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A logical way to plan a career is to think in terms of how you can help an organization create or preserve economic value. In the information age, there are few better ways to tie your career into an organization's greatest source of value than by specializing in computer network security. After all, information--including proprietary trade secrets, customer data, and financial information--can be both an organization's greatest resource and its greatest source of vulnerability. More and more, the emphasis on protecting this valuable information has made network security professionals key members of their organizations.

Earning a PhD in Technology with a specialization in network security could be a significant step on the pathway toward this kind of career. If you are interested in this field, it is natural that you might have some questions about earning a PhD in network security. The purpose of this guide is to walk you through the answers to some of these questions so you can better understand the process of working toward a doctorate in network security.

Specifically, this guide takes you through the following five questions:

  • Do you need a PhD in network security? A doctorate is an elite-level degree, and therefore is not for everybody. You should start the process with a frank examination of whether earning a doctorate degree fits in with your career plans, your personal circumstances, and your abilities.
  • What careers can you pursue with your PhD in network security? Before you start researching PhD programs, you should think ahead to what specific type of career you envision. This may influence the nature of the program you choose.
  • How should you choose a graduate network security program? From traditional campuses to online PhD programs, and from big-name schools to lesser-known niche programs, you have a number of choices to make. This guide lists several criteria you can use to narrow down the field.
  • What is involved in applying to a PhD program in network security? After you've arrived at your choice of program or programs, you should make sure that you meet all the requirements of the application process.
  • What should you do besides earning a PhD in network security? Earning a doctorate in network security may be the biggest single step you take to enhance your career prospects, but you can do other things as well to make the most of your doctorate after you earn it.

    The intention is that the information in this guide gives you a better sense of how a PhD in network security might fit into your career plans and help prepare you to take the next step of researching schools offering a doctorate in network security.

    Benefits of a PhD in Network Security

    If you are contemplating earning a doctorate in network security, presumably you already have a bachelor's or even a master's degree in a related field. With these degrees, you have probably found that you can get started in the field. So why pursue a doctorate?

    Here are some reasons why you might find earning a PhD in network security worthwhile:

    • Mastery of the subject matter. Like all realms of computer science, network security is a complex and fast-evolving field. A doctorate degree can ensure that you receive a fully up-to-date and forward-looking education in the subject.
    • Job market competitiveness. Competing for any job opening can be tough, and for higher-level jobs, the competition only gets tougher. As the highest level of degree, a doctorate can give you an edge in credentials both as you start out and as you climb the organizational ladder.
    • Eligibility for a career in academia. Teaching network security might be an attractive career option for you--after all, with the growing demand for trained network security specialists comes a demand for people to teach the subject. Higher-level academic posts routinely require a doctorate degree.
    • Government employment prospects. A number of government jobs in network security exist, and a doctorate may help you meet the requirements for some of those jobs.

    Remember, gaining work experience and furthering your education do not have to be mutually exclusive. Pursuing an online PhD in network security could allow you to enhance your career prospects without having to give up your current job. Your employer might even agree to fund part of your education if it is relevant to your job.

    Pursuing Careers with Your PhD in Network Security

    Specific careers in network security can be thought of two ways: in terms of functional responsibilities, and in terms of types of employers.

    Looking first at functional responsibilities, here are some career possibilities:

    • System design and administration. Network security starts with how systems are set up and maintained, so designing systems, firewalls, and other security features could be one way to apply your training.
    • Transaction and communication encryption and security. Perhaps the most fundamental challenge in network security is that, as computers are increasingly used to interact with the outside world via transactions processing and various forms of communication, the door is continuously being opened to security threats. Designing encryption tactics and protocols allows sensitive information to be transferred confidentially.
    • Virus detection and elimination. Even with the best of security measures, some computer viruses may inevitably get through. Being able to promptly detect such intrusions and then thoroughly eliminate any malicious code and its effects are key aspects of network security.
    • Usage monitoring. For reasons of security, productivity, and liability protection, many organizations have policies about appropriate employee usage of the computer system. This can make usage monitoring part of a network security program.
    • Database integrity and security. Information can be both a source of opportunity and a source of liability for today's businesses. Another aspect of network security is keeping database information secure while also making sure it is not lost or damaged in any way.
    • Cybercrime investigations. Both law enforcement agencies and some private security organizations may require network security specialists to help investigate cybercrimes.
    • Network security instruction. Network security is going to be a concern for as long as computers are used, and one way to benefit from that long-term demand is to become a teacher of this subject.
    • Network security research. Like any cutting-edge field, network security is the subject of ongoing research projects that both analyze emerging trends and innovate new procedures and products.

    Next, take a look at how these functions play into different types of employers:

    • The private sector. A number of firms specialize in network security consulting and implementation, so naturally a career with one of these firms is a possibility. Increasingly though, firms of any size want to have their own high-level security specialists on board, especially in businesses like financial services, where the stakes are high and large amounts of customer information is being handled. Having an educational emphasis in network security could also give you an edge when competing for higher-level systems administrator jobs.
    • Academia. Teaching is a career option in academia, and larger universities often support extensive research efforts so that you can pursue a career researching new trends or techniques in network security. The reliance many schools have on extensive computer systems means that they, too, may need to employ in-house security specialists.
    • Government. Network security is a concern for many areas of government. As cybercrimes grow, crime prevention and investigation can involve network security issues for everything from local law enforcement agencies on up to the organizations responsible for homeland security and national defense. In addition, several government agencies have huge databases of sensitive personal information on U.S. citizens, creating another area of demand for network security professionals.

    As you can see, it comes down to making choices. A PhD in network security gives you training in an in-demand field, and it also opens up a variety of possibilities as to job types, employers, and geographical locations.

    Choosing a Graduate Network Security Program?

    Having some idea of your career direction can be a factor in choosing a network security program, but there are other criteria as well. The following are some steps you can take to research and evaluate doctorate programs in network security:

    • Assemble a broad list of candidate programs. Initially, cast as wide a net as possible in your search. Use online guides and published directories to identify schools offering relevant programs. Besides looking for PhDs in network security, be sure to consider similar titles such as information security, computer security, systems security, and computer forensics. Also, be sure to include both on-campus and online PhD programs in your initial search because other criteria might end up making the choice between on-campus or online PhD programs for you. In addition, because it is a computer-oriented field, earning an online PhD in network security may be especially relevant.
    • Look for specialities that match your interests. If you have identified a specific career track in network security, look for schools that might be especially well-suited toward that career track. This might include schools that have particularly relevant course work, a research effort in a subject that interests you, or faculty with work experience similar to your career goals.
    • Consider cost issues. Don't rule out any program until you have investigated financial aid options, but you should start considering cost issues early in the process so you don't waste time researching and applying to programs you can't afford. Keep online PhD programs in mind as a possible lower-cost option.
    • Weigh geographic factors. Are there any relevant programs near you? If not, can you afford to move or travel to attend school? This is another reason for keeping the possibility of an online PhD in network security in the mix--it could be your best option for making the degree available in your area.
    • Assess the school's academic capabilities. At a minimum, check into the school's accreditation status--the Department of Education's Web site is a good source of information on this topic. You can go into greater detail by researching a school's reputation, placement record, and the accomplishments of its faculty.
    • Decide what you want from the academic environment. A traditional college campus might be important to you. If so, you need to decide just what type of campus you prefer--large vs. small, urban vs. rural, etc. Alternatively, if you have competing demands on your time, then convenience might be the key issue. In that case, an online PhD in network security might appeal as a way of fitting your education into the rest of your schedule.
    • Assess your chance for admission. It's a fine line--you want to aim for the best programs that you can possibly get into, but be realistic about programs that have little likelihood of accepting you so that you are making the best use of your time.

    Applying to a PhD Program in Network Security

    It's a process, but it's important that you filter your candidate programs down to a short list of strong possibilities because applying to a doctorate program can be expensive and time-consuming. You should focus your resources on the applications that matter most to you.

    The key skill in applying to graduate school is time management. Different schools have different deadlines, and some of the materials you may have to assemble include:

    • Application forms
    • Writing samples
    • Transcripts
    • Test scores
    • Letters of recommendation

    Put together a schedule to work out how to get the appropriate materials ready by the corresponding deadlines. Also, at the same time you are applying to schools, you should start looking into financial aid. WorldWideLearn.com's financial aid page contains extensive information on procuring funding for your PhD. The Department of Education's Free Application for Federal Student Aid site is a good place to start by learning about various federal financial aid programs.

    Supplementing Your PhD in Network Security

    If all goes well as you follow these steps, you should now be on the path toward earning your PhD in network security. At the same time, you can improve your career prospects in some other ways. Here are some examples:

    • Read academic and trade publications relevant to the field
    • Join organizations focused on network security as a profession or field of study
    • Participate in internships or research projects to gain experience
    • Seek to publish articles on the subject

    Network security is an issue at the heart of modern lifestyles, commerce, and government. Following the right steps toward a PhD in network security can help ensure your place in this critical field.

    Sources

    • Computer Forensics World
    • Enterprise Security Today
    • FAFSA.com
    • SANS Technology Institute
    • TechWeb
    • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
    • U.S. Department of Education
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