he doesn't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything ... or sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought or processed...
February 19, 2012 3:22 PM   Subscribe

What kinds of careers/fields of study should my music- and animal-loving STEM-student son consider?

Current high school junior, AP humanities courses and competitive academy-type science & math classes. Does well without too much effort. He's in the STEM program because of his innate academic ability, not because of interest or drive (he knows this will slam him in college). He enjoys math a lot, and is now in calculus; next year will be statistics or linear algebra. Rather "meh" about the sciences so far. He just dipped his feet into programming with his most recent school project and enjoyed it.

Well-rounded and well-adjusted, just cast as Tony in West Side Story and he'll be able to balance rehearsals, grades, SAT & AP exam prep, girlfriend, laundry, etc. without too much nagging from me. Would love to sing for a living.

Also: vegetarian since age 6 for animal-love reasons, has entertained the idea of veterinarian but likes biology least of all. Loves the idea of travel, exploration, adventure. Not bilingual but a semester or summer in Central or South America would fix that.

We heard an NPR story yesterday about grizzlies in Yellowstone, and they interviewed a Forest Service guy who talked about how they monitored the grizzly population from the 1970s to today, projections whether they're on vs. off the endangered list, how bears that incorporated human garbage into their diet differed from those in remote areas, etc. It was a perfect combination of the things he loves (animals, nature, exploration) and the things he's good at (math, statistics, biology). I said "ooh you could do that" and he said "yeah that would be pretty cool."

Anything off the beaten path like that would be great, where he can use his skills to make a good living while feeding his desires for travel and to "do good." Music/theater/tv/movie-related options are fine too, as long as they are practical. And mainstream suggestions are great too, if you can tell us how they feed his passions as well as his wallet (e.g., as a dentist he could travel and "do good" with Dentists Without Borders).

Thanks in advance. He really has no idea what he wants to do so any ideas will be worth entertaining. I'm ok with him going to college without a specific major declared, but his college-of-choice will have to depend on what general direction he's headed.
posted by headnsouth to Education (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
That Forest Service person studying grizzlies was likely an ecologist. I am an urban stream ecologist and get to have lots of urban adventures as well as doing a lot of math and stats to analyze the data. I teach ecology to General Biolog majors and they're always surprised by how much more math and theory ecology requires than the other biology sub-disciplines. You and our son might enjoy exploring the webpage of our professional organization, the Ecological Society of America--ESA.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:37 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rather than trying to narrow things down too much now, you might consider the approach of going to a large university with lots of programs. He could learn a bit more about different fields and narrow things down a bit for his sophomore or even junior year.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:05 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm also an ecologist and yes it is great if you're into nature and numbers. Keep in mind that USFS guy probably did 2-5 years of seasonal tech work and got an advanced degree, likely a PhD for a wildlife biologist, before landing a full time job at the princely salary of $50-60K. A better paid option is bio-statistician (you work with biologists on the math and statistical parts of their studies). Less field work but super high demand and for the most part cool people who get to pick and choose what they work on. A good bio stat will have tons of opportunity to work on international or multi-disciplinary projects. There are also database and GIS specialists (programmers mostly) who work exclusively in ecology related fields.

One thing to keep in mind is that a career as a field biologist usually requires a LOT of flexibility initially and/or if you want to do cool stuff. People who do best with ecology/ wildlife bio are totally fine spending a chunk of their 20s living out of a backpack and being poor.
posted by fshgrl at 4:44 PM on February 19, 2012

Don't specialize too much too soon, or he will end up with a career chosen for him by a 16-year-old.
posted by pmb at 6:31 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

No worries about him specializing or getting locked in too soon. We're just looking for ideas fields of study/career paths that aren't on his school counselor's checklist. Increasing his options, not decreasing them.
posted by headnsouth at 6:49 PM on February 19, 2012

Math, science and languages seem to be harder to pick up later in life, so continuing with Science, Tech, Eng., Math leaves a lot of options open. It's not that big a jump to go from a Math degree to a Master's in Literature; the reverse doesn't work. I know a number of programmers whose lives are enriched by their music. Instead of pursuing career choices, I'd pursue cultural options, like different instruments, languages, cooking, surfing, etc. These stretch the brain and the imagination. If you have friends with interesting careers, see if he can go in to work with them on Take Your Kids to Work Day. Getting exposure to work environments and different people/careers is a big boost.
posted by theora55 at 5:04 PM on February 21, 2012

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