Ph.D. in AI: Is It Worth It?


Updated September 6, 2023 · 2 Min Read

Growing interest in artificial intelligence is driving up demand for skilled workers, especially those with advanced credentials, such as a Ph.D. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Interest in artificial intelligence has exploded. Industries from human resources to healthcare are going all in on AI. The goal: Look for ways to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

People like engineers, data scientists, and developers will be in line to benefit. Why? They're more likely to have advanced credentials employers seek, such as a Ph.D. in AI.

What is a Ph.D. in AI?

A doctoral program focusing on artificial intelligence research. Students complete courses and research into areas that often include computer science, philosophy, engineering, linguistics, psychology, and other disciplines. These programs prepare them for careers in industry, government, and academia.

Is a Ph.D. in AI worth it?

Many Ph.D.s don't do it for the money. A Ph.D. makes it possible for you to make an impact in your field. But suppose job stability, high earning potential, and job variety are also important to you. In that case, a doctorate in AI may be worth the investment:

  • The World Economic Forum predicts AI could create 97 million jobs by 2025, increasing job availability and driving up demand for skilled workers.
  • AI-related roles for Ph.D.s pay an average salary of $115,000 and up to $279,000, according to limited 2022 Payscale data.
  • There's a huge variety of industries to work in. This includes tech and non-tech fields, such as data science, software engineering, retail, education, and finance.

However, some experts believe job competition may increase as AI and machine learning become more popular. The number of jobs might even shrink if machine learning doesn't progress as fast as expected, according to 80,000 Hours, a London-based nonprofit that provides advice for careers with a positive social impact.

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What can you do with a Ph.D. in AI?

The advanced skill set that comes with a doctorate in AI prepares you for careers in academia, research, and various industries. Some examples of job roles in AI include:

  • AI Researcher: Develops new algorithms and models to improve the performance and capabilities of AI systems.
  • AI Engineer: Designs and implements AI systems and applications, including computer vision, machine learning models, and natural language processing.
  • Data Scientist: Uses statistical and computational methods to analyze and interpret complex data sets that can train and optimize AI models.
  • Machine Learning Engineer: Develops and deploys machine learning models and optimizes them for performance and scalability.
  • AI Ethics Specialist: Ensures AI systems meet ethical standards while identifying and mitigating potential biases and risks.

Which universities offer Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence?

At least 33 U.S. colleges and universities have doctorates in AI or AI-related subjects, according to an IDP Education database.

These include Carnegie Mellon University, which created the world's first machine learning department, and Purdue University's oldest existing computer science department.

  • Georgia Tech University's machine learning Ph.D. program admits 25-30 students annually. The multidisciplinary program involves mathematical foundations, data models, statistics, applied probability and other areas.
  • Oregon State University's Ph.D. in artificial intelligence takes an electrical engineering and computer science approach. One doctoral student's research involved developing reasoning for autonomous systems that account for social and ethical obligations.
  • Capitol Technology University'sartificial intelligence Ph.D. program explores the principles of autonomous systems and how computers' decision-making processes mirror the human brain. The program is available online and in person.

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Is a Ph.D. in AI difficult?

Any doctorate is tough. People with strong backgrounds in computer science, mathematics, and statistics will have an easier time. But don't expect it to be easy.

How many years does it take to get a Ph.D. in AI?

A Ph.D. in AI program can take between 4-7 years. The first two years are often lectures, and the rest is research.

  • Most of the time is spent programming, calculating, and reading papers.
  • Program requirements vary. For example, some require 40 hours of graduate coursework, six hours of dissertation credit, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation.
  • A dissertation is a deep analysis of a particular topic or a series of papers on relevant topics, which you write and defend.

The bottom line

The demand for skilled AI workers isn't slowing down. The skill set that comes with a Ph.D. in AI is valuable for various employers. Projections show opportunities for AI-related roles will increase in the coming years as industries increasingly adopt the tech.

But, there is a risk that job competitiveness will increase as the field becomes more popular. As you decide, weighing the pros and cons of entering the career path and how well you can persist within it will be key.

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