Study Reveals Why Data Scientist Keeps Ranking at the Top of Every Best Jobs List

Posted By Terri Williams on May 11, 2016 at 12:01 pm
Study Reveals Why Data Scientist Keeps Ranking at the Top of Every Best Jobs List

Data scientist is at, or near, the top of just about every “best jobs” survey, report, or study released in the past few years. Harvard Business Review named it the sexiest job of the 21st century. And with a median base salary of $96,000, data scientist and some engineering specialties are in a very small group of high-paying jobs that don’t require a medical or law degree. However, you’ll likely need more than a bachelor’s degree, as you’ll find out later in this article.

To help demystify the world of data science, GoodCall turned to The Burtch Works Study: Salaries of Data Scientists 2016, which contains comprehensive compensation, education, demographic and industry data on data scientists. And we also spoke with Adam Flugel, a Burtch Works data science recruiter, about the report.

Below are selected excerpts from the study:


92% of data scientists have an advanced degree:

Highest level of education
8% Bachelor’s degree
44% Master’s degree
48% Ph.D.


You might think that future data scientists major in “data science,” but the field is so new that most colleges don’t offer a specified degree in this area. So, what do data scientists study in college? Below is the distribution of data scientists by area of study:

College Major
28% Statistics/Mathematics
18% Engineering
17% Computer Science
16% Natural Science
7% Social Science
6% Economics
4% Business
2% Operations Research
2% Medical Science



There’s not much difference in compensation among individual contributors with a Master’s degree and those with a Ph.D.:

Job level Education Median base salary
Individual Contributor, Level 1 Master’s degree $96,000
Individual Contributor, Level 1 Ph.D. $100,000
Individual Contributor, Level 2 Master’s degree $125,000
Individual Contributor, Level 2 Ph.D. $125,000
Individual Contributor, Level 3 Master’s degree $150,000
Individual Contributor, Level 3 Ph.D. $155,000

Note: the sample size for bachelor’s degree was too small to report

However, among data science managers, there are discernible differences between having a Master’s degree and a Ph.D.:

Job Level Education Median Base Salary
Manager, Level 1 Master’s Degree $130,000
Manager, Level 1 Ph.D. $148,250
Manager, Level 2 Master’s Degree $186,000
Manager, Level 2 Ph.D. $190,000
Manager, Level 3 Master’s Degree $230,000
Manager, Level 3 Ph.D. $250,000



Data scientists work in a lot of sectors, but it turns out you won’t find many working for the government:

46% Technology
12% Marketing services
10% Financial services
8% Corporate-Other
8% Consulting
5% Healthcare/Pharma
4% Retail & CPG
3% Academia
2% Gaming
1% Government



Most data scientists are male, and live on the West or East Coast:

84% Male
16% Female


43% West Coast
28% Northeast
14% Midwest
8% Mountain
7% Southeast



How salaries could increase

While data scientists earn lucrative wages, it’s possible that salaries could be pushed even higher. Adam Flugel, a Burtch Works data science recruiter, tells GoodCall that (1) business acumen, (2) communication, and (3) specific vertical experience could increase a data scientist’s wages. “Companies are still struggling to find all of these traits in a data scientist, so they’d pay for it if they found it.”

Why data scientists are in such high demand

According to Flugel, “Data is so cheap to store en masse now, and so many devices, apps, and systems are producing data constantly, there’s more data now than ever before that could be potentially mined for insights.” And he adds that companies are also trying to keep up with the Joneses, and have a fear of missing out. If other companies have data scientists, they believe they need them as well.

Whether this trend will continue

“With more – not less – data to analyze, especially with the whole Internet of Things rolling around the bend,” Flugel says the demand for data scientists isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.

And considering the level of education and skills required to succeed as a data scientist, he doesn’t envision salaries plummeting in the near future. However, as the supply of talent increases, Flugel says he does expect salaries to level off.

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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