Aspergers Career Paths?
December 26, 2013 10:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm somebody who's classic Aspergers (very focused interests, excellent with little pieces of data, sociable but utterly clueless), who's increasingly aware a lot of jobs revolve around the political side of things, and who's currently tossing up on university courses for future career potential (environmental/geosciences being a current lock).

I'd like to know what people in a similar Aspie position have done careerwise, how influential it's been on their choice of decision and the results, and what they'd recommend doing (both positive and negative recommendation is welcomed).

The classic one of programming I'd steer away from - I increasingly don't want to be on computers all day - but I'm willing to hear contrary opinions there as well.
posted by solarion to Education (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to stay out of politics, you generally can in many professions as long as you don't wish to have a meteoric rise through the ranks.

I personally knew a night watch security guard that worked at my old uni and chatted with them occasionally. They shared with me that many people who work security are people with aspergers/autism and are much happier in that job than in previous careers. I also know a friend's friend with aspergers who enjoys their work as a massage therapist (really very little talking involved usually).

Honestly, more and more jobs are heading towards computers, though - if you're at all concerned about making lots of money, you may have to make peace with that.
posted by johnpoe50 at 11:08 PM on December 26, 2013

I have Aspergers and am doing OK at grad school in Chemistry, and I've met a number of people in chemistry that I strongly suspect also have it. You may or may not make a good prof, running a research group, but there are lots of lab jobs out there that reward very strong technical skills and attention to detail.
posted by Canageek at 1:05 AM on December 27, 2013

The first thing I thought of when you said environmental/geosciences was GIS, a career path in which I've known a couple of people who were somewhere on the spectrum, but of course that's a lot of computer time. Related to that might be surveying, wetland delineation, and other field work along those lines that, as Canageek says, require strong technical skills and attention to detail.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:52 AM on December 27, 2013

I'm in the environmental field, on the consulting side. At the higher levels it becomes intensely political, both internally and externally (sometimes with actual politicians involved!), and also involves a lot of client management and selling. There are "technical expert" career paths that could work for you, where someone else manages your clients and your internal relationships, but they involve being at the top of your field and it's hard to get there until you're very senior. The more common career path involves managing clients and bringing in new clients.

There are some associated career paths that might work well for someone who wants to work outside (note that the weather is frequently bad...) and is exceptionally detail-oriented -- surveying, field tech, wetlands delineation as noted above, geophysical surveying (GPR and EM surveys, looking for things like underground tanks and utility lines -- unlike regular surveying, you work alone or with someone who's hired you for the day).

Also, you might consider field work in the ancillary environmental services, like lead paint inspections, asbestos inspections, mold inspections, and so on. The work sites will change frequently but you'll generally be inside, if that matters.

On the office side of environmental consulting, there's the GIS/CAD guy (in some firms) and the data wrangler (in some firms).

The disadvantage of all of these is that in many firms, there'd be a ceiling on how high you'd get without selling services to clients and managing clients (sampling tech, asbestos/lead/mold), changing specialties (GIS/CAD), or starting your own company (surveying, geophysical surveys, wetlands).

What kind of things do you want to do on a daily basis? Do you want to work in one office, or work outside? Do you like working in one place for extended periods of time?

Do you care if you "use" your degree?

How high do you want to be able to rise in your chosen field?

Do you have sensory processing preferences to consider? Some field tech jobs involve travel, which can be easy or can be hard depending on your preferences. Also, field tech/sampling, asbestos, and mold jobs can involve use of respirators, so if you dislike the feel of rubber or having your face covered with something, those might be out.

Would you be willing to work for an oil company? Based on the folks in my graduating class, I have the feeling that petroleum geologists are so in-demand that their ability to play politics matters very little in getting and keeping jobs. However, the actual working conditions are probably very cramped and full of people. Also, I understand they tend to have a boom and bust employment cycle. Maybe an actual petroleum geologist could weigh in on this side.
posted by pie ninja at 5:33 AM on December 27, 2013

Field geologist. Want to spend more time with rocks?
posted by oceanjesse at 8:38 AM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have managed folks with such severe Aspergers that they didn't know they had it (though they knew when others did). I'm of geek culture but also highly sociable though I gotta say that the overarching understanding of work politics I have is that it is quick, fickle, mercurial, dependent on leveraging all the intangible advantages you have to their fullest and still depends a great deal on luck to get you to success.

So you can see how infuriating that all can be, especially to folks on the Aspergers spectrum (and even to more normative or social folks).

I agree with others that being an Aspergers person is not a death knell to a career but I do think that it can (note I don't say it always does) significantly limit your promotion opportunities, depending on how your personality fits within your organization.

I think your best bet is to get an advanced degree and then shop around for the right company or opportunity. If you can find an ally you get along well with who looks like they're in it for the long haul, do your best to make friends and rise up the ranks together. Bonus points if you're especially talented or skilled at your field and your friend is also good but more socially apt. Think Big Bang Theory and Leonard and Sheldon.
posted by kalessin at 10:16 AM on December 27, 2013

I work in TV production, mostly live programming. There are several guys in the office who are at least on the spectrum. They're in very techincal roles that are essential
to programme making and seem to be immune from office politics.

If you can run a live show from a disaster zone or suddenly bring a lost programme element back to air no one cares if you're a bit socially awkward.
posted by JIMSMITH2000 at 6:01 PM on December 27, 2013

Lab tech/mineralogist/metallurgist or something along those lines. Suspected Aspergers here - similar personality traits.
I graduated from my Bachelors and Masters in Geological Engineering, and now I work as a lab technician on campus. I run the department's scanning electron microscope, doing a lot of automated mineralogy and in my case, teaching. All the techs I've interacted with are "weird", which is actually why I started looking at lab work as an option, and it has turned out very well.

I get to look at cool stuff at high mag everyday, keep my 'dude' (...the microscope) running smoothly and nicely maintained, and get a nice combination of focused human interaction and solo data processing. I have a combination of discrete tasks that need doing, but the freedom to choose their order.

I would stick to geology lab work though, geos are already a little odd, and techs are doubly so! Mail me if you want more details on what I do or other options I had in mind.
posted by aggyface at 9:48 PM on December 27, 2013

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