Data Science PhD Programs

If you’re passionate about big data and interested in an advanced degree, you may be wondering which degree is right for you. Should you go with a Master of Science (M.S.) or a PhD in data science?

Our guide to getting a PhD in data science is here to help. Here, we’ll break down potential pros and cons of choosing either option, related job opportunities, dissertation topics, courses, costs and more.

SPONSORED SCHOOLS

Syracuse University info

Master of Science in Applied Data Science

Syracuse University’s online Master of Science in Data Science can be completed in as few as 18 months.

  • Complete in as little as 18 months
  • No GRE scores required to apply

Southern Methodist University info

Master of Science in Data Science

Earn your MS in Data Science at SMU, where you can specialize in Machine Learning or Business Analytics, and complete in as few as 20 months.

  • No GRE required.
  • Complete in as little as 20 months.

University of Denver info

Master of Science in Data Science

Earn your MS in Data Science online in as few as 18 months. Bridge courses are available.

  • Complete in as few as 18 months
  • No GRE required

University of California, Berkeley info

Master of Information and Data Science

Earn your Master’s in Data Science online from UC Berkeley in as few as 12 months.

  • Complete in as few as 12 months
  • No GRE required

info SPONSORED

Just want the schools? Skip ahead to our complete list of data-related PhD programs.

Why Earn a PhD in Data Science?

A PhD in Data Science is a research degree designed to equip you with knowledge of statistics, programming, data analysis and subjects relevant to your area of interest (e.g. machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc.).

The keyword here is research. Throughout the course of your studies, you’ll likely:

  • Conduct your own experiments in a specific field.
  • Focus on theory—both pure and applied—to discover why certain methodologies are used.
  • Examine tools and technologies to determine how they’re built.

PhD Benefits vs. Downsides

There are a number of benefits and downsides to earning a PhD in data science. Let’s explore some of them below.

Benefits of a PhD in Data Science

In a PhD in data science program, you may have the opportunity to:

  • Research an area in data science that may potentially change the industry, have unexpected applications or help solve a long-standing problem.
  • Collaborate with academic advisors in data science institutes and centers.
  • Become a critical thinker—knowing when, where and why to apply theoretical concepts.
  • Specialize in an upcoming field (e.g. biomedical informatics).
  • Gain access to real-world data sets through university partnerships.
  • Work with cutting-edge technologies and systems.
  • Automatically earn a master’s degree on your way to completing a PhD.
  • Qualify for high-level executive or leadership positions.

Downsides of a PhD in Data Science

On the other hand, some PhDs in data science programs may:

  • Take four to five years on a full-time schedule to complete. These are years you could be earning money and learning real-world skills.
  • Be expensive if you don’t find or have a way to fund it.
  • Entail many solitary hours spent reading and writing
  • Not give you “on-the-job” knowledge of corporate problems and demands.

Is a PhD in Data Science Worth It?

A PhD in data science may open the door to a number of career opportunities which align with your personal interests. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Data scientist. Data scientists leverage large amounts of technical information to observe repeatable patterns which organizations can strategically leverage.
  • Applications architect. When you work as an applications architect, your main goal is to design key business applications.
  • Infrastructure architect. Unlike an applications architect, infrastructure architects monitor the functionality of business systems to support new technological developments.
  • Data engineer. Data engineers perform operations on large amounts of data at once for business purposes, while also building pipelines for data connectivity at the organizational level.
  • StatisticiansStatisticians analyze and interpret data to identify recurring trends and data relationships which can be used to help inform key business decisions.

At the end of a day, whether a data science PhD is worth it will be entirely dependent upon your personal interests and career goals.

Do You Need a PhD to Land a Job?

In most cases, you don’t need a PhD in data science to land a job. Most computer and information research-related careers require a master’s degree, such as an online master’s in data science.

As you begin your search, pay attention to prospective employers and qualifications for your desired position:

  • Companies and labs that specialize in data science—and tech players like Amazon and Facebook — may have a reason for specifying a PhD in the education requirements.
  • Other industries may be happy with a B.S. or M.S. degree and relevant work experience.

Careers for Data Science PhD Holders

People who hold a PhD in data science typically find careers in academia, industry and university research labs, government and tech companies. These places are most likely seeking job candidates who can:

  • Research and develop new methodologies.
  • Build core products, tools and technologies that are based on data science (e.g. machine learning or artificial intelligence algorithms for Google or the next generation of big data management systems).
  • Reinvent existing methods and tools for specific purposes.
  • Translate research findings and adopt theory to practice (e.g. evaluating the latest discoveries and finding ways to implement them in the corporate world).
  • Design research projects for teams of statisticians and data scientists.

Sample job titles include:

  • Director of Research
  • Senior Data Scientist/Analyst
  • Data/Analytics Manager
  • Data Science Consultant
  • Laboratory Researcher
  • Strategic Innovation Manager
  • Tenured Professor of Data Science
  • Chief Data Officer (CDO)

PhD in Data Science Curriculum

Typical Program Structure
Data science PhDs are similar to most doctoral programs. That means you’ll typically have to:

  • Complete at least two years of full-time coursework.
  • Pass a comprehensive exam—comprising oral and written portions—that shows you have mastered the subject matter.
  • Submit a dissertation proposal and have it approved.
  • Devote 2-3 years to conducting independent research and writing your dissertation. You may be teaching undergraduate classes at the same time.
  • Defend your work in a “dissertation defense”—usually an oral presentation to academics and the public.

During these years, you’ll likely engage in professional activities that may help improve your career prospects. Such opportunities include attending and speaking at conferences, applying for summer fellowships, consulting, paid part-time research and more.

Dissertation

PhD students are expected to make a creative contribution to the field of data science—that means you’re encouraged not to go over old ground or rehash what’s already out there. Your contribution will be summed up in your dissertation, which is a written record of your original research.

Some students go into a PhD program already knowing what they want to research. Others use the first couple of years to explore the field and settle on a dissertation topic. Your advisor may be your closest ally in this process.

Data Science vs. Business Analytics vs. Specialties

Doctoral programs in data science may also fall under the related disciplines such as statistics, computational sciences and informatics. It is important to evaluate each program’s curriculum. Will the foundation courses and electives prepare you for the research area that you want to explore?

A related degree you may consider is a PhD in Business Analytics (or Decision/Management Sciences). These degree programs are typically administered through a university’s School of Business, which means the curriculum includes corporate topics like management science, marketing, customer analytics, supply chains, etc.

Interested in a particular subset of data science? Some universities offer specialty PhD programs. Biostatistics and biomedical/health informatics are two examples, but you’ll also find a number of doctoral programs in machine learning (usually run by the Department of Computer Science) and sub-specialties in fields like artificial intelligence and data mining.

Considerations When Choosing a PhD Program

Typical Admissions Requirements
PhD candidates typically submit an application form and pay a fee. Universities often look for applicants who have:

  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in computer science, statistics or a relevant discipline (e.g. engineering) and a similar master’s degree with an official transcript from an accredited institution
  • A GPA of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale
  • GRE test scores
  • TOEFL or IELTS for applicants whose native language is not English
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Statement of purpose/intent
  • Résumé or CV

If you don’t already have certain skills (e.g. stats, calculus, computer programming, etc.), the university may ask you to complete prerequisite courses.

Programs for PhD in Data Science – Online vs. On-Campus
Online programs may require you to attend a few campus events (e.g. symposiums), but allow you to complete coursework and conduct research in your own hometown.

While online learning can be a convenient way of obtaining your PhD from the comfort of home, there are a few important factors to consider.

  1. Are you extremely passionate about an area of research?
  2. Do you mind committing to 4-5 years of study?
  3. Does your university have funding sources (private and government) for data science research?
  4. Will you have access to exciting data resources, labs and industry partners?
  5. Do you know how you’re going to pay for the program?

How Much Does a PhD Cost?

As you research PhD in data science programs, you’ll probably find information on relevant fellowships on some university websites, as well as advice on financial matters. Here are a few ways that you may be able to fund your education:

  • PhD Fellowships: You’ll find a number of fellowships sponsored by the university, by companies and by the government (e.g. National Science Foundation). Be aware that some external fellowships will only cover the years of your dissertation research.
  • Teaching/Research Assistantships: Assistantships are a common way for universities to support PhD students. In return for teaching undergraduates or working as a researcher, you’ll often receive a break on tuition costs and a living stipend.
  • In-State Tuition: Public universities may offer in-state students a much lower cost per credit.
  • Regional Discounts: Many state universities have agreements to offer reduced tuition costs to students from neighboring states (e.g. New England Board of Higher Education Regional Student Program (RSP). Check to see if this applies to your PhD.
  • Travel Grants: Doctoral students may have the opportunity to attend research conferences and network with future collaborators. Some grants are designed with this purpose in mind.
  • Student Loans: In addition to grants, you can consider applying for student loans to finance your PhD studies. Remember, a doctorate is a long-term commitment—you may not see a financial return on your education for a number of years.

Some PhD students in data science are fully funded. For example:

If you’re coming from overseas, try talking to your school about any differences between funding for citizens and international students.

How Long Does a PhD in Data Science Take?

The length of time it takes to obtain a PhD will likely vary depending on your chosen program. Programs for similar or identical degrees can have differing completion requirements at different schools, meaning how many years your PhD program takes will differ as well.

Of course, the amount of time you spend working toward a PhD in data science can also vary depending on whether you choose to take it part-time or full-time. Assuming you consistently pass your classes, a full-time commitment to your PhD program will expedite your way through it.

But a commitment like that won’t fit everyone’s lifestyles. For example, you might need to work to support yourself financially, or you might be raising a family. These sorts of important commitments are time-consuming and can take a lot of energy. So, in that case, a part-time commitment to your PhD program might make more sense for you.

Interested in STEM Careers? 

If you’re looking for information on career paths that involve STEM, see our guides below:

Data Science and Analytics Careers:

Computer Science, Computer Engineering and Information Careers:

Marketing and User Research Careers:

Compare Careers and STEM Fields:

Related Graduate STEM Degrees

Related Undergraduate STEM Degrees

PhD in Data Science School Listings

We found 57 universities offering doctorate-level programs in data science. If you represent a university and would like to contact us about editing any of our listings or adding new programs, please send an email to info@mastersindatascience.org.

Last updated August 2021. The program’s website is always best for most up to date program information.

PhD in Data Science/Analytics Online

Looking for on-campus programs? See the full list of on-campus PhD in Data Science/Analytics programs.

Colorado Technical University

Doctor of Computer Science – Big Data Analytics

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Name of Degree: Doctor of Computer Science – Big Data Analytics

Enrollment Type: Self-paced

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 100

Concentrations: N/A

Carnegie Mellon University

School of Computer Science

Ph.D. Program in Machine Learning

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Name of Degree: Ph.D. Program in Machine Learning

Enrollment Type: N/A

Length of Program: 2 years

Credits: N/A

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • Recent transcripts
  • Resume
  • Statement of purpose
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • TOEFL scores if your native language is not English
Learn more about the Ph.D. Program in Machine Learning from Carnegie Mellon University

Chapman University

Schmid College

Ph.D. in Computational and Data Sciences

Orange, California

Name of Degree: Ph.D. in Computational and Data Sciences

Enrollment Type: Full-Time and Part-Time

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 70

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • GPA: 3.0
  • GRE required
  • Statement of intent 
  • Resume or curriculum CV.                                       
  • TOEFL score for international students
Learn more about the Ph.D. in Computational and Data Sciences from Chapman University

Indiana University – Indianapolis

School of Informatics and Computing

Ph.D. in Data Science

Indianapolis, Indiana

Name of Degree: Ph.D. in Data Science

Enrollment Type: Full-Time and Part-Time

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 90

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree; master’s preferred
  • 3.5 GPA
  • GRE required
  • Resume
  • Transcripts
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • TOEFL or IELTS
Learn more about the Ph.D. in Data Science from Indiana University – Indianapolis

Kennesaw State University

School of Data Science Analytics

Doctoral Degree in Analytics and Data Science

Kennesaw, Georgia

Name of Degree: Doctoral Degree in Analytics and Data Science

Enrollment Type: Full-Time

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 78

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • Transcripts
  • GRE
  • Resume
  • Statement of how this degree facilitates your career goals
  • Three letters of recommendation
Learn more about the Doctoral Degree in Analytics and Data Science from Kennesaw State University

PhD in Data Science/Analytics On-Campus

Looking for online programs? See the full list of online PhD in Data Science/Analytics programs.

New York University

Center for Data Science

Ph.D. in Data Science

New York , New York

Name of Degree: Ph.D. in Data Science

Enrollment Type: Full-Time

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 72

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • Resume or curriculum CV
  • GRE
  • TOEFL or IELTS (TOEFL Preferred)
  • Statement of Academic purpose
  • Three letters of recommendation
Learn more about the Ph.D. in Data Science from New York University

Institute for Computational and Data Sciences

PhD Computational and Data Enabled Science and Engineering

Buffalo, New York

Name of Degree: PhD Computational and Data Enabled Science and Engineering

Enrollment Type: Full-Time

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 72

Concentrations:

Computational Data Sciences 

Admission Requirements:

  • Master’s degree
  • Resume or CV
  • Statement of purpose
  • GRE scores (Temporarily suspended)
  • 3.0 GPA
  • TOEFL
  • IELTS
  • Three letters of recommendation
Learn more about the PhD Computational and Data Enabled Science and Engineering

University of Maryland

College of Information Studies

Doctor of Philosophy in Information Studies

College Park, Maryland

Name of Degree: Doctor of Philosophy in Information Studies

Enrollment Type: Full-Time and Part-Time

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 60

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • Transcripts 
  • 3.0 GPA
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Resume or CV or CV
  • academic writing sample
  • GRE/GMAT
  • TOEFL/IELTS/PTE (required for most international applicants)
Learn more about the Doctor of Philosophy in Information Studies from University of Maryland

University of Massachusetts in Boston

College of Management

Doctor of Philosophy in Information SysteMaster of Science for Data Science and Management

Boston, Massachusetts

Name of Degree: Doctor of Philosophy in Information SysteMaster of Science for Data Science and Management

Enrollment Type: Full-Time

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 42

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • Resume or CV or CV
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts official
  • GMAT or GRE scores scores
  • Official TOEFL or IELTS score.
Learn more about the Doctor of Philosophy in Information SysteMaster of Science for Data Science and Management from University of Massachusetts in Boston

University of Nevada – Reno

College of Science

Ph.D. in Statistics and Data Science

Reno, Nevada

Name of Degree: Ph.D. in Statistics and Data Science

Enrollment Type: Self-paced

Length of Program: 4+ years

Credits: 72

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • Undergraduate/Graduate Transcripts
  • GRE
  • TOEFL/IELTS (only required for international students)
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Statement of purpose
  • Resume
Learn more about the Ph.D. in Statistics and Data Science from University of Nevada – Reno

University of Southern California

School of Business

Ph.D. in Data Sciences & Operations

Los Angeles, California

Name of Degree: Ph.D. in Data Sciences & Operations

Enrollment Type: N/A

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: N/A

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • Undergraduate/Graduate Transcripts 
  • GRE or GMAT
  • TOEFL/IELTS (only required for international students)
  • (3) letters of recommendation
  • Passport Copy
  • Resume or CV
Learn more about the Ph.D. in Data Sciences & Operations from University of Southern California

University of Washington

Mechanical Engineering

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering: Data Science

Seattle, Washington

Name of Degree: Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering: Data Science

Enrollment Type: Full-Time and Part-Time

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 90

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • GRE
  • TOEFL/IELTS (only required for international students)
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Resume
  • 3.5 GPA
Learn more about the Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering: Data Science from University of Washington

University of Washington

Mechanical Engineering

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering: Data Science

Seattle, Washington

Name of Degree: Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering: Data Science

Enrollment Type: Full-Time and Part-Time

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 90

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • GRE
  • TOEFL/IELTS (only required for international students)
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Resume
  • 3.5 GPA
Learn more about the Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering: Data Science from University of Washington

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Ph.D. in Data Science

Worcester, Massachusetts

Name of Degree: Ph.D. in Data Science

Enrollment Type: N/A

Length of Program: 4 years

Credits: 60

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • Transcripts
  • Three letters of recommendation
Learn more about the Ph.D. in Data Science from Worcester Polytechnic Institute