My life runs smooth like a highway. Billboard, show me the way!
January 2, 2013 3:32 PM   Subscribe

I have a semi-stable dead-end job that I'm not very satisfied with and no specific career goals, and it feels like a huge void. I don't want to (and realistically can't) do what I'm doing indefinitely. Given my likes and dislikes, help me identify a field I might enjoy and the next steps to take.

  • using data to answer questions
  • solving problems using computers
  • continuous opportunities to learn
  • becoming expert with a particular method or technology
  • well-defined projects, objectives, and timelines
  • working with small to moderately sized teams
  • sales and other things that require suave assertiveness
  • consumer electronics
  • fixing computers or wiring them together
  • tightly scheduled days (appointments, sessions, etc.)
  • corner-cutting, putting out fires, unplanned emergencies, sudden objective changes
finds very satisfying:
  • overcoming challenging problems (e.g., that moment when a tricky math proof becomes simple, when an algorithm starts working, when you finish a level in a strategy RPG without taking casualties)
  • exploring how abstract systems work and interact
  • BA in a soft (cognitive) science, 50 post-bac course credits in math/stats
  • not opposed to more education/training, as long as it's funded
  • 4.5 years of full-time work as a research assistant or tech in psychology and cognitive neuroscience and related areas
  • intermediate user of Matlab, R, SPSS, lab software for MRI and experiment design
also likes:
  • putting together long, detailed FPPs
  • reading world literature
  • languages and translation
  • children, oddly enough
  • drawing and sketching
  • creative writing
  • recently, I've been fooling around with problems on
I'd like to make significant progress this year. Many thanks for your suggestions!
I need to make a career change. This is obvious both to me and to all the many Mefites that have given me this advice in the past. I really have no idea how or in what direction, and no role models to rely on. I am posting my question in this format on the advice of a Mefite. Here is what's wrong with my current job.
posted by Nomyte to Work & Money (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered going to a local community college or college's academic counseling office and taking some career assessment tests?
posted by michellenoel at 3:34 PM on January 2, 2013

Personally, I think you should apply to med school. The career path is super-clear and you have a "profession" that is well-defined and you don't have to "hustle" for (unless that's your thing, which it obviously isn't). You have an MD, you're a doctor, you apply for a job that is looking for a doctor, and you do doctoring things.

Based on your history, I think you're always going to have a hard time where you will have to "make" your own career and constantly be re-assessing your skillset and seeing how it can be reapplied. Self-marketing and self-starting is also something you obviously have a problem with, along with making connections and learning about what opportunities are available to you. A very "fixed", well-defined job where everyone (including you) just "knows" what you do with it and where you go with it is probably going to suit you temperamentally.

Yes, you don't like scheduled days, but no one does-- that's why it's called "work."
posted by deanc at 3:38 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Marketing, with a focus on analytics, perhaps? I spent some time in marketing departments doing various things and writing proposals with a focus on the statistical analysis of campaigns was huge. A lot of those are, outside of the fluff, essentially math problems, like "How do we optimize our ads so we get the 5.8% effectiveness we saw on this campaign across all our campaigns?" or "Given we want to increase our customer base of 18-35 females and have seen a 4% effectiveness with ads of this type, propose a marketing campaign to increase our customer base by 10%." Something like email marketing is heavily numbers-focused, so your problem might be something like "Given a 2% open rate and 10% click-through, optimize our campaign to increase sales by 15%."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:41 PM on January 2, 2013

You don't tell us what you do at the moment - might be useful so we could avoid suggesting that.

It strikes me that there are many roles within IT that would be a good match for your skills and interests: developer and business analyst to name two - basically anywhere other than first line support.
posted by rongorongo at 3:42 PM on January 2, 2013

I'm an MRI technician. Along with your recommendation, please consider suggesting what kind of training might be required, because I almost certainly don't have it. I'd prefer not to go back to undergrad for another four years.
posted by Nomyte at 3:46 PM on January 2, 2013

You like using data to answer questions and exploring how abstract systems work and interact, you studied cognitive science, and you're interested in drawing and creative writing: Have you ever looked at usability analysis/testing/design? Something like a UX Designer would be a the more creative end and might require some product design training, but it looks like you have all the hard background and if you've been doing psych studies you can probably translate that pretty well to usability testing: you might be able to walk straight into a junior position and learn on the job.

A generic usability careers outline about research and design positions.

University of Maryland HCI lab is a well regarded research lab in the area, their Masters program would probably be a solid credential.
posted by jacalata at 4:41 PM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I looked through your old questions and it's still not clear at all what you want to be doing. Med school does not sound like such a bad idea, except it seems like you might shy away from the length and expense. Maybe a nursing or physician's assistant degree? A friend of mine went to nursing school after a health crisis got her interested in medicine; she discovered she didn't actually like nursing (oops) but she got into research working for a neurologist. Or maybe get a degree in psychology or neuroscience?

This isn't your question, but you sound to me like you are a little depressed, and that may be making things appear more difficult than they are. There's something kind of defeatist about the tone of your posts.
posted by BibiRose at 4:45 PM on January 2, 2013

What about (to build on rongorongo's suggestion) becoming a business or systems analyst for healthcare IT systems? It sounds like you'd be well-qualified for an entry-level BA position supporting, say, a hospital's radiology information system or clinical trials management system. Probably the worst you would need in the way of additional training would be certification from a software vendor. There's a shortage of healthcare IT people right now, so the money's not bad, especially once you build up some experience.

Of course, there would definitely be a certain amount of "corner-cutting, putting out fires, unplanned emergencies, sudden objective changes," but honestly that comes with almost all white-collar jobs these days, so I guess you kinda have to pick your poison.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 5:20 PM on January 2, 2013

I would second the recommendation to look at UX design. It hits all your likes, avoids your dislikes (for the most part), you appear to have the educational background and the soft-skills.

Take a look at UX Magazine to get an idea of some general topics. Specifically relevant to your criteria and background: user analytics, interaction design, usability.
posted by jraenar at 5:29 PM on January 2, 2013

Great, I've got a few good starting points to look into UX. I'll try to post an update when I accomplish something.

I'm sure the med school suggestions are well-intentioned, but they're a non-starter. I'd need to go back to school for two years full-time on my own dollar just to qualify to apply to medical school.

I totally welcome further ideas too.
posted by Nomyte at 5:37 PM on January 2, 2013

Yes, based on what you listed above, some kind of analytics (whether web analytics or just "data" analytics), market research, or possibly design/UX research. With your experience you'd be able to get a job as an analyst, especially in web analytics, with no additional training, given that there are few experienced web analysts around anyway. Look at web analyst or research postings. They're often looking for technically savvy, data-loving people with backgrounds in quant/stats.
posted by scribbler at 7:06 PM on January 2, 2013

Last night I caught a thing on the news about neuromarketing, so there's that take on the dark side, too.

I've been seeing a lot of UX-type jobs posted by academic publishers. They seem to want programming experience to develop those new-fangled learning tools, but I'm not even sure an MA's always required, if you can evidence knowledge (but maybe someone else can speak to that).

Epidemiology, maybe?

But, scanning your other questions, wasn't the whole idea behind your current job to get into a doctoral program? Is that out for the foreseeable, or do you want a break? I'm wondering if what you're wanting is something that'll just let you live a normal life for a bit, or if you're feeling like committing to a full-on switch. Not that it'd be impossible to try again later, but the tradeoffs would be different, and the stakes higher.
posted by nelljie at 7:22 PM on January 2, 2013

But, scanning your other questions, wasn't the whole idea behind your current job to get into a doctoral program? Is that out for the foreseeable, or do you want a break? I'm wondering if what you're wanting is something that'll just let you live a normal life for a bit, or if you're feeling like committing to a full-on switch. Not that it'd be impossible to try again later, but the tradeoffs would be different, and the stakes higher.

The idea behind my current job was that I was going to get fired from my previous job for failing to obtain a federal clearance. It was the first relevant position I found after months of looking.

I did apply last year, when I just started my current job, and I didn't get a satisfactory offer. I'm applying again this year, but as a nontraditional applicant, I'm again not guaranteed anything. Last year I felt I could wait another year. Since then, my job has worn me out and is proving less stable than anticipated. My role has evolved in ways I don't like. I may not have another year. I need a backup plan.

Also, neuromarketing is little more than a scam.
posted by Nomyte at 9:46 PM on January 2, 2013

I apologize if I expressed (unintended!) judgement in my response - I only wondered whether your current feeling might be addressed with an explicitly temporary situation to clear your thoughts (e.g., teaching abroad), or a change that might be introduced where you are now, that could make things a bit more endurable. Or, it might help folks suggest a profession that might support longer-term goals.

(Comments from people in these fields would help, but if [clinical?] psychology is really where your heart is, I still think something in public health/epidemiology might suit you, possibly support that goal, and set you up with bread and butter in the meantime.)

You do sound burned out, and it's hard to know where to start with big decisions when you feel that way. Have you been positioned to try some of the suggestions offered in your most recent Ask, as far as that goes? Any chance for a straight-up holiday (however short) on a beach, or at a cabin?

I think you've got a lot to offer any number of employers, in a good range of fields, too. But - and this is probably obvious - I guess it's worth prioritizing the kind of shift you need. And really digging into people's experiences with the alternative careers on the table, considering where they happen, too. (You might get a comparatively great salary, but equally nutty hours with corporate IT, and possibly fewer off-hour work with a government IT job, but lots of meetings, etc. There's lots on AskMe to sift through for that, luckily.)

All this really to ask: what is it you need most, right now? What will you need in three or five years? Security, and a satisfying lifestyle? Fulfillment of your achievement needs?

As you're applying - I think some programs might still be accepting applications? - would you consider also applying to out-of-country programs, in the field you were originally aiming for? Some American acquaintances have led me to believe they're getting substantially better deals [and packages] here in Canada, and programs are shorter in the UK. I don't know the financial nitty gritty, but it's something to think about, anyway.
posted by nelljie at 11:00 PM on January 2, 2013

I absolutely didn't mean to imply anything untoward, and I assure you that you didn't cause me any offense. I've replied via MeMail.
posted by Nomyte at 11:43 PM on January 2, 2013

There are non profit and for profit firms that conduct and analyze (survey) research in fields such as health care, education, international development, etc. Example: Mathematica Policy Research.
posted by oceano at 12:54 AM on January 3, 2013

As an undergrad I double-majored in neuroscience and English. I had worked in an MRI lab over summers as an undergrad, but realized that research was not for me. Currently I work for a large non-profit association in the communications department because it was the first job I got after a year of temping.

I've gone from doing nearly 100% secretarial/admin work to running a lot of interesting data-based analytics projects for the department. "Big Data" is becoming a very hip term/idea in a number of fields including communications, PR, journalism, marketing, et cet. Nate Silver is often cited as a Big Data success story.

Basically, it is taking large data sets and making quantifiable interpretations or narratives out of them. In my case, I write reports and analyze large amounts of news coverage. I also put together the reports myself, which has a fun graphic design component as well as writing the copy. There is a lot of researching and discrete problem solving (what kind of goals are realistic, how do you measure them, how do you do compared to other comparable organizations, how do you display your results, what is the industry standard if there is one) and I generally have pre-determined deadlines and objectives such as quarterly and monthly reports.

Sorry I can't provide more information, but here's a couple of articles that lay the whole "big data" thing out a bit more. I have a good friend who works for another non-profit where he runs statistics on their vast mailing list data sets- a job that he likes because it is low key and seems to meet many of your interests, although it certainly is not the most exciting thing in the world. Apparently this sort of thing is a skill that is relatively high in demand.


New York Times
posted by forkisbetter at 11:30 AM on January 3, 2013

I prepared some questions for an HCI researcher I know, but then a wave of the flu rolled in, her kids got sick, and our schedules got screwed up. I was going to enroll in an HCI overview course for the spring, but it didn't fill, so it wasn't offered. I'm taking a very softball "introduction to data mining" course in the same department, primarily focused on teaching students to use R with a front-end GUI. I've been using R as a student for the past 2 years. I very much hope that this course doesn't repeat my experience with "educational applied statistics" at this university.
posted by Nomyte at 10:22 PM on January 24, 2013

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