The widespread and increasing use of computers and information technology has generated a need for highly trained, innovative workers with extensive theoretical expertise. These workers, called computer scientists, are the designers, creators, and inventors of new technology. By creating new technology, or finding alternative uses for existing resources, they solve complex business, scientific, and general computing problems. Some computer scientists work on multidisciplinary projects, collaborating with electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and other specialists.
Computer scientists conduct research on a wide array of topics. Examples include computer hardware architecture, virtual reality, and robotics. Scientists who research hardware architecture discover new ways for computers to process and transmit information. They design computer chips and processors, using new materials and techniques to make them work faster and give them more computing power. When working with virtual reality, scientists use technology to create life-like situations. For example, scientists may invent video games that make users feel like they are actually in the game. Computer scientists working with robotics try to create machines that can perform tasks on their own—without people controlling them. Robots perform many tasks, such as sweeping floors in peoples’ homes, assembling cars on factory production lines, and “auto-piloting” airplanes.
Computer science researchers employed by academic institutions have job functions that are similar in many ways to those employed by other organizations. In general, researchers in academic settings have more flexibility to focus on pure theory, while those working in business or scientific organizations, covered here, usually focus on projects that have the possibility of producing patents and profits. Some researchers in non-academic settings, however, have considerable latitude in determining the direction of their research.
Computer scientists normally work in offices or laboratories in comfortable surroundings. Like other workers who spend long periods in front of a computer terminal typing on a keyboard, computer scientists are susceptible to eyestrain, back discomfort, and hand and wrist problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Education & Training Required
Most computer scientists are required to possess a Ph.D. in computer science, computer engineering, or a closely related discipline. For some positions in the Federal Government, a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field may be adequate.
In order to be admitted to a Ph.D. program, applicants generally are required to obtain a bachelor’s degree with a strong computer science or computer engineering component. Popular undergraduate majors for Ph.D. program applicants include computer science, computer engineering, software engineering, information systems, and information technology. A bachelor’s degree generally takes 4 years to complete. A Ph.D. generally requires at least 5 years of study beyond the bachelor’s degree. Ph.D. students usually spend the first two years taking classes on advanced topics, including computer and software systems, artificial intelligence, digital communication, and microprocessors. Students spend the remaining years conducting research on topics in computer science or computer engineering.
Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Computer scientists must be able to think logically and creatively. They must possess a strong aptitude for math and other technical topics, as these are critical to the computing field. Because they often deal with a number of tasks simultaneously, the ability to concentrate and pay close attention to detail also is important. Although computer scientists sometimes work independently, they frequently work in teams on large projects. As a result, they must be able to communicate effectively with computer personnel, such as programmers and managers, as well as with users or other staff who may have no technical computer background.
Computer and Information Scientists - What They Do - Page 2