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June 8, 2015 3:28 AM   Subscribe

10 years in mid-level public health/public policy research. What's next? What's possible based on my current set of skills? Computer programming or software? Another industry? "Consulting?" Something crazy?

My bio: 10 years in public health/public policy research, including data collection (from human subjects as well as databases), project and data management (people and data management), and organizing/cleaning/checking/reshaping messy data using statistics programming languages (SAS, Stata, SPSS, R.) I've done little in the way of analysis or writing grants or papers. I like the programming the best, data collection the least. I've worked in academia and think tanks. I have an undergrad in social sciences and a master's degree in public policy, both from decent but not amazing state schools. I like a mix of a solitary and social environment (sitting alone in a room coding for 8 hours was lonely but 8 hours of running participants was exhausting).

My major goal is to make more money (at least $100K in NYC, where I'm based and want to stay). Flexible work arrangements (not having to come in at exactly X time), good work/life balance and generous vacation time are important to me, but if it significantly increases my paycheck I'm willing to trade some of that off. I'd also just like a change, and a variety of challenging and interesting work/projects that will help me grow. The idea of settling down at my current company for the next 20 years makes me feel antsy and bored. I've been around the block long enough that I'm not looking for a dream job where I'm happy to go in every day (there's a reason they call it work). I also don't want to get too comfortable, too boxed in or dependent on one set of skills or job.

I feel like I'm in a weird in-between place with no particular strength, that I've maxed out where I can go with my current set of skills, and that I'm going to have to do some classes or training to make another leap. But I really, really, really don't want to get another degree.

- I've thought about pharmaceutical research and clinical trials or perhaps some kind of health care analytics, but I don't have any biostats chops or experience with medical/health insurance software or databases. I took many stats and research design courses during my master's, but I've used the knowledge little over the past decade, and most of it's gone. I could tell you what a regression is, but I'm in no position to advise people on analyses. I'm no statistician, and I don't want to be.
- I've thought about going to straight up computer or software programming by teaching myself new languages in my free time, but can I get anywhere if I don't have a computer science degree or experience? Given the increasing popularity of "coding camps" it seems like the market is going to be flooded with people who slap a language on their resume after a six-week training, and, from my experience with statistics programming, you just don't know a language very well until you've been in the trenches with it for awhile.
- There's also the nebulous option of "business" as well as the even more nebulous option of "consulting" on top of that. (One of those consulting firms whose names I always see but I have no idea what they actually do - Deloitte, Bain, McKinsey, etc.)
- Finally, I think about doing something completely different and random from time to time (something with writing or the foreign service or the FBI). But that seems like a tougher road.

This is anonymous for obvious reasons, but I'm happy to MeMail. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You might be interested in medical writing. The average salary for NYC is just under $80k, so that doesn't quite satisfy your goal, but it's a very freelance-friendly profession, so you might be able to make more if you're willing to take on more work.
posted by neushoorn at 3:56 AM on June 8, 2015

It sounds like you could transition nicely into a 'data science' role with a manageable amount of effort and focus your search on start ups.
posted by safetyfork at 4:06 AM on June 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think a number of hospital/clinic systems would be happy to hire you for analytics jobs with your existing stats skills. A lot of the analytics work at my previous hospital employer looked at data trends by payor type/race-ethnicity-SES/readmission risk/chronic condition complexity/etc. Regression analysis was handled by the in house epidemiologist or analytics chief. A lot of the cool work involves redesigning programs to meet new health reform-related grant or data reporting requirements. Population health is huge right now, and a lot of systems are scrambling to beef up their analytics departments (or build them from scratch).

Feel free to Memail if you'd like, I still work in the field (but in MN).
posted by Maarika at 6:48 AM on June 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Health care analyst/advisor for US or international NGO -- maybe WHO? Or for a politician? Or for a brokerage firm? The "health care space" is complicated, and folks need well-informed guides. The NCQA always needs folks in their review teams, which travel to clinics and hospitals to assess their quality efforts.

Your current stats knowledge is, tragically, way ahead of practicing clinicians (not researchers) and you can surely buff it back up with extra classes to reinforce what you studied.
posted by Jesse the K at 7:15 AM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've done little in the way of analysis or writing grants or papers

Maybe you should give it a go. This sort of thing is in pretty good demand, and although you say you don't want to be a statistician there are an awful lot of people with this skillset who offer themselves as statistical jacks/jills of all trades on a contract basis.

I come from a hard science and public health background, and I had no problem getting out of that game: solitary lab hours and endless SAS did nothing for me, no matter how much satisfaction I found in the thrill of scientific learning. I did contract work for a time before finally ending up at the 501(c)(3) where I've been for several years. Here I work as a something like a liaison between hard science and regulatory policy, and the sort of nebulous description gives a flexibility that reminds me a lot of contract work. It's a nice middle.

What I do often need is the input of someone who hasn't been out of the lab and not actively using SAS every day for the last six years. I'm not alone, everyone I work with consults with people who have better data analysis and validation skills. Every publication I work up goes through someone like you at some point, and it's not just data work--it's much more like coeditor.

Also, why worry so much about nailing down a job description before looking seriously for your next step? Put together a resume that describes your skills over your former titles and roles and push that resume at every opportunity that sounds interesting (or at least doesn't make you feel antsy and bored) and see what happens. You really don't have to know what you're looking for to find great opportunities, especially if you have useful skills (like you do).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:34 AM on June 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't know about NYC, but the going rate in the Bay Area for EMR data analysts is near the $100k you're looking for. It's also a market where demand far exceeds the supply of qualified people. Generally, hospitals are a little more conservative about flextime, but this varies a lot.
posted by tinymegalo at 11:36 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

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