You Don't Need a PhD to do Data Science

Many of the top data scientists you will read about or hear speak have PhD degrees. Therefore, many people think a PhD is a requirement for becoming a data scientist. That is completely not true. There is a lot of work in the data science field that does not require a PhD. In all actuality, there is not a lot of data science work that does require a PhD.

What is a PhD and why would a person get one? A PhD degree is a research degree that usually takes between two and five years of study beyond a master’s degree. The majority of the program will be focused on researching and expanding upon a very specific topic. A PhD student will push the edge of known human knowledge.

In daily tasks, most data scientists do not go that far and do not need a PhD. Most of the necessary skills can be obtained at the bachelors or masters level. Combine that education with the amazing tools available and some experience and being a data scientist is definitely achievable.

The reasons many data scientists have PhD degrees are because of the curiosity and love for learning. Those are essential traits of both a data scientists and PhD students. However, you can be curious and love learning without attending enough school to obtain a PhD.

All of this is not to say that earning a PhD is bad. If you really love learning, thrive in the academic environment, and have the desire; then definitely go for the PhD. However, do not let a lack of a PhD stop you from doing data science.

8 thoughts on “You Don't Need a PhD to do Data Science”

  1. Hi, Ryan.
    I’m working in content marketing now,,and interested in learning Data Science. So I’m trying to get a SAS certification. I wonder,,,that to get SAS certification would be good start to fit the requirement for the job?

    1. I don’t think a SAS certificate will qualify you as a Data Scientist, but it is a good start. I do know that many students in the NCSU program obtain a SAS certificate. Therefore, they must think it is important. Also, many companies use SAS.

      Best of Luck,
      Ryan

      1. Ryan, I’m not sure it’s a matter of “importance” as much as NCSU is a SAS shop, so students might as well get a cheap certification since they received the expensive training while in school

  2. Thanks a lot…I too was thinking the same way that I could learn data science without going for a Phd. But I do not know where do I start…Are there courses direct/correspondence available?

    1. Great, At the beginning of the year, I wrote up a post about some good Coursera courses, http://datascience101.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/in-2013-learn-data-science-via-coursera-a-curriculum/
      Many of the courses have completed now, but some are being offered again. That is probably a good place to start. Also, statistics.com has some great stuff. If you actually want a college degree, there are many masters and certificate programs available. http://datascience101.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/colleges-with-data-science-degrees/

      Good Luck. If you find any other great resources or link, please feel free to leave a comment and I will try to add them to my blog.
      Thanks,
      Ryan

  3. Certainly in Australia it is well nigh impossible to get a data science job WITHOUT a PhD. Different fields regard qualifications or experience in “other” fields with disdain, eg. maths experience in stats; psychology stats/SPSS in epidemiology; social sciences stats in nursing; psychology/sociology in medicine; epidemiology in health economics!! I’ve been up against all these without regard to 25 years experience, a lot of peer-reviewed papers in several fields and training in several overlapping disciplines. Eight years unemployed now and told by my Masters supervisor that I am “unlikely to find a job with just a Masters”. Being female may have something to do with it…???

  4. This is a really informative post for students who want to become a Data Scientist in the future. This article makes a good point that getting a PhD is not necessary for a career in Data Science so if you currently don’t have a PhD then that will not stop you from starting a career in this field.

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