-educated colleagues.

Career outlook for computer and information research scientists

BLS analysis indicates continued high demand for professionals in high-tech fields, and computer and information research scientists are no exception. Opportunities for computer and information research scientists are expected to increase 15 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022, which should lead to around 4,100 new jobs in the field.

On a state level, certain areas are expected to have particularly robust growth, according to labor department data collected by Projections Central. These states aren't going to have the greatest number of new jobs, but the growth percentage indicates which areas will have the biggest ratio of new jobs relative to existing. These include:

  • Louisiana: 51.4% projected growth
  • New York: 30.0% projected growth
  • Kansas: 28.7% projected growth
  • Iowa: 28.6% projected growth
  • Oregon: 27.1% projected growth

Advancements in cybersecurity and an increased demand for data collection and analysis in the private sector are expected to be among the primary drivers of employment growth among computer and information research scientists. The BLS also projects that innovation in robotics design will lead to more work for researchers, as new types of robot may necessitate the creation of computer languages or new data interface tools.

There are a few entry-level government positions for which a bachelor's degree in computer engineering or computer science might be sufficient, but most employers prefer candidates who have graduated from doctoral-level computer and information research scientist degree programs. Students may be able to complete some of their training in online courses, which are often more convenient for working professionals looking to advance their educations.

Sources:

Cost of Living Data Series, First Quarter 2014, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri Department of Economic Development, http://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/index.stm

Long Term Occupational Projections for Computer and Information Research Scientists, Projections Central,
http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm

Occupational Employment and Wages: Computer and Information Research Scientists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes151111.htm

Computer and Information Research Scientists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm