Breakout Career: Recent Study Shows that Data Scientists Could Make Over $250,000

Posted By Terri Williams on May 22, 2015 at 12:47 pm
Breakout Career: Recent Study Shows that Data Scientists Could Make Over $250,000

When you hear the word, “scientist,” you may think of a chemist or biologist in a white coat, hunched over microscopic slides in a lab. But that image isn’t entirely accurate these days. Technology has created an insatiable demand for another type of scientist – a data scientist – who uses quantitative and computer science skills to analyze data. And Harvard Business Review has crowned data scientist the sexiest job of the 21st century. This title is based on supply and demand – and right now, demand for data scientists is through the roof.

According to the second annual Burtch Works Study: Salaries of Data Scientists, released in April 2015, the current scarcity of data scientists is creating a “war for talent,” which is pushing up salaries for graduates with the educational background and skills to pursue this career.

Current base salaries for data scientists are:


In addition, the median bonus received by individual contributors was $15,650, while managers received a median bonus of $36,000.

What’s making data science so hot?

GoodCall contacted Adam Flugel, a Burtch Works recruiter who focuses on data science roles and candidates, to understand what’s fueling the demand and high wages for this relatively new career.

According to Flugel, technological advancements make data storage exponentially cheaper and create more opportunities for data collection (social media, mobile devices, “smart” appliances, etc.). As a result, companies can now afford to store practically infinite amounts of data from a huge variety of sources.

“Data science is an attempt to derive actionable insights out of giant, messy, and ever-changing data,” says Flugel. “Data collection will continue to get cheaper, and there are new data sources every day – the release of the Apple watch is a recent example that comes to mind.”

The high salaries are fueled in part by a shortage of qualified applicants, but also because data scientists are highly educated and skilled in multiple disciplines. According to the study, 8% have a bachelor’s degree, while 92% have a graduate degree – 48% with a PhD, and 44% with a master’s degree.

What to study to become a data scientist

Interested in becoming a data scientist? Mathematics and statistics are the leading degree areas for data scientists. The education breakdown by area of study is as follows:

  • Mathematics/Statistics: 29%
  • Computer Science: 18%
  • Engineering: 18%
  • Natural Science: 12%
  • Economics: 7%
  • Business/Management: 5%
  • Operations Research: 4%
  • Social Science: 4%
  • Medical Science: 2%

The industries employing data scientists are as varied as the degrees that these graduates hold. The technology industry employs the most data scientists (41%), following by marketing services (13%), corporate/other (11%), and consulting (9%). However, data scientists are also employed by healthcare/pharmaceuticals (7%), the government (4%), academia (4%), retail and consumer goods (4%) and the gaming industry (2%).

Interestingly, the median years of experience of data scientists has sharply decreased, from 9 in the 2014 study to 6 in the 2015 study. But according to Flugel, there’s a logical explanation. “With all the buzz around big data and data science, young people are starting to take notice and orient themselves towards this ‘sexy’ career.”

Just a few years ago, he says, most people outside of the analytics community had never even heard of data science. But now, students entering college are choosing their majors with the knowledge that data science is a high-demand, high-paying career choice.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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