The Tortoise and the Ant and the ...?
August 18, 2009 10:15 PM   Subscribe

If you wanted a stable, boring (but really only boring in scare quotes), modest life, what career paths would you take? Emphasis on path; I want to come out of this post with a course of action.

If you get a masters of library sciences, can you reasonably expect to get a job starting out in the high 20s/low 30s in a place where that's sufficient to be comfortable, with pay increases and advancement on the horizon? Or are there too many people competing for the same jobs for that to be the standard path? Is the digital age cutting funding for libraries, or increasing opportunity? Are archivists able to get work?

I'd love detailed responses from the perspective of work and life that is possible for a liberal arts (English lit degree) college grad who does not want to take on the world, but rather live in it, enjoy it, have space to be aware of his (feel free to substitute her) own thoughts, and avoid any races that center on rodents rather than on the sheer joy of running.

I'd really like special attention paid to practicality and stability. Also, interaction with the public is not a negative at all. In fact, I'd love to avoid interacting with a computer all day, as good at that as I may be. Light exercise and some sun could only improve the equation.

I'd like to assess myself, and my options, and then head in a direction that, barring any black swans, will bear steady fruit I am comfortable with while allowing me to grow in whatever direction it winds up I grow, rather than trading my mental and physical health for high pay.

Is there a way to cheat at life? To wind up doing something that refreshes your soul for eight hours a day, and leaves you more you at the end rather than less? Or at least pays the bills while you fill the rest of your time with art, literature, travel, and companionship (frugally, of course)?

I could see myself building trails, leading tours, researching, tagging, and photographing for the park service, and never feeling like I'd sold a second of my time doing anything I wouldn't have done for free. If I get a master's degree in conservation or forest management, would it be difficult to find a position in the park service a few years from now?

I cannot stress how much I don't want to gamble. Nothing is certain in this life, but there is a certain difference in job prospects between getting that MFA in creative writing so you can teach college and getting that state teaching certificate so you can teach high school. Not that taking a detour to get an MFA precludes anything else at all--but I'm sure you get the picture.

Or at least I hope you do, because I sure don't and I could use a hand.
posted by Nonce to Work & Money (58 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
Nursing.
posted by orthogonality at 10:15 PM on August 18, 2009


Accounting / bookkeeping.

Accept no substitutes.

***bookkeeping is the only word in the English language with 3 double letters in a row - yes baby, yes!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:26 PM on August 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Nursing

Um, no. While it's certainly rewarding (if you go in for that sort of thing), nursing is incredibly stressful and physically draining. It fails miserably at satisfying "To wind up doing something that refreshes your soul for eight hours a day, and leaves you more you at the end rather than less?" While my wife comes home feeling good about what she's accomplished some days, she also comes home crying over the shit she sees other days. The other nurses I've known have similar experiences. My mother, a doctor, is the same way to some extent.

The shifts aren't regular, meaning that it's a giant sonofabitch to schedule routine extracurricular activities. Which means it also fails "Or at least pays the bills while you fill the rest of your time with art, literature, travel, and companionship (frugally, of course)." You pull 12 hour shifts... the first day off, you're just going to need to recover.

The one thing I'll grant is that, as a nurse, you can always find a position somewhere. Whether or not that position is full time... well, that's another issue.

I'd suggest actuarial science. Nothing stressful about an actuarial table. And if you're any good at it, there's never a shortage of jobs.

Personally, I'm trying to break into locksmithing this week.
posted by Netzapper at 10:27 PM on August 18, 2009


Not to split hairs, but "bookkeeper" also fits that bill.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:28 PM on August 18, 2009


CPA
posted by The World Famous at 10:28 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I get a master's degree in conservation or forest management, would it be difficult to find a position in the park service a few years from now?

Parks certainly aren't immune to budget cuts and layoffs, nor are libraries.
Obtaining a library science-related job that pays in the $20k-30k range is not hard, but there are fields that are growing much more quickly than others. When I was pursuing an MLIS, I discovered that traditional libraries are replacing professional with paraprofessionals and collection development funds were getting cut left and right; but many of my fellow MLIS schoolmates got somewhat lucrative jobs ($40k-$70k) working in fields related to digitization, digital preservation, information architecture, database management, medical libraries, and corporate libraries. Those positions don't sound like they'd interest you. Archivists typically aren't well compensated compared with other jobs one may get with an MLIS, and they're more difficult to find.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:30 PM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'd really like special attention paid to practicality and stability.

Pharmacist. I have always thought that pharmacy was a very underrated career path. They make excellent money (six figures right out of pharmacy school), are in high demand, and the stress level is very low compared to comparable professions (like medicine and law).

And one crazy suggestion: Flight attendant. The money is not great, and dealing with frazzled travelers would surely get frustrating, but I think it would be a great job ... and would include travel benefits! Whenever I am at an airport and see flight attendants striding purposefully through the terminals, I envy them.
posted by jayder at 10:35 PM on August 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Accounting is a good recommendation. I'd also add becoming a radiologist or pharmacist. All 3 of these earn a pretty good living.
posted by thisperon at 10:36 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was pursuing an MLIS, I discovered that traditional libraries are replacing professional with paraprofessionals and collection development funds were getting cut left and right; but many of my fellow MLIS schoolmates got somewhat lucrative jobs ($40k-$70k) working in fields related to digitization, digital preservation, information architecture, database management, medical libraries, and corporate libraries. Those positions don't sound like they'd interest you.

I'd like to hear more, if you have more to tell. It seems to be the growth area, and thus more stable. Most desk jobs will involve computer work, so that aspect of it does not make it an automatic out. Just a strike, or a fly ball that might not wind up being caught. (Did I do that sports metaphor thing right?)

Libraries are entities I respect greatly on numerous levels, and digital preservation and information architecture sound like they may be engaging fields to work in, minus the ever-present politicking that I assume goes with library jobs as much as any other. Would a two-year degree get my foot in the door with minimal extra debt?
posted by Nonce at 10:39 PM on August 18, 2009


The trick to life is that you really can do anything you want to do. If you REALLY want to go live in the woods and spend time "building trails, leading tours, researching, tagging, and photographing for the park service," then, wow. That's more direction than most people EVER have-- including both career paths and free time. Hell, half the time I have a day off, I wonder what to do with myself and end up wasting time on the Internet! boos.

So. Do what you want to do. Get a dork job at a national park and keep your eyes peeled for an internal job listing that looks interesting. Do that for a while, all the while keeping aware of further opportunities.

If you can live cheap, you can make it in the woods.

...Outside of that... customer service rep? Clear-cut shifts, human interaction, boring work but hopefully you can make the people happy. Good luck!
posted by samthemander at 10:41 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Accounting has the ring of stability to it. The tortoise would approve. But would the tortoise's soul be crushed by interacting with a computer all day, keeping abreast in changes to law, and typing in numbers until his shell wanted to explode from the need to get up for just five freaking minutes and stretch his legs? Only he can't because BigCorp doesn't like it when he leaves his cubicle outside of his lunch break? And what the hell does sunlight look like anyway?

Because that's kind of what's in my head when I think about accounting.
posted by Nonce at 10:44 PM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love working in a public library, love customer service and learn a few new things every day but at the same time don't take my work home with me. You don't say (and your profile doesn't indicate) where you are but in my area MLIS pays very well. Right now I am choosing to work part time and am earning around $45,000 working 25 hours a week. I DON'T think it is that easy to walk into full time job earning $60-70,000 though. Again, speaking just in my geographical area, part-time work is much more common but with seniority (pretty much everyone is unionised) full-time employment is almost guaranteed after a few years. There have been warnings about the "greying" of librarians from ALA for at least a decade but I think young MLIS's are still finding it a tough job market; it is more difficult to get an MLIS in Canada so the applicant pool is not as big here. As HotPatatta mentions, paraprofessionals such as library technicians are another option, job opportunities are dependent on location. Everyone I know that got an archivist degree did not find work in their field, FWIW.
posted by saucysault at 10:47 PM on August 18, 2009


Teacher. Tenure. Great benefits. Summers to do as you choose. HS librarian might even be a tenured track.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:49 PM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Accounting is *extremely* stable, but also very dry. Fantastic money, too. Any public interaction, unfortunately, is often "when are you going to give us money?" "when are you going to pay us money?"

Maybe not stable as a job at one company, but certainly stable as a career.

I've always envied librarians, but not sure how transferable their skills are come any sort of "crunch".

Teaching is another one I'd recommend. Primary School teaching = much less stress than High School.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:55 PM on August 18, 2009


Specialization, a respect for arcane knowledge, and the willingness to attach your life to a larger place's long term preservation might be the beginnings of a great career as a bridge mechanic. Or, a bridge painter. Or any one of a number of other bridge maintenance and management jobs.

The life of a great bridge is utterly dependent on the maintenance it receives, and the opportunity to care for a great structure over its life, as you go through your working life, has a certain monk-like fascination for some of the people who do it. It's steady work, and generally not as cyclic as other jobs, because, after the I-35 bridge disaster, deferred bridge maintenance frightens people. For the most part, any job in bridge maintenance pays better than your target wage in present dollar terms, and comes, depending on the job and the bridge, with great views, a healthy outdoor work environment, and a place in a small, but long term fraternity of people doing a socially necessary job, often out of sight of those who benefit from it being done.
posted by paulsc at 10:58 PM on August 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Pharmacist is probably a bit too much school, but pharmacy technician is a classic always-needed and straightforward job. Same with dental assistant, electrician, plumber... really any of several dozen trades, both blue and white collar. Never a shortage of jobs.

Seconding that 'nurse' is NOT low-stress. Eek.
posted by rokusan at 10:58 PM on August 18, 2009


Saucysault, I now have two reasons to view Canada with a sense of wistful regret. (Healthcare, and not having your job.)

I'm in America. Geography isn't too important, as I can move around if need be.

Samthemander, you're right, of course. But lets not focus on that right now.
posted by Nonce at 11:04 PM on August 18, 2009


need to get up for just five freaking minutes and stretch his legs? Only he can't because BigCorp doesn't like it when he leaves his cubicle outside of his lunch break? And what the hell does sunlight look like anyway?

BigCorps are actually quite lenient about that sort of thing in my experience. When I was an intern at a BigBank they didn't care if we went off for long lunch breaks or took breaks during the day as long as we got our work done.

I'm not an actuary but be aware that they generally have to spend a lot of time off work preparing for and writing exams which they need to pass in order to move up the ladder. However, actuarial work seems more interesting than accounting (from what little I know of both fields) and the former, in my opinion, seems more versatile, as it involves a lot of probability and statistics.
posted by pravit at 11:08 PM on August 18, 2009


I'm young and naive (18) and think I want to get my doctorate in computer science and hopefully someday be a professor at a major university. I'm an undergrad double majoring in mathematics and computer science right now.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling especially wistful, I think about just dropping the computer science, and adding an education minor, and teaching high school mathematics in Seattle, or NYC, or somewhere else I wouldn't mind living forever and just living that life.
posted by Precision at 11:38 PM on August 18, 2009


My mom was a librarian turned teacher turned school librarian. Definitely stable, pay is better than it used to be, minimal stress from the kids since you wouldn't have your own class, but administrative politics can be hell. Of course I've yet to find a job where that wasn't true.
posted by whoaali at 11:48 PM on August 18, 2009


I work in the federal government, and it's a great gig. Sort of the benefits of being an academic (in that you can focus on a policy issue) with much better long term income growth and good benefits. I love what I do and have a great quality of life to boot.

It isn't just program/policy work - for instance, there's plenty of park rangers in the federal government. See the Forest Service (USDA) or the National Park Service (Department of the Interior), Bureau of Land Management (Dept. of the Interior) - all have ranger positions. I'm sure there's others I can't think of right now. Obviosuly, these positions are really competitive.
posted by waylaid at 12:18 AM on August 19, 2009




Nonce -- "Accounting has the ring of stability to it. The tortoise would approve. But would the tortoise's soul be crushed by interacting with a computer all day, keeping abreast in changes to law, and typing in numbers until his shell wanted to explode from the need to get up for just five freaking minutes and stretch his legs? Only he can't because BigCorp doesn't like it when he leaves his cubicle outside of his lunch break? And what the hell does sunlight look like anyway?

Because that's kind of what's in my head when I think about accounting."


Ok, that's a stereotypical view of accounting. I've got an accounting qualification that I don't put on my CV as I don't want to do that work any longer (I took an MSc Quantitative Finance and an MBA after so my focus changed), but this stereotype is hardly appropriate. Accounting is a remarkably diverse field.

What you're undoubtedly thinking of is financial accounting, tracking assets / liabilities, preparing income statements etc. Some folks enjoy pouring over the numbers, the challenges of understanding the data and getting things right. The view is historical; looking back.

I'm a Management Accounting myself, a subfield that focuses on providing Management with data needed to run the business. Still very numerate, but different focus. Typical questions - "How much does it cost us to manufacture one of these? How much does it cost to manufacture one thousand? What is the optimum number to manufacture?" The view is forward looking, as we're guiding the business.

Strategic Management Accounting is essentially Management Accounting, but in the comparative sense; how well are we doing relative to other firms. Typical questions - "How much does it cost our competitors to manufacture one of these? How do they do it so cheaply? How can we undercut?"

Auditing is another interesting area. In the past this was considered a means to review the finances of a business, but now we're seeing most of the activity in the evaluation of IT systems and the processes surrounding said systems. Auditor's reports are the deliverable product.

Governmental Accounting exists because of the fundamental differences between the public and private sector (i.e., government typically isn't bound by budgets).

Forensic Accounting is a specialty practice involving litigation. "Forensic" implies "suitable for use in a court of law", and is intended to describe very high standards of quality, as these folks give expert testimony or evidence. Not surprisingly, Forensic itself is divisible :
  • insurance claims
  • personal
  • fraud
  • construction
  • royalty audits

So there really is lots to accounting that the stereotypes don't allow for.

Clearly most of these jobs don't lock one to a desk or inside a cube farm, some of these roles require lots of human interaction and actually getting out into the world.

Unless, of course, an accountant wants to remain in the cube farm, staring at their monitor. Plenty of need for folks to do that as well.
posted by Mutant at 12:19 AM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Lastly...

I'm lucky enough to work in Western Australia, the large mineral rich state wot is just about to crank up a $300 billion natural gas project on Barrow Island. Not to mention existing multi billion projects mining iron, gold, uranium, mineral sands - you name it.

I'm also lucky enough to have worked heaps of short term contracts in many different sectors, and I have to say: try and work for a mining company. You meet lots of great knockabout people. Mining engineers, rock tappers, grizzled prospectors. Even the board of directors are usually top people. And they just chuck money at the staff. Conditions are great.

Turn off computers, buffet, open bar, every Friday at 3pm is NOT unusual working for a mining company.

and what Mutant said about the various classes of Accountants. It takes 3 years in Australia to get a "proper" qualification like a BCom. Then there's postgrad on top of that should you choose, normally done at nights after you are employed.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:11 AM on August 19, 2009


something that refreshes your soul for eight hours a day
I don't think anyone really has a job like that. I think we're brainwashed into thinking a job is something we're supposed to be passionate about - and passionate is one of the most overused and misused words going today IMO.

That being said, you only get one chance in this life so you might as well spend it doing something you enjoy and are excited about.

The key is to find the right combination of something you like and something you're good at. Because if you like it, you'll work harder at it, and if you're good at it, you'll get recognized and rewarded.

You might be a really good administrator, but have no interest in that line of work. You might really like singing, but have no talent.

Of course there are jobs that will always be needed, in any economy. Go down those career paths if that's what you're interested in.

Don't dismiss taking risks though. The greater the risk often means the greater the reward. I don't know your situation, how old you are, whether or not you have children, but why be so risk-averse?

People on their death-bed usually regret not taking more risks, rather than wishing they played it safer.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 2:18 AM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


In the UK at least, there is a reasnoble shortage of skilled crafts people who are capable of restoring old buildings properly. For example tatching, mixing and using old fashioned cements, carving, stone masonry etc.

You would be outside, doubtlessly meeting interesting people and doing something creative. Of course, there is probably less call for this in the US, but there may be some call for it.

UK website.

Nthing federal Governemnt work. Work is interesting, its very people focused - we even call them customers here, but this is of course slightly silly management speak. Career path is usually well structured, good T&Cs, if you ever come out of it you experience can be valuable to all kinds of other for sure to.
posted by munchbunch at 3:58 AM on August 19, 2009


In my area, public librarian positions are being cut. And since my employer (a university) is also making cuts, I assume some librarians may have fallen victim to that too (although they're tenure track here). So... not as stable as it once was.

I have a friend who is what we've nicknamed a "parkivist" - he has a degree in Archives & Records Management and works for the National Parks Service. That sounds like it might be up your alley.
posted by srah at 4:19 AM on August 19, 2009


A risk-free, permanently stable career path is probably a bit much to ask for. You're likely to work in several fields over the course of your life, but that doesn't mean you're doomed to life-draining boredom or stress.

I think the qualities of life you seek depend as much on your personal money management skills and ability to recognize jobs that suit you, as they do on any particular "career path" choices you make at the outset. For example: don't set yourself up in a combination of job + living arrangements that demands you live paycheck to paycheck, because a lack of savings constricts your freedom to change as you would like to.

...something that refreshes your soul for eight hours a day...

To a large extent, this is a case of 'ask not what your job can do for you; ask what you can do for your job.' Work will feel right when it's aligned with your personal values. You won't always love the activities you'll perform at work, but you can love the cause they're in the service of.
posted by jon1270 at 4:28 AM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Academia is one of those careers that can be genuinely fun and rewarding. I'm not saying I'm not tired at the end of the day or I don't enjoy days off, but when I'm at work a lot of times it feels like play. Yesterday I drove 100 miles around beautiful rural areas north of my city and sampled 3 beautiful streams, then came back to the lab and spent some time stressing about my dissertation. Today I'll do some writing, fuss with some interesting statistics, and finish off with some analytic chemistry. I have no interest in working at a high stakes research university, so I hope to avoid a lot of the high competition, which also means avoiding the high salaries. I just want a job where I can teach the subjects I love and then take some students out with me to study streams.

All that said, I think teaching high school would have some of the same benefits without the headache that is a PhD and there are times I consider it, still.

Finally, it turns out it's harder to work in a national park than one might think. Interpretative Rangers, the ones who lead hikes and talk to people about the local flora and fauna, are actually pretty hard jobs to get, as are the research jobs which require a PhD. Most rangers the public sees are Law Enforcement Rangers. It's still a sweet job in many, many ways, but their main job really is to carry a gun and enforce rules.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:30 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


On MeMail notification of an unintentionally repeated link in my comment above, here is the intended link for the (archived) 2008 NY state bridge maintenance supervisor 1 & 2 test announcement, which mentions a number of other job titles related to bridge maintenance careers. Sorry.
posted by paulsc at 4:32 AM on August 19, 2009


Sometimes, when I'm feeling especially wistful, I think about just dropping the computer science, and adding an education minor, and teaching high school mathematics in Seattle, or NYC, or somewhere else I wouldn't mind living forever and just living that life.

Teaching, at least in NYC, is certainly not stress-free. It takes several years to work your way out of the schools where you're a jailer for kids who don't want to be there so you can finally get into one of the few spots where there will be classes that actually are there to learn something.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:49 AM on August 19, 2009


My mom was a librarian turned teacher turned school librarian. Definitely stable, pay is better than it used to be, minimal stress from the kids since you wouldn't have your own class, but administrative politics can be hell. Of course I've yet to find a job where that wasn't true.
posted by whoaali at 11:48 PM on August 18 [+] [!]


This is true in some schools, but not in others. I work as a school librarian, but really I'm a "specials teacher" in that I provide other teachers with breaks. The majority of my day is teaching or supervising children at recess or lunch.

However, I would highly recommend school librarian positions. Just be careful because the requirements in different states are EXTREMELY different and so are the job markets.
posted by aetg at 4:59 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


According to the NY Times, Statistics!
posted by extrabox at 5:15 AM on August 19, 2009


I'd say librarian for the fact that you will generally work for a state, county, or municipality which is about as stable as you can get.
posted by JJ86 at 5:43 AM on August 19, 2009


Where I live, school librarians make more money than pubic librarians (at least to start - once you get into public library administration jobs the salaries are higher, but those jobs are also more stressful). Of course, school librarians also have summers off. Furthermore, there have been many layoffs in the public libraries, but as far as I know every school still has a librarian. So, the school librarian route is a bit more stable here, and as a high school teacher, I'd say it's less work in terms of grading/prepping than we teachers have, although that varies from district to district. I do know of school librarians who have to do lesson plans and give assignments, but that can have its own rewards.
posted by katie at 6:14 AM on August 19, 2009


One of the nice things about accounting is that pretty much everybody needs accountants, which means your choice of industries is just about infinite.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:21 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd suggest browsing through Library Journal. Some of the current headlines: "Ohio Libraries Cut Staff, Hours in Response to Downturn" "Squeezed by Mayoral Directive, Omaha PL Closes Branch, Lays Off More than 25% FTE"

School librarian positions have not been safe, either, from cuts: Is the book closed on school librarians?

Librarianship is a fine profession, but is not as secure a career path as one would think. And the MLS does not guarantee you will find a job as a librarian. The market is still tight for new graduates. The people who find jobs tend to have library experience (or other significant professional experience) under their belts and used their time in library school to build up professional networks. If you really are interested in becoming a librarian, I would suggest working in a library first before committing to 2 years of library school with a nebulous idea of what a career as a librarian is like.
posted by needled at 6:54 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you really are interested in becoming a librarian, I would suggest working in a library first before committing to 2 years of library school with a nebulous idea of what a career as a librarian is like.

This is an important thing to listen to before you go into debt for any kind of graduate school. Get a real idea of what the job you want will be like first. When I graduated college I was certain that my career was going to be in book publishing. I worked for my university press, and moved to New York and got a job as an editorial assistant at one of the big publishing houses after graduation. It was only a year and a half before I realized I didn't want to spend more years in the profession only to end up with my boss's job. I detoured into web production for a few years and ultimately ended up in library school where I was able to quickly narrow down my focus to know that I wanted to work in an academic library, specifically with digital content. But without my years of prior job experience I would have had no idea which of the many available directions I wanted to go in.

I see a lot of people coming to our library school right out of undergrad now and I just kind of shake my head, because chances are that what they want for a career will change drastically in the next few years, because that's just what happens as you get more experience of the working world and what kind of jobs interest you and what you enjoy doing 40 hours a week. So, if you really want to satisfy that practical side of you, get a job in whatever your greatest interest is when you graduate, and use the next few years to explore your interests and options. I'm in a career that you could say isn't that far from where I started, interest-wise, but is vastly different in all the nitty-gritty details that add up to how much you enjoy your workday.
posted by MsMolly at 8:02 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is there a way to cheat at life?

Yes, take a deep breath and accept a modest amount of risk in your life. All the suggestions in this thread are a gamble themselves. Government jobs get cut, libraries lose funding, unions collapse, etc.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:08 AM on August 19, 2009


my dad was an independent cpa. solid work -- the only two constants in the world are death and taxes, right?

the problem is it'll kick your ass for the couple of months around 4/15. i mean, *seriously* kick your ass. plus, you get lots of really stressed out clients. so if you want something less stressful, you might want to look into something other than consumer/small-business level tax wrangling for people.

my dad actually going into funeral home work because it's even more certain than taxes, but the startup costs for a funeral home are *huge*
posted by rmd1023 at 8:10 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Assistant.

Administrative/Executive Assistants have incredibly diverse duties, depending on the needs of the person, team, or department they support. I am an assistant in accounting and on any given day I could be found doing the regular stuff (arranging meetings, fielding calls, making travel reservations, ordering office supplies, editing spreadsheets, reviewing expense reports, etc.) OR you may find me doing something like drawing accounting-themed cartoon strips, planning the department outings/parties/picnics/cookouts, shopping for raffle prizes or greeting cards, picking up 60 giant cupcakes for a celebration, or taking/printing/posting candid photos for the department wall.

Since establishing myself as the resident geek, I’ve become the help desk for the people in my department who don’t like to deal with the help desk. Also, I am the most obsessive rule-follower ever, so now I’ve become the accounting policy reviewer, checking for errors, loopholes, and contradictions (yes, this is fun for me). And, now that I have been here for quite some time, I feel comfortable enough to send out department-wide emails (i.e., reminder to sign up for the volunteer event, etc.) that contain a healthy dose of my snarky humor.

Right now, I wouldn’t trade my job for the world. I make a very good salary and support my family without any difficulty (but also without debt, mind you). I have excellent benefits and company-specific perks. Most of all, I feel positively indispensable in my job. The people I work with are always appreciative of the things I do for them and I never get tired of hearing, “What would we do without you?”. I work hard and always have a full plate, but at the end of the day I know I accomplished a lot and I feel filled up, not wiped out. (Emotionally speaking, of course.)

Also, assistants at every level are always in demand and many permanent positions are filled through staffing agencies. This means less legwork for you when finding a job AND you get to try the employer on for size. If it is not a good fit, you can move on until you find one that you like without damaging your CV by job-hopping. A good fit with a company is critical in contributing to your level of happiness.

Finally, keep in mind that this is MY perfect job. I am talented in assisting, dealing with people, working under pressure, and maintaining my composure (most of the time). My area of giftedness is service; I am a helper. I could never be happy in my job without that gift.

Good luck... and if this doesn’t sound like your type of job, I would recommend the following possibilities: Product Forecasting, Business Analysis, or Auditing.
posted by awesomiste at 8:30 AM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


I thought of another direction which no one has mentioned yet. Since you said you're not afraid of physical work, have you thought about a trade? Electricians, carpenters, plumbers enjoy steady work and the ones I know generally enjoy what they do.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:40 AM on August 19, 2009


Everyone I know who went into library science has struggled (or is still struggling) to find work that matches their education level and/or had to relocate/commute somewhere undesirable just to find a decent job. There are a lot more people who want to be librarians than there are librarian jobs.

So I am Nthing accounting as a much more sure "sure thing." And here's an even better angle you might like: accounting professor!

Instead of having your soul crushed, you get to hang out with smart people all day, research stuff you're interested in, and guide young people into good careers. Even if the subject matter itself doesn't thrill you, the pay is good, the hours are flexible, you can take summers off, etc., so you'll have the free time and money to do whatever it is that DOES thrill you.

Being a tenured professor is about as low-risk as you can get. Every business student HAS to take accounting so there is enormous demand for college-level accounting instructors. There is currently a HUGE shortage of accounting professors with PhDs, which has led to generous funding for accounting PhD students and tenure-track jobs with average starting salaries of $140k/year being relatively easy to get (relative to tenure-track jobs in other fields, that is). Also, if the CVs of my professors are any indication, the publishing requirements to earn tenure in an accounting department are quite lax. :)


"Emphasis on path; I want to come out of this post with a course of action."

Read the book Getting What You Came For for tons of great general advice about graduate school and academia.

More specifically, your path to become an accounting professor would be:

Step 1: MS Accounting. Since you don't have an undergraduate accounting degree (you have a BA in English Literature?), this will probably be a two-year full-time program -- one year of preparatory courses and one year of graduate-level courses. The journal Public Accounting Report publishes annual lists of the best accounting programs. (PAR is carried in Business Source Premier, which most university libraries should be subscribed to.) If you do want to eventually go for a PhD, Brigham Young University is well-known for having the best MS program for preparing students for PhD studies at top universities.

Wherever you end up, start getting to know your professors right away and express your interest in accounting academia and learning how to do research and write articles. If you can partner with one or more professors to write and publish some articles while you're still in your MS program this will help you tremendously in getting into a good PhD program and later getting a tenure-track job.

You will probably have to use student loans* to pay for your MS, but there are sometimes graduate assistanceships available. Once you have a semester of good grades in accounting classes under your belt, there are tons of accounting scholarships you can qualify for. Ask your department about scholarship opportunities, and check with every local and national accounting professional organization (Beta Alpha Psi, AICPA, IMA, NSA, AAA -- Google "accounting professional organizations" and you'll find tons more for various specialized fields) to find out what's available to you.

Step 2a: In your second year of your MS Accounting program, apply for admission AND FUNDING to PhD programs. Again, Public Accounting Report publishes annual lists of the best PhD programs, and your accounting professors can also provide guidance of where to go depending on your research interest. You should use three main criteria in choosing a school for your PhD program: 1) Presence of tenured faculty who publish in your research area (and try to find out their reputation as graduate advisors), 2) Placement rate of graduates into tenure-track jobs, 3) How much money they will pay you to go there.

If you get funding, go ahead and start your PhD right after your MS. By "funded" I mean tuition waiver and either a fellowship (free money) or a graduate assistanceship (you get paid to teach accounting classes to undergraduates and/or help professors with their research) to cover or at least subsidize your living expenses. If you're not getting paid to pursue a PhD then it is usually financially unwise to start one.

Step 2b (if necessary): If you don't get accepted/funded in a PhD program right away, do not despair! Get an entry-level public accounting job in either audit or tax. In my city, these jobs pay $40-$50k/year starting salary plus generous benefits. Pass the CPA exam, get your two years of public accounting work experience, and get your CPA license.

Once you have your CPA license, apply again to PhD programs. The shortage of doctorate-level accounting professors is so severe and worrisome to the profession that several accounting firms and state societies have partnered to recruit licensed CPAs into PhD programs by offering to pay their tuition and a $30k/year stipend for four years as an incentive. Pretty sweet deal if you can get it: http://www.adsphd.org/

Step 3: While completing your PhD program, focus on learning how to write and publish articles. This will help you land a high-paying tenure-track job when you graduate.

Alternate path: If you don't want to mess around with a PhD and research/publishing, you can still get hired to teach with only a MS. Community colleges and some universities will hire "professionally qualified" accounting instructors. In this context, "professionally qualified" means someone with a MS degree and CPA license. The pay is lower ($50-$100k/year, typically) than for PhDs and it is harder to get a tenure-track job -- universities usually won't hire someone for a tenure-track job unless they have a PhD, but you can often get tenure at a community college with only a MS degree.

There are also many opportunities for MS/CPAs to teach introductory accounting courses online, usually for around $3-$5k per class. Since introductory-level accounting material is very black & white, most assignments and tests are computer-graded and thus your hourly rate can be quite high for subsequent semesters of the same classes once you've already done the initial prep and setup. Again, since every business student has to take accounting, and given that business degrees are the second-most popular type of distance-learning degree (IT degrees are the most popular), there is a huge demand for online accounting instructors.

In summary, there are a lot of great opportunities in accounting education.

And if for some reason academia doesn't work out for you, you'll still have an accounting degree and thus access to all the other career opportunities for accounting graduates already mentioned by other Mefites.

Good luck!

*Regarding student loans, these are a lot less stressful now than they used to be. There are new repayment programs that adjust your minimum payments to your income level and then forgive the remaining balance after 10 years of employment in a government, education, non-profit, or other "public service" position. Make sure that you get federal -- NOT private -- loans to qualify for these programs. Ask your school's financial aid counselor for details.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:42 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]




I want to second awesomiste's suggestion of becoming a business analyst. I was in your position a couple of years ago. After finishing my BA in comparative literature and then working numerous crappy waitressing and office jobs, I realized that I had to find a 'real' job and that it ought to be a stable, 'sure thing'. I knew that I wanted to use my brain and to have a long leash - to not feel like a slave to an organization or a cog in the machine. I thought seriously about accounting, but settled on IT because I like problem solving and knowing things that are kind of obscure.

I'm working on a diploma in the evenings and have a job as a project administrator with a consulting company. I love my job. I have no boss, per se, and my days have a lot of variety. I'm learning new things all the time and the people I work with are interesting, down-to-earth and intelligent. I'm on a path towards becoming a business analyst, which is like a go-between person who translates what the business is asking for to the technical people who are going to implement the solution. It's pretty fun. Business analysts tend to get to do some software testing, too.

In my case, I decided that it would be better to make a decent living and then pursue my true passions on the side rather than to set out fervently to turn my passions into a career. At least, that's my focus for now. Who knows what the future holds, though...
posted by kitcat at 11:04 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


What about working for a state's legislative service bureau. That's the state agency that edits, drafts, researches, and does all the behind-the-scenes work at the state capitol. They are the go-to folks when Legislator A wants to draft a bill for consideration by the full legislature, they often also do cost-impact analysis, edit the state code after the governor signs the bills, and the like. Stable, state benefits, etc... and it appears to fit in well with the OP's educational interests.

Here's an example of my state's version of it. Just trying to think outside the box. :)
posted by webhund at 11:49 AM on August 19, 2009


Don't dismiss taking risks though. The greater the risk often means the greater the reward. I don't know your situation, how old you are, whether or not you have children, but why be so risk-averse?

People on their death-bed usually regret not taking more risks, rather than wishing they played it safer.


I'm viewing this not as a matter of risk/reward, with an eye toward maximizing salary or prestige, but more as a matter of focusing energy properly. I loved this post. They chased their dreams, not their jobs, and I suspect never felt insecure about meeting their physical needs. I want that.

Since you said you're not afraid of physical work, have you thought about a trade? Electricians, carpenters, plumbers enjoy steady work and the ones I know generally enjoy what they do.

I'd like to learn more about those options. They seem not steady so much as boom-and-bust careers, with the current emphasis on bust. Is that an inaccurate perception?
posted by Nonce at 1:35 PM on August 19, 2009


The thing about libraries and librarians is, libraries only need so many librarians, and librarians hold on to their jobs with a fucking death-grip. Why? Because they know they got it good. They sit around books all day, occasionally lifting their heads to talk with people about... wait for it... books! Actually getting a job as a librarian is about as hard as getting a job as a travel writer. Everyone wants the job. It's pretty-much the cushiest job for people who like books that you could possibly have.

Seriously, I hate to be the bearer of bad news and all, but anyone suggesting librarian is completely high. You'd have better luck becoming a professional baby Panda groomer.

Teaching is nice but the administrative bullshit will suck your soul from out of your eye sockets. And most teachers are busy during the summer (tutoring, coaching, whatever) because the pay is pathetic. Not to mention the hours and hours of late nights grading papers, preparing lessons... all for a bunch of nihilistic shits that care more about talking to their neighbors about the color of a celebrity's shoes than anything you have to say... ever.

Nursing is rewarding for your soul and absolute hell on the rest of you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:38 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think something to keep in mind is that while chosen profession is part of the whole equation, the specific circumstances of a particular job can make an enormous difference in terms of whether you enjoy your job and also whether you can leave it behind you when you go home for the day. By that I mean that your employer, your colleagues, your commute, ectera can make a given job either awesome or atrocious. So, given that you seem to be pretty flexible in terms of your interests and that you are not aiming for a super high salary I would almost be inclined to tell you to worry less about picking a career and just apply to jobs that sounds interesting as they come up and then keep applying if you get one and it does not turn out as you would expect/hope.

If you find something you are excited about then you can pursue it is a more orchestrated fashion--otherwise you could just find something that you like well enough and that passes the time until you get to go home and do you own thing.

Also, if you enjoy traveling lightly then definitely try and get some practical experience in a field before getting an advanced degree in it--especially if you are going to need to take out loans for tuition and expenses.

Oh, and I am a librarian and I love my job and my librarian friends love their jobs, and it could quite possibly be the sort of job that might work well for you. Also, I am indeed holding on to my position with a death grip, but I do not get to look at books all day and if I could get a job as a professional baby panda groomer then I would leave my job tomorrow. I joke--I would give my two weeks notice first because that is what nice, polite librarians do. :)
posted by pie_seven at 5:38 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


They sit around books all day, occasionally lifting their heads to talk with people about... wait for it... books!

See, there's why you have to just follow your interests and try these jobs out for yourself, because, no disrespect to Civil_Disobedient, this is about the furthest thing from the day in the life of an actual librarian that I can imagine. Unless you are the librarian of the fireworks-candy-kitten-puppy-rainbow library. And that is a job to hold onto with a death grip.
posted by MsMolly at 7:06 PM on August 19, 2009


I would like to point out that while nursing is hell in a lot of ways, you can actually find lower paying jobs that are less than full time or if you can find a job at a clinic or doctor's office, you can work 40 hours during the regular work week. It's portable, and in my area, working 24 hours at a hospital as a nurse will usually net you as much as a full time medical assistant, and sometimes you can even get benefits as well.

If you like physics more than you like the idea of nursing, you can also go to school to become a sonography or radiology technician. You can find a general idea of what a sonography tech does here. Getting into a program is extremely competitive but worth a try if the career appeals to you.
posted by Issithe at 7:55 PM on August 19, 2009


I wouldn't have said this a year ago, but being a lawyer can give a good life.

I work as a prosecutor in a small city. Decent pay, good job security, benefits, and a steady 9 to 5 schedule. It's "boring" only in the sense that there's not a lot of travel involved, rarely do anything that makes the news and you don't have the opportunities for big pay days like private civil lawyers.

However, the work itself is enjoyable. Lawyers in a small city, especially in the criminal field, are cordial and everyone gets along most of the time. The facts of a case may be unpleasant, but as a prosecutor, you're there to do justice and if you let your conscience be your guide - you will be doing good for the community.

What are the caveats? Well - you have to pay for law school and get through it. And in my job, you have to be willing to go to trial on a case.
posted by abdulf at 10:41 PM on August 19, 2009


Become a chartered accountant.

Don't become a lawyer.
posted by chunking express at 8:03 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Since no one has answered your question about the trades yet, I'll give it a go. My husband is a carpenter, as is my uncle, as was my father. The thing is, recession or no recession, trades will always be needed. The amount of work available goes up and down, but if a person is working for a large company on a large, long-term contract, those ups and downs tend to affect how many hours of work per week the tradesperson works rather than whether they work at all. For instance, my husband was *only* working four 10-hour shifts per week until recently (that's plenty, I say!). Now it's five.

On the other hand, during the recession in the early 80s, my father could not find any carpentry work. He was an alcholic, though, and so I can't speak to his real desire / ability to find work.

Lay-offs are common enough, but seem to be temporary. Your employer takes you back after a few weeks, if you want. Many people want to be laid off and even specifically request it. Here in Canada, if you have been laid off you are eligible to receive employment insurance (affectionately known as 'pogey' in the maritimes). Lots of folks happily work for a few months making good money, then get laid off and live off their EI for a while. Rinse, and repeat.

Anyhow, trades booms mean lots of over-time and huge $$, while busts can mean sporadic work, but nevertheless enough for a modest living, if not more than enough. As far as I know.

I thought of trades too, but didn't do it because I don't drive and didn't think I could deal with all the testosterone. Anyhow, there are tons and tons of different trades, all of them interesting and useful. People are proud of their trades. They're not stressful jobs, generally speaking. If you show up on time and can follow instructions, you're sure to be valued by your company. Plus, once you get your journeyman ticket / red seal, you can work pretty much anywhere you want. These are jobs that travel well. On the other hand, from what I hear, relations between guys on the sites can be quite the soap opera. When certain guys don't get along, it's major drama. And there's a 'guy code' for dealing with these situations that I don't quite get. If you want to get an insider's look at some (particularly dangerous) trades and their social dynamics, check out The Deadliest Catch (about king crab fishermen) or Heli-Loggers (about logging in the northern USA).

My dad used to say "If you don't have a [journeyman] ticket, you don't have anything."

Hope this helps.
posted by kitcat at 9:39 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hope this helps.

It was some solid perspective.

One thing I've been thinking about is lab work; running tests, mixing chemicals, charting the results, and maybe finding something interesting every seven or eight years. If anyone reading this has gone through that path, how far will a master's get you? Can you go right to that master's without having an emphasis on the sciences in your undergrad work? Is something in Biology the way to go, or chemistry? How difficult is finding work? Etc.
posted by Nonce at 5:21 PM on August 20, 2009


I went from an undergrad degree in Liberal Arts, which for us included 6 semesters of science lab classes, to a Master's degree and now PhD in Ecology, which is a branch of Biology. In between, I joined AmeriCorps for a year, which got me a lot of on the ground experience, and spent a year taking pre-reqs, which for me was 1 year Organic Chemistry, 1 semester Statistics, and 1 upper level Biology elective. It has been a lot of work, but in every way worth it because I love what I do.

University labs hire master's level techs all the time. There tends to be a lot of turnover because many of those people are just taking some time off before getting a PhD, although that is certainly not a given and plenty of people make it a career. Universities tend to be great places to work, in general, with good benefits.

Depending on your area of focus, biotech companies use a tremendous number of technician level folks as well. If you're really interested in this sort of track, another thing to think about is whether you need to go to grad school at all to do it. Our local community college offers a Biotech program which seems like a pretty great way to get the training and get a job quickly and cheaply.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:12 AM on August 21, 2009


University labs hire master's level techs all the time.

What's the pay like? Comfortably lower-middle class?
posted by Nonce at 8:10 AM on August 21, 2009


Around here, it seems to start around $30-40k, which is comfortable for NC, and much more than we grad students make. It may even be higher if you're on the cell/molecular/biomedical side of biology, and not the comparatively poorer organismal/evolutionary/ecology side. Raises and merit bonuses happen, but it is by and large soft money, and so it also can be variable depending on the grants the lab has in a given year.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:16 PM on August 21, 2009


Oh, I should make it clear that the salary I'm discussing is master's level, and bachelor's level techs make closer to grad student wages.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:17 PM on August 21, 2009


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