Help me discover some work that matches my interests!
March 11, 2013 6:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm 31 years old and looking for a career change. I've come to love research and I've always loved reading nonfiction and true crime as well as the exposé articles often published by alternative weeklies. What are some careers that would fit these interests, and how do I work my way towards those careers?

My current job is in film production, in a fairly technical union position. It pays decently well, but I’m looking for an eventual career change into something a little more fulfilling. One of the things that I find myself interested in is investigation and research. I love looking at historical and court documents, maps, reading interview transcripts, and trying to uncover new or relevant information to a story, and I also enjoy writing. I often find myself researching the books I've read to look at the primary sources they used, and to find relevant information. My usual choice of reading is nonfiction, specifically true crime and missing persons cases, but I’m less interested in the sordid details of a murder case, and more interested robberies, fraud, white collar crimes, and other complex cases.

What jobs/careers involve this kind of research and investigation? I’m not particularly interested in law enforcement. I know a lot of what I wrote is basically a description of what a journalist does, but I’ve read a lot about the ‘death’ of traditional journalism, and how difficult it is for people with actual degrees in journalism to get jobs. In terms of education, I dropped out of college my senior year so I did not complete my bachelor’s in English, so it limits my ability to get jobs that are strict about having a degree. Any other ideas for jobs I might have overlooked? I’m not looking just for suggested job titles like “researcher” or “reporter,” but details about how someone with my background would be able to actually develop the skills and experience to do the suggested kind of work.

I work full time but otherwise have a good deal of free time, so I’m pretty flexible in being able to do another type of work in my off time. Let me know if you need any more background information to give better answers. Also, just wanted to say this community is awesome and I’ve been really enjoying the discussions so far.

posted by averageamateur to Work & Money (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
[...] robberies, fraud, white collar crimes, and other complex cases. [...] I’m not particularly interested in law enforcement.

Nevertheless, what you've described sounds a lot like forensic accounting.
posted by mhoye at 6:58 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think mhoye is on to something. My dad is an accountant and from time to time gets to do forensic accounting. He's downright giddy when he talks about tracking down the "bad guys."
posted by phunniemee at 7:03 PM on March 11, 2013

I love looking at historical and court documents, maps, reading interview transcripts, and trying to uncover new or relevant information to a story, and I also enjoy writing.

Working for a private investigator is what immediately sprang to mind for me. It might be handy to start by just checking the job listings here (or a similar general job board) to get an idea of what kind of technical skills and training show up as job requirements, which could help you get an idea of what your next practical steps might be. Also maybe check the licensing requirements for your state.
posted by scody at 7:18 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why not make a documentary? It doesn't necessarily need to cost a lot of money these days, you can use file footage and so on.
posted by empath at 7:22 PM on March 11, 2013

"File footage" isn't free, FYI. But have you thought about working for a doc unit, like Frontline or 60 Minutes or indie docs? Research by itself isn't called for all the time, but combined with production skills, can be very useful.
Or else, work as an insurance investigator or get a PI license. I work in docs, and I have one. Really handy. Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:53 PM on March 11, 2013

What about tracking down rights holders (if any/alive) for archival footage/images in documentary films or nonfiction books?
posted by unknowncommand at 8:02 PM on March 11, 2013

Political researchers look at tons of public records and use the Freedom of Information Act heavily. Think of an opposition researcher looking at an opponent's office expenditures and finding they bought a hot tub with taxpayer money or finding a police report that an opponent was charged with sexual harassment. To be fair, most of it is not juicy stuff and is archiving and documenting vote records and news coverage of policy issues and other run-of-the-mill stuff.

A journalist is the only other one I'd strongly say matches what you're looking for. If not a reporter, many large news organizations do have researchers on staff who are meant to verify information and dig through archives.

You could write a book or make a documentary, but those certainly are not paying jobs (at least initially) and not so much "careers." Perhaps though you could parlay your current career into a more investigative film career. Maybe you'd have the qualifications to break into broadcast news?
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:29 AM on March 12, 2013

Doc units could be fun for you, but I'll give you a fairly strong caveat: I got a journalism degree. I love looking through old files and discovering things, I love public documents. I do not love them enough to be a good or successful investigative journalist. There is a huge difference between loving that sort of research as a hobby or even as a freelancer with another regular gig — which I still do — and loving it enough to actually make a career out of that kind of digging. A good nine times out of ten you are able, in the end, to prove absolutely nothing, and while magazines will sometimes buy a well-told story of finding nothing, that's rarely enough to make a career out of.

If you'd like to get a toe wet, try finding something that you're interested in and pitch it as a freelancer. That is a lot less intense, but it will give you a view into what separates the general perception of archive crate digging from the actual work of it.
posted by klangklangston at 12:47 PM on March 12, 2013

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