Security Laboratory

Security Laboratory

Will the Ph.D. become the Cybersecurity Terminal Degree?

By Stephen Northcutt
Version 1.1

Will the Ph.D. become the Cybersecurity Terminal Degree

The Burning Glass reported titled: Job Market Intelligence: Cybersecurity Jobs, 2015 reports that 61% of cybersecurity job postings require a Bachelor's degree. That is hardly surprising. The general education requirements of a backelor's, (the so-called reading, writing and arithmetic) help students develop two skill employers find very valuable. They are the ability to communicate orally and in writing. It is great to find someone with the skills to do digital forensics on a Galaxy s6, but they need to be able to write the report so that it can be understood. And in the case of a major problem, such as the Stagefright bug announced by Zimperium this week, need to be able to explain the risks and remediation strategy to management.

However, the real surprise of the report was that 23% of the job postings asked for a Master's degree. That is a fairly significant increase. And the rich question is why. Obviously, a higher level degree in the cybersecurity field involves research and those are skills one expects of mid to senior level employees. However, I received an email from someone that I had shared this statistic with and he replied, "I have to wonder if that is a sign of the dilution of the value of a undergrad Degree?" Respected publications like the Wall Street Journal and The Economist have pointed to its declining value. And there are signs the system is producing graduates with bachelor's degrees that can't write. In my own job as an academic advisor, I review work created by students with poor writing skills every week.

Currently, a Master's degree such as the "heavy master's"offered by The SANS Technology Institute serve as terminal degrees in the field of cybersecurity. And that will probably be true for a few more years. It is reasonable to assume that something on the order of 23% of the jobs available would be mid to senior level employees. However, if 23% continues to grow, then clearly schools will have to develop quality programs for Ph.D.s.