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A doctoral degree is the highest academic credential in cybersecurity. Learners pursue Ph.D. programs after earning bachelor's and master's degrees. Doctorates are designed to prepare enrollees for advanced careers in teaching and research.
In recent decades, cybersecurity has become a major field of employment with a growing number of open positions and a continuous need for skilled workers. The global cybersecurity industry has over 3.4 million job openings globally, according to the 2022 Cybersecurity Workforce Study. The report reveals the U.S. alone has 400,000 vacant cybersecurity positions.
Cybersecurity attracts analytical thinkers and computer science experts. In this guide, we discuss the features of a doctoral program, analyze potential careers, and list several schools offering a Ph.D. in cybersecurity.
Why Get a Cybersecurity Doctoral Degree?
The history of cybersecurity dates back to 1971, when computer scientist Bob Thomas developed the first computer virus called Creeper. Around the same time, Ray Tomlinson created the original computer antivirus program — Reaper — to fight against Creeper. As computer systems and the internet progressed rapidly over the decades, cybersecurity threats and challenges also became more complex.
Cybersecurity professionals work across industries, including finance, retail, healthcare, and government. These experts develop security strategies, detect and prevent cyberattacks, and lead security teams. Curious, innovative thinkers who work well under pressure will likely thrive in this challenging, fast-paced profession.
Most entry-level cybersecurity jobs require at least a bachelor's degree. Advanced roles may require a master's degree. With a doctoral degree, professionals can qualify for the highest-level positions in the field, including research jobs that help shape the future of cybersecurity.
Benefits of earning a cybersecurity Ph.D. include:
Gaining New Skills: Earning a Ph.D. in cybersecurity helps students develop advanced technical skills and acquire new knowledge. Cybersecurity professionals seek out the most recent information about developments in their field to keep up with changes in technology.
Making Connections: Completing a cybersecurity doctoral program helps learners network with classmates, teachers, and other cybersecurity professionals. These connections can lead to job opportunities after graduation.
Qualifying for Different Jobs: Getting a Ph.D. in cybersecurity can open the door to a number of career opportunities. Graduates take advanced management, research, and university teaching positions.
What To Expect From a Doctorate in Cybersecurity Program
Because cybersecurity is a subfield of computer science, these cybersecurity doctoral programs focus on advanced topics such as information assurance, research methodologies, professional ethics, and leadership. Program lengths vary, but learners usually finish their cybersecurity doctorate in 3-7 years, with an average load of 60 credits.
Enrollees take classes in cybersecurity theory and research design. They also complete electives and dissertation credits. Typical courses include professional research theory and practice, advanced computer security, and managing cybersecurity risk. Students can pursue online, in-person, and hybrid cybersecurity doctorates.
The price of a cybersecurity Ph.D. varies, but typical cost ranges from $1,000-$2,000 per credit. Most programs provide a variety of financing options, including scholarships, grants, loans, and graduate assistantships. Some schools maintain fully funded Ph.D. in cybersecurity programs, allowing learners to earn their degree without paying any tuition in exchange for teaching or research assistant work.
Admission requirements for cybersecurity doctorates vary by school. Applicants need at least a bachelor's degree, but some universities also require a master's degree in a field related to computer science. Some programs accept learners with a degree in an unrelated field, but require them to complete foundational prerequisite courses.
Cybersecurity doctoral programs typically require a minimum 3.0 GPA and satisfactory GRE scores. Many schools offer GRE waivers for applicants with strong professional or academic backgrounds. Other common application requirements include letters of recommendation, writing samples, college transcripts, and a resume. Some Ph.D. in cybersecurity programs require an admissions interview.
Degree and Specialization Options
Doctorates in cybersecurity, information assurance, and digital forensics exist in two primary formats: a Ph.D. or a DSc (doctor of science degree). Ph.D. in cybersecurity programs usually emphasize theory and research, while DSc in cybersecurity degrees usually focus on theory and technical knowledge with practical applications.
Less commonly, some schools offer a doctor of professional studies (DPS) in cybersecurity, which focuses primarily on applied knowledge and training. Occasionally, schools offer their cybersecurity Ph.D. as a computer science doctorate with a specialization in cybersecurity. The most popular option is the Ph.D. in cybersecurity.
Many cybersecurity Ph.D. programs include concentrations that allow enrollees to focus their coursework on specific areas of the field. Potential cybersecurity specializations include leadership and innovation, digital forensics, and IT security.
Popular Ph.D. in Cybersecurity Courses
Though each cybersecurity doctorate offers its own classes, many programs cover similar topics. Typical courses explore computer security, statistics, cryptography, and information security management. Below, we describe courses from a typical Ph.D. in cybersecurity curriculum.
Advanced Computer Security: This class provides a foundation in advanced computer security topics, including operating system security, database security, network security protocols, and trusted computing. Students learn to use authorization techniques and authentication mechanisms, design operating systems, and mitigate computer security risks.
Law, Policy, Ethics, and Compliance: This course focuses on ethical, legal, and policy issues for cybersecurity. Learners explore domestic and international legal principles and security law. They learn to critically evaluate policy documents and compliance issues, conduct independent research, and make presentations.
Managing Cybersecurity Risk: Students investigate cybersecurity risks and learn management techniques to mitigate breaches and develop cyberdefense strategies. This class also covers formal methodologies for strategic decision-making.
Applied Cryptography: In applied cryptography courses, enrollees learn mathematical techniques for data confidentiality, authentication, and verification. They also study how to apply these strategies to real-world situations.
Applied Research: This class prepares doctoral students to create a dissertation proposal and research plan. Candidates create the documentation for their topic, get approval from their faculty advisors, and submit information to the school's institutional research board if necessary. Learners also conduct a professional literature review of their research topic.
The Doctoral Dissertation
To finish the Ph.D. in cybersecurity, most programs require a dissertation. Students complete all courses and take comprehensive exams before starting this written culmination of graduate work. Doctoral candidates select a topic addressing a problem in cybersecurity, complete original research in that area, and write about their findings.
The research process includes creating a plan, getting faculty approval, conducting research, and writing. The final step includes an oral presentation and defense before the candidate's committee. How fast a learner completes their dissertation varies: Some enrollees finish the entire project in 1-2 years, while others take 3-5 years or even longer.
Though students do not need to identify a dissertation topic at the beginning of the program, developing an understanding of your research interests as soon as possible is helpful.
How Much Will a Doctorate in Cybersecurity Cost?
Tuition rates for doctorates in cybersecurity depend on the school. Factors influencing price include program length, type of university (public or private), and program format (online, hybrid, or in person). Cost also varies depending on whether learners pay in-state or out-of-state tuition.
The price of a Ph.D. in cybersecurity can seem high, but do not assume you can not afford it. First, choose your top cybersecurity programs, then consider the cost. Although many doctoral cybersecurity programs look expensive, students almost never pay the full price for a Ph.D.
Financing options include loans, fellowships, grants, and scholarships. Many cybersecurity doctorate programs also offer assistantships, where students work as teaching or research assistants in exchange for tuition reimbursement and a stipend. In fully funded Ph.D. programs, doctoral candidates pay zero tuition, and instead get paid to work and study full time.
Jobs for Ph.D. in Cybersecurity Graduates
While a bachelor's degree is often enough for entry-level positions in cybersecurity, some employers seek a master's degree. Cybersecurity graduates with a Ph.D. can qualify for advanced positions, including postsecondary teaching roles and researcher jobs. We explore several career possibilities below.
Computer Information Researcher
Computer information researchers analyze data to create new technologies, detect computing problems, and develop solutions. Typical duties include conducting experiments, upgrading and improving current programs, and publishing research papers. These scientists often hold advanced credentials and command higher-than-average salaries.
Required Education: Master's degree
2021 Median Annual Salary: $131,490
Job Outlook (2021-31): +21%
Director of Information Security
The director of information security is responsible for developing and implementing technology-based security measures in an organization. These professionals identify vulnerabilities and design strategies to combat security threats. The information security director handles both analytical and administrative responsibilities.
Required Education: Master's degree
February 2023 Average Annual Salary: $142,090
Job Outlook (2021-31): N/A
Professor of Cybersecurity
Professors specializing in cybersecurity may teach full time or part time at colleges and universities. Community college professors usually teach full time, while tenured professors also perform research and mentor graduate students.
Required Education: Doctorate
2021 Median Annual Salary: $79,640
Job Outlook (2021-31): +12%
Choosing the Right Doctorate in Cybersecurity Program
Our list of cybersecurity doctorates is a great place to begin the search for potential schools. Finding the right program takes research. Below, we describe several key factors to consider when choosing a cybersecurity program.
Look for Ph.D. in cybersecurity programs offered at institutionally accredited schools. The accreditation process verifies that a school meets standards of academic excellence regarding curriculum, faculty, and university resources.
How hard is it to get into your desired cybersecurity program? Admission requirements and acceptance rates vary considerably.
What type of doctoral program culture do you seek? Look for schools that create an inclusive, diverse atmosphere that welcomes students from all backgrounds. Some programs may be more focused on professionalizing than others, offering more resources to help learners find careers after graduation.
Decide how much influence program prestige has on your decision-making process. Some schools have strong reputations in the teaching and cybersecurity worlds, which may lead to improved job prospects from employers. However, these schools usually have more competitive acceptance rates. Other schools with less name recognition and higher acceptance rates also offer thorough curricula that prepare learners for careers in research and academia.
How much will it cost to earn your Ph.D. in cybersecurity? Many doctoral programs offer tuition reductions to enrollees who work for the university as research or teaching assistants.
Should You Get Your Degree Online?
Because online coursework in cybersecurity Ph.D. programs typically offers more convenience and flexibility, these degrees may appeal to working IT professionals and learners with family obligations. Other students may also prefer the structure of these distance learning programs.
Online graduate programs are increasingly popular, and many employers recognize that these degrees offer the same rigorous education as their on-campus counterparts. Cybersecurity doctorates may be well-suited to the online learning environment because of the curricular emphasis on computing and technical skills.
Whether an online degree is right for you depends on factors like your learning style, resources available for distance students, and other time commitments in your life. Many schools offer hybrid programs, which combine online and in-person learning — an ideal compromise for some cybersecurity students.
10 Cybersecurity Doctoral Degree Programs
The following alphabetical list highlights ten schools in the U.S. that offer doctoral programs in computer science or cybersecurity. Please note this is not a ranking or a comprehensive list.
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Questions About Doctoral Degrees in Cybersecurity
What can you do with a Ph.D. in cybersecurity?
A Ph.D. in cybersecurity prepares graduates for a variety of computing and IT career paths. Potential jobs include information security analyst, computer and information research scientist, professor, and IT security director.
How long does it take to get a Ph.D. in cybersecurity?
The timeline to complete a Ph.D. in cybersecurity varies by program and individual. Depending on coursework requirements and how quickly the dissertation is finished, learners often graduate with their doctorate in 3-7 years.
Is a doctorate in cybersecurity worth it?
Though completing a cybersecurity Ph.D. requires significant investments of time and money, the credential can qualify graduates for advanced roles in the field. Many of these jobs offer higher-than-average salaries: For example, computer and information systems managers earned a median annual salary of $159,010 in 2021.
Is earning a doctoral degree in cybersecurity hard?
As with any graduate degree, earning a Ph.D. in cybersecurity poses challenges, including upper-level coursework and the dissertation process. With persistence, hard work, and support systems, students can complete their doctorate to help them qualify for advanced cybersecurity jobs.
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