Ph.D. in Information Systems
Maybe you’ve finished a Master’s Degree in Information Systems, or you’ve graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Systems and you’re curious about continuing your education via a Ph.D. While those who’ve completed a doctorate tend to have higher median earnings than their masters level cohorts, professional degrees (e.g., law, medicine, education) top even Ph.D.’s in earnings.
Certainly, a Ph.D. in Information Systems increases the likelihood of giving a boost to your potential earnings. Moreover, the field of Computer and Information Research Scientists is expected to expand by 19% (faster than average) until 2026. With a median yearly salary of $114,000 and the expectation that candidates will have at least a masters degree, it’s easy to fall into the thinking that more education automatically translates into higher pay along with more job opportunities. Whether or not you’ll hit the top of the pay scale after you complete an Information Systems Ph.D. depends on two main factors: a. where you intend on applying that learning (which industry and your specialty) and b. how you market yourself.
Master’s vs. a Ph.D. in Information Systems
Although this may change at some point in the future, most Ph.D. trajectories head straight for a career in academics where “publish or perish” is the ongoing mantra. Are there exceptions? Yes, always. But, a gap exists between business expectations and academic perceptions of value.
The world of business is focused on the “bottom line.” Due to the massive adoption of data science, businesses are more amenable to an academic research approach. There’s a catch: the value constraints, such as key performance indicators, risk measures, etc. continue to drive the determination as to whether a job function is providing an increase in their financial inflows while keeping costs to a minimum.
Academia’s valuation is in how (and if) you’re pushing the research in your field of expertise forward. Teaching, writing, attaining grant funding, attending and presenting at conferences, and conducting research will be the post-doctoral job expectations. The focus here is solely on intellectual capital rather than transforming that into filling the corporate coffers.
Within the U.S. academic system, a Master’s in Information Systems will lead you down the research path, to a point; it’s a shorter and less in-depth application of your coursework that usually culminates in a master’s thesis. In contrast, your entire Ph.D. in Information Systems program is geared towards completing a lengthy dissertation and a set of rigorous exams (this last requirement differs depending on the program and university). A Ph.D. is, ultimately, a research degree which advances a brand-new idea or innovation within the discipline. You could say that a master’s thesis is an exploratory analysis that supports a given hypothesis. Ph.D. research is more extensive and results in a book-length and detailed exegesis of your approved topic.
Guide to Choosing an On-Campus Ph.D. in Information Systems
If after reading the above info you’ve decided that you’re ready to embark on the Ph.D. in Information Systems path, then the steps below will take you through the next phase: applying to an on-campus Ph.D. program.
Step 1: Assess your location and time commitment constraints
Ph.D. level degrees aren’t for the faint of heart. You’ll be committing a massive amount of mental and financial energy towards completing all coursework, attempting to publish your research, attending conferences, and following the requirements for your dissertation. Also, the median completion time for a Ph.D. (depending on the school, program, and whether you’re a full or part-time student) ranges from 5 years to just over 7 years.
Is there a local university that offers a Ph.D. in Information Systems or, alternatively, a Ph.D. in Computer Information Systems? Are you willing and have the financial ability to relocate for such a program? Do you have the time to travel to and from campus along with completing the research and writing? What other commitments do you have that limit the time and energy needed to complete a Ph.D.?
Your answers to these questions will help jump-start your initial university choice list, which should be narrowed down before you reach the final step: applying to one or more universities.
Step 2: Review the curriculum
The Ph.D. emphasis in most disciplines is a theoretical approach. Your academic goal as a Ph.D. in Information Systems student is to learn and test established theories that will lead you to derive a theory of your own. As you peruse the course requirements for each potential university, you may notice the use of the term “seminars.” Seminars are discussion-based as opposed to being the traditional lectures where the professors speak “at” the students. It’s likely that you’ll be assigned published research papers to read, analyze, and discuss with your professor and fellow students during the class. Some Ph.D. programs combine seminars with lectures in terms of the type of courses offered. Others may only incorporate the lecture environment. Consider your learning style while you’re reviewing the curriculum.
The course topics for a Ph.D. in Information Systems usually include theories in information systems, qualitative and quantitative research in information systems along with technical applications via statistics, analytics, and machine learning. You’ll spend a great deal of time thoroughly learning how to conduct research in the field. Many programs offer a concentration option such as health care, cybersecurity or analytics.
Since a Ph.D. course of study will consume a huge chunk of time and effort, it’s important to self-assess your level of interest. It’s extremely likely that you’ll have moments of doubt and lack of motivation at some point during the degree. But, an intense interest in a certain concentration can help carry you through the trials and tribulations.
Step 3: Perform a cost-benefit analysis
Completing a Ph.D. comes with financial and opportunity costs. If there are ample grants or fellowships available for research, then you may be able to earn some money or reduce tuition costs while you’re completing the degree. This is not guaranteed. Working full time during a Ph.D. might be marginally feasible. Tuition costs vary between $7,000 and more than $30,000 per year. That’s only the tuition and doesn’t include your living and travel expenses (for conferences). But, attaining a graduate assistantship and/or teaching lower level university courses can help offset the financial outflow. On the other hand, you may lose some work experience (in the business world) or need to put your job search on hold while you complete the Ph.D. requirements.
So, carefully weigh the sacrifices you’ll be making in the short term with the potential benefits that can occur in the long run. If you’re planning on entering or returning to the realm of private business, practice your research skills and run a search on various job sites. Review information systems jobs, their salary, and compare that to the education requirements. Can you earn significantly more with a Ph.D. in Information Systems or by attaining a Ph.D. in Computer Information Systems? Also, what are the factors motivating you to complete this advanced research degree?
Step 4: Analyze the admission requirements
You’ll need to take the GRE or GMAT and achieve a minimum score on each of their components. International students are generally required to take either the TOEFL or the IELTS; the TOEFL tends to be the favored test for English proficiency. Each school will have their own cutoff range which is usually listed on the department’s website (wherever the Ph.D. in Information Systems is housed). As always, official transcripts will be required, and many set a Master’s Degree in Information Systems as the lowest level of education considered as viable for program entry. This, however, is not 100% consistent. Other majors may be admissible, and a bachelor’s degree might be acceptable in lieu of a master’s degree.
Expect to spend additional money on application fees (anywhere from around $60 or more). You’ll find that most applications must include a Statement of Purpose (SOP), and likely another writing sample; some Ph.D. applications also require the addition of a research paper that you’ve written in a prior class or have published (in a journal or a conference paper). The SOP for a Ph.D. application should address how your research interests align with either the department or specific faculty members. You’ll likely be choosing your dissertation committee members from within the departmental faculty, so matching their research focus is particularly important. Research interests evolve throughout the degree, but it’s ok to focus on an area right now.