Online cybersecurity Ph.D. programs are becoming more popular both as a degree option for students and as a viable option for schools to train more experts in the field.
Programs to make the public aware of the problem and attract bright young minds to the profession are becoming more widespread and are starting to have an effect. With the ranks of willing candidates beginning to swell, certificate, training and education programs are in great demand. The number of available degree programs offered by colleges in particular is gaining momentum.
Bachelor’s degrees have become a near necessity for new cybersecurity professionals in recent years. And higher-level positions like chief information security officers (CISOs) often require a master’s degree.
At present, though, the need for doctorate degrees in cybersecurity is becoming evident. High-level management positions, higher-education faculty posts, and advanced research initiatives are all growing in demand much more quickly than the numbers of candidates to fill them.
Generally speaking, most doctoral candidates will fill the rapidly expanding and critical roles of educators, consultants, and researchers. Ph.D.’s (doctor of philosophy degrees) and DSc’s (doctor of science degrees) are designed for these roles.
Ph.D.’s tend to focus on theory and research, while DSc’s study research and technical expertise. With more focus on technical knowledge, DSc’s sometimes continue working directly in practical applications within the field. On the other hand, DPS’s (doctor of professional studies degrees) are almost entirely devoted to the highest levels of training in hands-on practical knowledge and skills instead of theory and research.
All three types of doctoral programs are now available to those wishing to advance their careers to the pinnacle of the cybersecurity field. However, Ph.D. is by far the most commonly offered doctoral cybersecurity degree at present, followed by DSc’s and DPS’s. The world has a critical need for infosec practitioners, but there is also an equally essential need to expand the capacity of our educational institutions to teach new practitioners. We also are in dire need of advanced, innovative, strategic thinkers to conduct research in the science of cybersecurity.
Obtaining an online cybersecurity Ph.D.
Six steps for choosing an online Ph.D. cybersecurity program
So with all of these options available, as well as a growing number of colleges offering these programs, how can one best decide which direction is right for you? Here is a quick six-step process to help.
1. Self-appraisal: Those looking to expand their knowledge and background in cybersecurity with a Ph.D. have already succeeded in attaining lesser degrees and certifications, and likely have several years of work experience as well. That education, and exposure to practical applications provide an excellent overall view of the infosec world. All that experience will be critical in deciding exactly which direction to explore in the next phase of a career. The biggest decisions are of two types.
- 1. Are online Ph.D. programs the right way to go, or would real-time college be a better choice?
- 2. Is a future in research, education or consulting the right path? Or is work in a real-world application a better fit? Picking the correct answer to both questions will take a good bit of introspective research. And the decisions shouldn’t be made without a thorough self-inspection.
2. Admission requirements: As with any college degree, each individual institution offering it will have its own views of what a desirable Ph.D. candidate should look like. All require at least a BS degree, some require an MS. But there are often loose specifications as to what discipline the degrees must be in, like STEM or computer science. Other demands may include a minimum GPA threshold, usually 3.0 or higher, and GRE test scores.
Waivers are for the GRE tests are often granted for candidates with strong academic or professional backgrounds. The rest is normally just paperwork, like a personal goal statement, personal and work references, a current resume, and college transcripts. The primary point here is to pay attention to the requirements of each school under consideration, and whether it will necessitate more time, classwork, certifications, etc. to comply with these demands.
3. Tuition and scholarships: Unless an early career left a Ph.D. candidate with an abundance of cash, money will always be a concern. Obviously, tuition is the first number to check. But don’t stop with that. There are almost always alternatives for financial assistance available from the school, private scholarship sources, and sometimes government agencies attempting to increase the cybersecurity workforce. And, of course, government-sponsored and private education loans are available as well.
4. School reputation, course quality and availability: To get the most return out of an investment of time and money in education, it’s always best to choose from schools with the best reputation among cybersecurity professionals. Specific courses and available concentrations vary from one school to another. Students must therefore make sure a particular school’s special course offerings match their needs and desires.
5. Centers for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense: US government intelligence agencies are perhaps the organizations most interested in developing the science and resources needed to conduct the most extensive, advanced and complete cybersecurity operations anywhere. The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) jointly sponsor a program to promote cybersecurity education called National Centers for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD). NSA conducts extensive reviews and audits of colleges offering cybersecurity college degrees and designates a select few with CAE approval. Choosing an institution approved by the NSA provides a high level of certainty that the program offered is of the highest quality. It will also give graduates a leg up on securing a career with federal government intelligence agencies. NSA recently published a fact sheet showing 272 CAE-CD approved institutions across the country.
6. Dissertation research options and faculty: A critical part of any masters or doctoral degree is the dissertation. The exact topic and focus do not need to be determined at the outset of entering the program. However, it should be possible to know that faculty members and other available resources provide the greatest knowledge, technology and other means of support for the student’s specialty.
What to look for in an online Ph.D. cybersecurity program
For any given doctoral candidate, enrolling in an online program offering the best and most numerous courses within the cybersecurity specialty desired may be top on the list of criteria. One should also research the infosec faculty members at the school to determine which and how many have expertise within that students focus.
If possible, a chance to meet these faculty members may be very illuminating. Requesting the opportunity to audit one or more classes will also provide invaluable insight into how courses are structured and how close a fit the tutorial style may be. Opting to attend a Ph.D. program with the best possible reputation among cybersecurity professionals will help open doors when it comes time to find a post-doctoral job.
An institution that cultivates an innovative environment and offers the latest in technological capabilities will help maximize the educational experience. It will also be of great educational benefit to attend a college that fosters consultative communications among students and faculty. Probably the easiest variables to determine are tuition costs and the availability of school offered financial assistance, especially scholarships, grants, other offsets to student expenses.
Online Ph.D. cybersecurity program timeline
Typically, obtaining a doctorate in cybersecurity will require between three and seven years of dedication. The specific timeline will depend upon the individual college and the level of testing and qualification required for each student to be accepted into a program. Coursework can take up to three years, depending in part depending upon credits earned and transferred before entering the program. Once courses have been completed, the next step is to design a research project for the dissertation.
With a well thought out idea in hand, have a chosen faculty mentor assist with fine-tuning the scope, and then approving the research outline. The rest is extensive research and then writing the dissertation, while all along consulting with a faculty mentor. This phase can take two or more years, sometimes in excess of five years.
The length of time devoted to completing a dissertation will depend in part on the amount of time the candidate is able to devote to the research required. Once the dissertation is complete, student will schedule a board review and present their research to faculty members to attain the final award of their doctoral degree.
Online Ph.D. cybersecurity scholarships, grants, and fellowships
Don’t be scared off by tuition rates at any school. Pick the best academic environments for the degree and specialty desired first, then see what can be done to mitigate the cost. There are almost always several options to consider. Some schools have work-study options where students can take classes for a semester or two, then work in the industry for a time. This provides a balance of academics and practical experience, and also income to offset tuition costs. Of course, those already working and going to school would not be able to utilize this option.
Most frequently, scholarships, grants and fellowships will be the most accessible financial assistance vehicles. At present, it seems most scholarships are being directed to undergraduate and graduate students, with less now available for Ph.D.’s. This is likely to change in coming years as demand for Ph.D.’s is set to expand rapidly. The bulk of scholarships available for Ph.D. candidates at present are provided through individual schools, corporate sponsors, of government agencies.
Cybersecurity Ph.D. career path
The very nature of doctor of philosophy degree programs means those who complete a Ph.D. will be best suited to academic or theoretical applications of their cybersecurity expertise. However, other times there are really interesting industry jobs available to Ph.D. holders, especially in research-oriented companies.
Typically, these professionals will hold the highest of infosec management positions, such as CISO, information security director, information security manager, or the like. But many will be destined for advanced investigative research into the cutting edge ideas and technologies being discussed and discovered in the cybersecurity world. Others will opt for academic posts in higher education. And still others will be employed as consultants to large corporations and/or high leverage government agencies that often have not been able to hire enough cybersecurity employees to adequately satisfy their own needs, or just don’t possess the advanced capabilities that a Ph.D. offers.
School listings for online Ph.D. in cybersecurity
As is any course of study, attending school through an online college affords maximum flexibility for students with demanding lives. Whether the limiting factor is work, family, health restrictions or other reasons, a flexible online doctoral program permits Ph.D. candidates to work toward a goal on their own time.
Below is a complete list of schools offering online Ph.D. programs that features current and comprehensive information for an easy side-by-side comparison.