Not as good as you think
January 20, 2012 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Lots of people, even high school guidance counselors, think certain educational paths offer great, solid job prospects, but they actually don't at all. The general public is mostly unaware of that. What are these educational paths and jobs?

There's been a lot of press lately devoted to the idea that going to law school is a bad investment for a many people.

And we've been hearing forever that graduate school in the humanities is not usually a path to great job prospects.

But I just read this open letter/rant, Don't Become a Scientist, about how bleak the post-graduate school prospects are for scientists. Choice quote: "I have known more people whose lives have been ruined by getting a Ph.D. in physics than by drugs."

Even though that letter has been around for over 10 years and I'm sure it is well known by people in scientific/technical circles, I've never seen it before and I'm sure the general public has no idea that someone with a PhD in physics would be facing any kind of career trouble.

So, what other educational paths are secretly bad, that most people assume to be really good?
posted by cairdeas to Education (28 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
Game programming or design. Pretty much anything involving games and computers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:50 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


University courses in forensic science.

Architecture, I am told by friends in the field. Apparently it faces much the same problem as law.

Oh, and law.
posted by dmt at 11:53 AM on January 20, 2012


Architecture.
posted by deanc at 11:54 AM on January 20, 2012


Teaching. At any level. Thanks to the demographic shift, there are relatively fewer and fewer students every year.

Plus, my sister sweated and strained to get a PhD in genetics, and then discovered she would make about $35k a year in a research lab. Went overseas and effectively doubled her salary, until she got backstabbed by her boss. Quit her job and is now a housewife while she searches for an opportunity to apply her skillset.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:54 AM on January 20, 2012


Library school.

Though at this point, almost every single job out there is secretly bad. Anything involving going to grad school means that you rack up debt that you'll probably never be able to pay off if you can't get a job, and everyone going to grad school so they can someday get a job means that more people are looking for jobs, and every single field is cutting back. I *think* nursing and accounting might be the only things right now that haven't been outed as not being bad. But I don't do anything in those fields, so for all I know they're bad too now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:56 AM on January 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


University in general.

Trade/vocational school is a much better bet if one actually wants decent, steady income, starting much earlier in life.
posted by matlock expressway at 11:58 AM on January 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Anything involving going to grad school means that you rack up debt that you'll probably never be able to pay off if you can't get a job, and everyone going to grad school so they can someday get a job means that more people are looking for jobs, and every single field is cutting back.

Exactly. The thing that is bad is not the careers, it is the educational debt, and that applies to nearly every career out there these days.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:59 AM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Getting an MBA from a second tier or lower school to change careers - though it can still be an OK idea if it's to meet an employer's requirements to advance into upper management within a career you're already established in, especially if they're paying for it.

Almost anything from a for-profit university.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 12:01 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Any film program that isn't basically a trade school which teaches you how to do practical, hands-on work. If the primary goal of a film program isn't preparing you for a real job in the industry, then it's essentially just personal enrichment. (Not that there's anything wrong with personal enrichment, mind -- it just won't get you a job.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:04 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


It probably depends on location, but from friends' experiences, it is getting increasingly difficult to find a nursing job with a two year degree; most places require a bachelor's.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 12:05 PM on January 20, 2012


>University in general.

Trade/vocational school is a much better bet if one actually wants decent, steady income, starting much earlier in life.


Meh... That is true in some cases. I know some friends who went to shit universities and majored in something irrelevant with no passion for the field, but got to party for a few years. At the same time, many good Universities have wonderful programs that are an essential jumping block for a high-level professional career. So I think claiming university IN GENERAL is far far too wide a claim.
posted by jjmoney at 12:10 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


(To elaborate: I understand that your average guidance councilor isn't going to tell you that film school is a great way to get a job. But I think there's this idea that it's fine as long as you get into a program at a sufficiently prestigious school? Problem is, many of those prestigious programs won't even let you touch real equipment until you're in your third year, and you're taught by professors who haven't worked outside academia in ages.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:11 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]




Journalism, unless you want to write copy for an insurance company.
posted by furtive at 12:19 PM on January 20, 2012


In general, getting education beyond a bachelor's before you have work experience in the field seems to be a bad move. Entry-level jobs won't hire you because they'd have to pay you more than a person with a bachelor's, but you're not qualified for higher-level jobs because you have no experience.
posted by epj at 12:25 PM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Academia.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:42 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ideal Impulse mentioned nursing with a 2 year degree. I have also heard that it is difficult out there for new nurses with bachelor's to get jobs. The much-publicized shortage in nursing is for experienced nurses, not new grads.
posted by imalaowai at 1:27 PM on January 20, 2012


Nthing that the potential problem is not the career but the return on money and time invested in educational qualification. (No career itself is bad if only because nothing can be predicted.)

The advice people need to give revolves around that: understand debt, dropout rates, opportunity costs, placement rates, winnowing rate to the top, the relative importance of unteachable assets like raw intelligence, luck, connections, good looks, engaging personality, salesmanship, youth, intensity, tolerance for brutal hours, etc. You build all your concrete maxims from that, like the MeFi classic "the only good PhD is the one you get paid to get."

The hardest thing for people who actually give career advice for a living is to know, and if they do, be willing to speak, the truth about all the above certain career paths. Out of ignorance, sentimentality or political correctness they steer people straight into icebergs.
posted by MattD at 3:17 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


But I think there's this idea that it's fine as long as you get into a program at a sufficiently prestigious school? Problem is, many of those prestigious programs won't even let you touch real equipment until you're in your third year, and you're taught by professors who haven't worked outside academia in ages.

I don't know that this is true. FWIW, a lot of my coworkers in the film industry went to "elite" film schools. I'm not sure that everyone who majors in film at NYU gets a meaningful career in film, but if you can get into a program like that it's certainly going to be in your power to pursue. Though, on the other hand, I didn't go to a big name film school or even major in film, and yet here I am sitting on a sound stage as we speak.

If anything, the big problem with things like film is that universities accept a lot more students than they ought to and then proceed to fill those kids' heads with all sorts of dreams about what all this means for their futures.

Especially since there are a lot more film students who want to direct features than there are film students who want to be Production Coordinators. It's not too hard to get a job in the film industry. It's almost impossible to be the next Martin Scorsese.
posted by Sara C. at 3:56 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nthing that the potential problem is not the career but the return on money and time invested in educational qualification. (No career itself is bad if only because nothing can be predicted.)

Absolutely, just want to note that I definitely consider this to be a subset of what I'm talking about. I'm really interested in situations where there is a major mismatch between the return on the time/money investment that the general public would expect there to be for the average person, and the reality for the average person.
posted by cairdeas at 3:59 PM on January 20, 2012


I'm really interested in situations where there is a major mismatch between the return on the time/money investment that the general public would expect there to be for the average person, and the reality for the average person.

Well then let me introduce you to veterinary medicine. To get through vet school will cost you about $200,000, for an average starting salary of about $60,000. Add into that mix that most vet schools in the country are increasing enrollment to combat university budget cuts, so you will soon have a glut of new graduates on the market. It is also very concerning that Banfield is pushing hard to get UnAM in Mexico accredited as a veterinary school, which some claim is an attempt to create their own pipeline of new vets who will have much lower debt load, so Banfield can pay them a much lower salary, driving down salaries across the profession.

If you want to work with animals, you are much better off becoming a Veterinary Technician, a field where an associate's degree and a couple of decent internships can get you your pick of jobs coming out of school. My wife has been a Tech for 15 years, and she has very rarely worked at a hospital that was not desperate for well-trained Techs with even a little experience.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:53 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was really surprised to learn how difficult it can be to get a job as a social studies teacher. This was one of the career paths I explored when I graduated with a history major from college, thinking that it would be a solid career. But just a bit of research showed me that this is sadly not true.
posted by lunasol at 6:15 PM on January 20, 2012


Pharmacy school is the next law school. Too many pharmacy schools are opening up (3-4 a year). They are graduating more pharmacists than the market can hire them.
posted by Carius at 6:45 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Everything is a mess these days.

Most of the tv/film/broadcasting programs are pretty weak and could be replicated by working somewhere for free for the length of time you would have attended the school (you're not getting paid, but you're not paying either)
posted by davey_darling at 8:19 PM on January 20, 2012


Creative Industries, at least in Australia. There's a lot of ballyhoo about it being a major economic growth area etc etc but really, the people who do really well are the ones who started with practical experience early on.

How's medicine? It's the one thing Malaysian schools tell you to do, to the point that there are more people wanting to be doctors (never mind their actual *interest* in medicine, they're just told IT'S WHAT YOU DO), but I can't imagine there'd be enough of a demand to take them all. Engineering, too?
posted by divabat at 2:45 AM on January 21, 2012


In the US and UK, a BS/MS or BS->PhD chemistry degree with a focus on organic chemistry used to be a passport to relatively stable job as technician/researcher in fine chemicals or pharma.

This is
No longer the case
* - vast outsourcing and moving to china/india of production.

* things have got MUCH worse since data gathered in that page.
posted by lalochezia at 6:19 AM on January 21, 2012


I've been very pleased with my university program (chemical engineering) so far, but I strongly resent that as feature of the field in general, I cannot work unless I work for a big company. The cost of outfitting and maintaining a proper lab is astronomical. Now contrast that with computer programming, where you can work for a huge company, but there's very little barrier to forming a startup (in terms of tools and equipment at least).
posted by Violence at 4:29 PM on January 25, 2012


Almost every college/school/etc that advertises on television is a bad bet.

Architecture, Law, and Elementary Education are all *massively* overfilled with graduates. Law graduates 3x more people than there are open jobs, and architecture is worse still.


Getting a degree in computer science, and getting above a 3.0, is pretty much a golden ticket to the lowest unemployment in America, and that's not likely to change. The jobs are interesting, stable, have a decent work-life balance, and pay well.

Computer Engineering is up there as well, while information science probably *isn't*; the most useful skill here is "can write maintainable code to make a computer do stuff", and information science doesn't convey that skill.
posted by talldean at 2:40 PM on January 26, 2012


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