Computer & information research scientists invent and design new technology and find new uses for existing technology. They study and solve complex problems in computing for business, science, medicine, and other uses. Most work for computer systems design and related services firms, scientific research and development companies, or the federal government. Most work full time, and those who do independent research may have flexibility in their work schedules.
Computer & information research scientists typically do the following:
Information research scientists create and improve computer algorithms, which are sets of instructions that tell a computer what to do. Some computer tasks are very difficult and require complex algorithms. Information research scientists try to simplify these instructions to make the computer system as efficient as possible. These algorithms become the foundation for advancements in many types of technology such as machine learning systems and cloud computing.
Information research scientists’ work often leads to advancement and increased efficiency in many areas, such as better networking technology, faster computing speeds, and improved information security. In general, information research scientists work on a more theoretical level than other computer professionals.
Many people with a computer and information research science background become professors and teachers. In general, researchers in an academic setting focus on computer theory, although those working for businesses or scientific organizations usually focus on projects that have the possibility of producing profits.
Some computer scientists collaborate with electrical engineers, computer hardware engineers, and other specialists to work on multidisciplinary projects. The following are examples of some specialties for information research scientists: Hardware: Information research scientists who study hardware architecture discover new ways to process and send information. They design computer chips and processors using new materials and technology to make chips and processors work faster and to give them more computing power.
Robotics: Some information research scientists study how to improve robots. Robotics explores how a machine can interact with the physical world as effectively as humans and other living creatures. Information research scientists create the programs that control the robots. They work closely with engineers who focus on the hardware design of robots. Together, these workers test how well the robots do the tasks they were created to do – such as assemble cars and collect data on other planets.
Software: Information research scientists write the software that controls the electronic components in cars and other advanced machines. The embedded software written by computer scientists is complex and requires a high degree of accuracy because of the consequences of failure of the electronic components within such products, such as a car’s braking system or an ultrasound machine.
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A Ph.D. in computer science or a related subject is required for most information research scientist jobs. In the federal government, a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for some jobs.
Most computer & information research scientists have a Ph.D. in computer science or a related subject, such as computer engineering. A Ph.D. usually requires four-to-five years of study after the bachelor’s degree, usually in a computer-related field such as computer science or information systems. Students spend the first two years in a Ph.D. program taking a range of computer science classes. They then choose a specialty and spend the remaining years doing research within that specialty.
For information research scientists seeking employment in a specialized field such as finance or biology, knowledge of that field, along with the computer science degree, may be helpful in attaining a job. Advanced math and other technical topics are critical in computing.
Computer & information research scientists must be organized in their thinking and analyze the results of their research to formulate conclusions. They must communicate well with programmers and managers, as well as be able to clearly explain their conclusions to people who may have no technical background. They often write for academic journals and similar publications.
Information research scientists work on many complex problems. They must pay close attention to their work because a small error can cause an entire project to fail. Computer & information research scientists must continually come up with innovative ways to solve problems, particularly when their ideas do not initially work as they had hoped. Computer algorithms rely on logic, so information research scientists must have an aptitude for reasoning.
Most information research scientists work for computer systems design and related services firms, scientific research and development companies, or the federal government. Some also work for software companies.