Do you have an awesome job in an awesome field? I want to hear about it
March 27, 2013 4:45 PM   Subscribe

As a counterpoint to this question, which educational/career tracks do offer solid job prospects and a good return on investment (both time and money), secretly or not?

Please be as specific as possible, and include at least a brief outline of the qualifications you realistically need to get the job. If possible, provide some kind of corroboration.

I'm especially interested in jobs which are within the reach of most people and points of view which account for the experience of the majority of the profession (per this clarifying comment, but the inverse).

I'd also prefer answers which address changes in the professional landscape since the recession: which fields are resurgent, which aren't hiring, which are still flooded with experienced candidates scrabbling to reclaim their old positions, to the point that it poses a barrier to entry for newly qualified employees?
posted by pullayup to Work & Money (16 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Engineering. You can get an excellent job with just a Bachelor's degree, and with a Master's or Professional Engineer's certification (or both), your job security is virtually assured. I also know of several engineers who have their own patents which, while belonging to the companies they work for, also increase both their earning capacity and their status.

That being said, I am not so sure that engineering jobs are within the reach of "most people", as higher math classes are a must for engineers, and we don't teach that as well here in the states as...well, almost everywhere else, I guess.

Caveat: civil and mechanical engineering are the most popular, "easiest" of the engineering specialties, and that makes them less valuable on the job market. With civil, you're most likely to end up in a lower paying government position, and other engineers tend to have the attitude that you only go civil f you can't hack the "tough" stuff. I don't know anyone who is currently working as a mechanical engineer, but they are slightly higher on the totem pole.

Personally, I would find working in my spouse's profession (he's a Director, started out as an Electrical Engineer in the semiconductor industry) very boring, but professionally it's been a very sound investment of both time and money for him, for us and for our family.
posted by misha at 5:09 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am an MRI technician at an academic neuroimaging center at a state school. More generally, I'm a full-time research assistant in the cognitive sciences.

As a state employee, I get a stable and decent salary. I've been told that I am difficult to fire. I receive very good health benefits. Among my other benefits is the ability to take classes for free, and possibly earn a free degree part-time.

I have a lot of autonomy. Apart from actually working with research volunteers and operating the scanner, I basically get to make up my own timelines for projects. I can volunteer to get involved in a lot of interesting work. I often get to play with new software tools and data collection devices. My days are varied, and often challenging and fulfilling. I take pride in what I do.

My education is a soft-science BA with some time spent as an undergrad lab assistant. I've also spent some time working on basic technological and mathematical proficiencies. I have several years of experience in various labs around campus, so I didn't fall into this position right out of undergrad. Realistically, a driven and accomplished student with a relevant degree can probably get a job similar to mine. Generally, most labs looking for assistants get them right out of undergrad.

The biggest potential downside is that, realistically, this is a time-limited job. For most young people, it's either a stepping stone to grad school or the last step before leaving academia. Several former assistants I know went on to work as entry-level analysts at consulting firms, others got random jobs. Your work schedule may be unusual and, sometimes, very demanding. You might need to balance many competing and mutually exclusive priorities. Personally, I was a little surprised by the mercenary tendencies of some of the researchers we work with, who tended to prioritize their own research above all else to the point of wasting resources, monopolizing time, and asking for special accommodation at every opportunity.

It's not totally awesome all around, but the right person at the right point in his or her life can get a lot out of a job like this. Oh, and you get to look at brains a lot.
posted by Nomyte at 5:21 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'll agree with the Engineering one. I know very few engineers, even those with just a BS, that have prolonged difficulty finding work, and if your the sort person that can survive engineering school, you'll probably like most of the jobs out there.

I love my job as an R&D Consulting Engineer, but it did take a rather large amount of schooling to get here (BS, MS, PhD)
posted by kaszeta at 5:41 PM on March 27, 2013

Social worker. With a Masters degree* you can get a huge variety of jobs, from psychotherapist to CEO of a non-profit. The work is almost all explicitly about helping other people, and after the first couple of years the salary is really not bad (especially in a government job.)

*You do need to get what's called an "independent license" after you graduate. This takes a couple of years. It's not necessary for every job, e.g., managerial positions, but it is necessary for things like being a psychotherapist.
posted by OmieWise at 5:42 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Working in web analytics, I've rarely gone a month without at least one random recruiter contacting me on Linkedin. Which is not to say that every contact equals a job, because that is most definitely not the case. But the field is still relatively new, in-demand, well-paid, and growing.

Professional experience in analytics is still rare, so pretty good for getting a job, but failing that, a background in digital/web dev or quantitative research is a good start. Being adaptable to technology, a capacity to be technical/logical, and willingness to cultivate an obsessive attention to deal are must-haves.
posted by scribbler at 6:52 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nursing continually tops the lists of most-needed jobs.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:30 PM on March 27, 2013

Nursing was mentioned unfavorably several times in the question pullayup linked to. I think the point of this particular question was to cut through the "received wisdom" about jobs.
posted by Nomyte at 7:40 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a tech writer. It's basically the highest-paid thing you can do using skills you learned getting a bachelor's in English.

I got my job because I had an internship. I refused to take an unpaid internship and insisted on being paid. Doing this led me to a company that taught me the technological tools I needed (DITA/XML, writing software, conversion from unstructured to structured content) to be competitive.

I like tech writing. I'm a grammar nerd who loves technology, and I pay lots of attention to detail. I learn new things quickly. All of that is pretty essential to being happy as a tech writer, I think.

Thing is, very few people graduate with a BA and go, "I wanna be a tech writer!" So the jobs are definitely out there for people who have the skills. I've heard you don't even need a BA, but in this economy, I think you probably do.
posted by woodvine at 8:20 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

n-thing engineering. Easily the best return on four years of education out there today. Just look at the median salary for a petroleum engineer vs a lawyer. Disclaimer: engineer here (of the mechanical variety)
posted by conradjones at 8:30 PM on March 27, 2013

One complication is defining return in order to calculate a return on investment. I'd argue that there are four independent axes on which you can rank a job. These are (1) fulfillment (2) money (3) free-time (4) flexibility. What makes for a good return on investment depends critically on how an individual values these.

As someone who's overwhelmingly interested in the first, I rank my own job among the best in the world. But, it requires a huge upfront investment and offers comparably little money, no free time, and no geographic freedom, and it's explicitly called out as one of the very worst jobs in the linked post for exactly those reasons.

If the goal is to give someone choosing an education path the freedom to decide later where they want to live in that 4-D job space, hands-on engineering and the physical sciences are hard to beat. I don't know if that counts as "within the reach of most people;" it requires math classes and at least a BA/BS. But, for anyone who has the resources and interest, the job prospects are pretty good at all levels.

There are some reasonably thorough survey results for US chemistry and physics majors, which certainly line up with my own anecdotal experience watching my college cohort find jobs. People in the sciences have trouble finding tenure track faculty jobs; they don't generally have trouble finding jobs, even secure, well-paying jobs with some autonomy and a reasonable work-life balance.

When it comes to work that doesn't require years of school, I've never met a chef, plumber, or dog groomer who can't find work whenever they want it. But reliable statistics seem to be hard to find, and they're all fields where mentorship is critical and perhaps just as much a barrier as education.
posted by eotvos at 8:33 PM on March 27, 2013

Boyfriend and his brother are both software engineers, and I have a few friends in mechanical or chemical engineering, and their jobs seem to corroborate the opinions above that prospects are good for professional engineers. Becoming a chartered accountant seems like a pretty solid career path, quite a few CAs I know have very good jobs in industry.

My brother and his wife are both programmers, and both have moved smoothly from okay jobs to better jobs to awesome jobs.

also.. buying a semi truck and running your own independent hauling company seems weirdly profitable.
posted by euphoria066 at 10:59 PM on March 27, 2013

I vote for engineer, too. If I was the least interested in math, I would go back and get an engineering degree. Fortunately, my experience makes up for it, but good and thorough engineers are hard to come by. I work in pharma/biotech/medical devices. Memail me if you're interested in this field and I will provide more details.
posted by kamikazegopher at 1:32 AM on March 28, 2013

Petroleum engineers. Thise people usually have a Chemical Engineering degree, which is one of the most difficult degrees.

Nurse Practitioners and physicians assistants do very well, and they have somewhat lower risks that nurses and pharmacists because the field requires a graduate degree that cannot be fulfilled by someone trained in a foreign country. Overall the outlook for the healthcare field is good.

Defense contracting -- engineers and mathematicians with American citizenship and a clearance are (well, before sequestration) being heavily recruited.
posted by deanc at 4:13 AM on March 28, 2013

Consider a geology degree (or perhaps geophysics). Oil companies love and need geologists.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:22 AM on March 28, 2013

I'm a Business Analyst, working at a Consulting company in the Data Analytics/Business Intelligence Space.

Data Analytics is what companies do to learn how they are doing, how much they are doing, who they are doing with and to better make decisions based on that information.

Consulting, in this business, is working at companies, providing advice, doing alot of work that their resources can't do (or in time frame business leaders suggest).

Business Analysts are those who help frame the business questions and requirements into technical (i.e programming ability) requirements, which helps build the solution that helps the business make better decisions.

Business is booming, and pretty much has for ten years. Companies cannot hire quickly enough. People seem to happy at my company and other companies.

What you need?
-A Bachelor's degree
-A degree (in order of what you'll get in the door): Computer Science, any engineering degree, Business with IT slant, Math, Stats
-If no degree, some demonstrative experience with technology
-Able to communicate well, write-emails, not be a introvert
-Pick up things FAST (like be an expert in something you've never heard of in a week or two)
-Understanding of the technologies discussed

What you'll make:
-You'll start around 50k, but people with 5-10 year experience can make double that.

Job Prospects
In 2007/2008 there were some layoffs, but I'm assuming the unemployment rate in this field is close to 0. Our company cannot hire enough people quickly enough, so we are trying to grow internally more by hiring more college grads. I'm assuming other companies are similar.
posted by sandmanwv at 7:37 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work for a university where most of our students are engineering or allied health care students. As someone with a BA in philosophy, I sometimes look at our recent grads and their salaries and wonder how I missed the engineering train. 90% of them are employed six months after graduation, and our renewable energy engineering grads often start in the 70-80k range - which, at 22, is just crazy. Engineering is very good, especially in things like renewable energy and petroleum.

The imaging students - MRI techs, echo, etc., also have no trouble at all finding good paying jobs pretty much wherever they want.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:38 PM on March 28, 2013

« Older Help me figure out what to do about my depressed...   |   Tips for Slashing Facebook Friends Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.