I am an undergraduate, and have recently come to terms with the fact that I may not have the intellect to do research in theoretical computer science, or be able to be admitted into and complete a PhD program. However, I would still like to be involved with theoretical computer science as I find it very interesting. So far, the only careers in theoretical computer science that do not require a PhD that I can think of would be being a secretary or administrative assistant for the theory group in some university. Are there any others?

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    $\begingroup$ Popular science writer? You could write the next Godel Escher Bach. But I'd advise you not to sell yourself short too soon -- most scientists have at some point doubted whether they had what it took to succeed in their field, before they discovered that they did. $\endgroup$
    – Aaron Roth
    Jul 31, 2012 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps you are very lucid about your own abilities. On the other hand, here in France, I can't think of anybody that knew they were going to do a PhD while an undergraduate. When you are an undergraduate, a PhD, and the amount of "imagination" you assume you will require is daunting---in part because most PhD's you've heard about at that point are geniuses. $\endgroup$
    – Jérémie
    Jul 31, 2012 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ Discouragement is common, at all stages. Take a look at this question. Don't give up! $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2012 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ Contrary to what everybody else is saying, I would suggest you to consider a more relaxed approach toward your future employment. Why does it have to do anything with theoretical computer science? Perhaps there are other things you would enjoy? Do you really think you'll enjoy being a secretary? Plus, the job market in TCS-related jobs (or even TCS) is quite small. Why limit yourself? $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2012 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @user10240: You're painting a very romantic picture, but the stark reality is that most people work at a job they are at best indifferent about. As a secretary in a CS department, don't expect to "talk theory" with the researchers; life is not a Hollywood movie! Instead you'll spend your time preparing and collating forms. I suggest you wait a while until this dream dissolves, and a more practical life plan replaces it. $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2012 at 9:55

1 Answer 1


I work at a national lab and in a directorate that employs many theoretical computer scientists, of which some do not have PhDs.

I think that what would differentiate or establish you would be a quality of your work. If you are a talented theoretician, strong at algorithms and you can/have been publishing your work in reputable theoretical computer science journals then I do not see why place like national lab would not hire you.

PhD is a testimony of ones ability to pursue relevant and significant research on his or her own.

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    $\begingroup$ If you are a talented theoretician who is strong at algorithms then it sounds like you're material for a PhD programme. On the other hand, if you're not in a PhD programme and you're not yet employed by a research institution, you're presumably holding down a full-time job that doesn't involve CS research. Where are you going to find the time to do research and publish it in high-quality journals? Finally, most PhD research these days is highly collaborative: it's not at all about working on your own. $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2014 at 9:11

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