Help me turn my interests into a career!
October 2, 2012 8:54 PM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out potential careers based on my interests and the best paths to obtain them. Psychology, economics, statistics? Market research? Psychometrics?

This got kind of long and I apologize, but I feel like it's all pretty relevant.

I am at the point where I am trying to focus my interests into potential career paths. I have an idea of what I enjoy studying thus far, but have no idea how to translate that into a career after college or what steps I should be taking now so that I don't miss out on crucial opportunities in terms of internships, research experience, etc.

I was originally majoring in psychology, thinking I wanted to go into counseling and help people with mental health issues. I eventually realized that that type of work doesn't really suit me personally, but I still enjoy the analytical/research side of psychology. I was feeling a little unfulfilled with my choice of major, though, knowing that many who study psychology struggle to find good jobs after graduation, and feeling that perhaps I could be spending my time in college more wisely.

Confused and open to suggestions, I consulted with a career counselor at the college who suggested I look into business. I then took some business classes and discovered that I quite like economics, so that's what I've been pursuing. I've been relatively happy with this decision as it seems that it will provide me with a more solid background for being able to obtain a job out of undergrad, while still being something that I enjoy to an extent.

However, I have absolutely no idea what I want out of this degree or what I want in a job after I graduate. I'm approaching my junior year and have to decide on a major, which I thought would be economics, but I'm feeling a little scattered and unsure. So I thought maybe if I could list out what I have discovered about my interests and dislikes so far, perhaps I could find a direction and a plan for myself instead of wandering kind of aimlessly.

- I still find myself with a large interest in psychology. I love learning about the WHY behind behavior, learning about thought processes and the mind and all of that good stuff. I think that's why I have found economics enjoyable as well, as it kind of touches on reasoning and behavior as well but in a more quantitative way.

- I am REALLY enjoying the statistics class I am taking this semester, being able to collect data and turn it into meaningful information, etc. Most of my classmates are groaning at homework problems while I am zipping through them and get excited thinking about the next class meetings. As far as other math... despite my best attempts, calculus frustrates the hell out of me and I would not be at all happy in a field that required large amounts of anything calculus-related.

- I've also always held quite an interest in various research methods, setting up and conducting experiments, etc. I've always loved participating in focus groups and surveys as well. I imagine most people find surveys to be boring, but I've always been fascinated by the process that the researchers must have gone through to come up with specific questions, wondering how many people will answer this way versus that way, how it all will fit together at the end, etc.

- As far as my business classes are concerned... I've already addressed economics. I like the practicality and usefulness of my other business classes such as accounting, but don't see myself making a career out of them. I suppose I am questioning whether business is right for me. Accounting and finance seem to be things that I COULD perform fairly well in, but I think I would ultimately find them dull and unsatisfying. Somewhat business related, though - I've always been a very efficient person, trying to find the best way to do things. I'm also very money-savvy and am great at budgeting, planning, etc. In my free time I get great pleasure out of finding amazing deals on things and then flipping them for profit (i.e. buy textbook for 25c at garage sale ---> resell for $200).

I have been looking into careers that might fit my interests a little better and have found a couple that I will be looking into more, including options in market research and psychometrics. I would love to hear from anyone with advice, suggestions, anecdotes relating to these fields.

I am also looking for suggestions on other options that might be worth exploring, and just general career/major advice. With all of these thoughts swirling around, I am unsure whether or not I am pursuing the right major. I don't see myself going into graduate school for economics as I've heard it's very, very math intensive which I just don't think would be my cup of tea. Obviously major =/= career, but I am feeling very lost with where I am and where I should be heading. I want to make the most out of my experience at college, including internships, relative classes, etc., but that is hard to do when I have no idea what path I should be following or what it takes to get there.
posted by Malleable to Work & Money (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
FYI: Upper-level economics classes are just calculus in funny clothes.
posted by Nomyte at 9:28 PM on October 2, 2012

Have you ever thought about a career as a business or economics professor? There are business and economics professors who do lab studies on individual decision-making. You can get into a good PhD program with just a bachelor's degree. This kind of research has all of the things you mentioned above, economics, psychology, research methods, and statistics.
posted by bove at 9:43 PM on October 2, 2012

Psychology, human behavior, statistics, economics, market research and psychometrics?

Advertising. Specifically, media planning. That Wikipedia article and the associated article for "media planner" are spectacularly awful, but you'll get the general idea.
posted by erst at 10:33 PM on October 2, 2012

Have you looked into behavioral finance? I suppose it's the intersection of economics, finance and psychology. It's a field that very much applies to the capital markets and its various career paths.
posted by mullacc at 11:10 PM on October 2, 2012

Data analyst? I'm a marketer in a company, but we've slowly been moving more towards the data analysing side of things. E.g. for companies that have loyalty cards, you can analyse the customer sales data and figure out what to market people next.
posted by Cattaby at 11:29 PM on October 2, 2012

If you can, see if you can take a personality and work interest inventory called a Birkman Questionnaire. The cost of the test will vary, but the results are very accurate and it is used by career transition and organizational development facilitators. For example, it can narrow down areas of work interest as well as reveal your emotional and psychological needs to be happy in a workplace.
posted by Calzephyr at 6:21 AM on October 3, 2012

I was a psychology major in undergrad, and received my PhD in quantitative psychology. I currently work as a statistician at a university on projects mostly relating to health research, but some behavioral / social science as well.

I am off for a plane ride taking me half-way around the world and don't have much time to type right now, but I am happy to email with you about my experiences.
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 6:29 AM on October 3, 2012

Market research sounds like a good target, but there are plenty of related areas. To make the most out of the academic side of college, take as much of a quantitative courseload as you can. In the real world, it's much easier to transition from a relatively technical field to management/qualitative than the reverse. Statistics, data analysis, computer science, programming, econometrics, etc. It can be in the econ, math, comp sci, or psychology departments.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:04 AM on October 3, 2012

Poli Sci, too.
posted by empath at 7:50 AM on October 3, 2012

Are you interested in obtaining an advanced degree? If not, I would focus on statistics. A bachelor's degree in statistics is one of those degrees that makes people say "hey, this person is smart, let's interview them" regardless of the field they are trying to hire in. Also, if you live in an area where there's a lot of research-type companies (Atlanta GA, Chicago IL and Washington DC come to mind, but there are others), entry-level statistician jobs are likely to be plentiful and have applicant/position ratios that favor applicants.

If you are interested in obtaining an advanced degree, I would again recommend statistics, if you think you have the aptitude for it. All of the above is true only MORE SO for people with master's degrees in stats. But if you think you want to pursue a Ph.D., then I would seriously consider either behavioral economics (like Freakonomics, only more serious) or psychometrics (measurement requires a fascinating combination of substantive and statistical skills).

Also, I agree with Mr.Know-it-some about loading up on quantitative courses, and would add a recommendation for higher-level methodology courses (a good experimental design course -- regardless of the field it's taught from -- is absolute gold).
posted by OrangeDisk at 9:20 AM on October 3, 2012

I have absolutely no idea what I want out of this degree or what I want in a job.... perhaps I could find a direction and a plan for myself instead of wandering kind of aimlessly

I think given what you know and don't know about yourself, instead of wandering aimlessly, what you'll need to do is "wander aimfully", i.e. explore and discover. Which it sounds like to some extent you're doing, but maybe beating yourself up about it.

For what it's worth there are many careers that are about using statistical and analytical methods to make sense of the world and figure out problems, going by buzzwords such as Business Analytics, Operations Research, Medical Statistics and others. But mostly they're not going to be about going very deep into the whys of human behavior.

There are also various psychology-oriented kinds of business consulting, and you might want to check out things that go by the labels of Organizational Behavior, Organization Development and such. But those tend to not intersect very much with the mathematical methods which you enjoy. At least in actual business, though they do to some extent in academia.

It does sounds like you might enjoy being some kind of social science or business school academic. But whether academic life would really suit you is something you'll need to discover, because it can be very different than life in business or than life as an undergrad studying those same subjects.
posted by philipy at 10:27 AM on October 3, 2012

Psychometricians are in very high demand and make a TON of money!
posted by whalebreath at 1:08 PM on October 3, 2012

You might be interested in internet advertising; it combines both psychology and statistical analysis. This can combine with SEO work, which involves a ton or research and again, statistical analysis.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:34 PM on October 3, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for all the answers! Definitely some good things suggested that I'll consider.

As far as taking more quantitative courses, I've looked into what is available at my university and am disappointed with what I've found. I see no classes whatsoever on survey design, methodology, etc. and only two or three statistics classes offered, that require three semesters of calculus before being able to take them.

I was googling more about statistics courses, though, and came across several programs for applied statistics... with courses like Introduction to Survey Sampling, Statistical Quality Methods, Design of Experiments, etc. THESE sound awesome. I would absolutely love to do something like this as a minor.

However, I can't find any similar programs or classes at my university, or even in the whole state. I'm in Nevada, which is pretty notorious for having a crappy educational system. The only reason I'm here is because of cheap in-state tuition and a state grant which is funding most of my education. Also a Pell Grant recipient. Would it be worth it to transfer to a university out of state in order to have access to these awesome sounding types of courses?
posted by Malleable at 5:59 PM on October 4, 2012

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