Career not spent sitting at a desk
October 14, 2019 1:23 PM   Subscribe

What are some careers/paths of study for someone smart who has said they don't want to sit in an office their whole life?

One of my kids is a senior in high school, and it's college-picking time. He's got great grades and test scores, is wrapping up his Eagle Scout rank, did some sports -- but he's not sure what to study.

He does very well in math & science and did great in CAD, and all the engineers we know suggest that he study engineering. (Of course they do...) He's also good at foreign language, and he's pretty independent -- and he made it clear that he wants to be up and around, not turning into a chair-bound lump like all the people working in IT.

Now, I know someone who is an architect and a CAD wizard, and his role at a big contractor is trouble-shooting design errors in the field, and then creating & issuing updates to the official plans.

What other jobs like that are there?
posted by wenestvedt to Work & Money (34 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
There's a whole, long thread on Lifehacker The Best Career Paths for New Grads Who Hate Offices that covers jobs in healthcare, forestry, construction, landscape design, shipping logistics, law enforcement and the arts. Pretty good comments section as well.
posted by caveatz at 1:28 PM on October 14, 2019 [10 favorites]

Surveyor would be very good. You're moving all day, in odd terrain. You need a good engineering mind.

He could pursue a career in mechanical/structural engineering that maximise time in the field.

I hate to say it, but oil rigs and petrochemical engineering. Alternatively, sustainable resource engineering.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:35 PM on October 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

I also just came to say surveyor.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:41 PM on October 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Public school teaching. You never sit down.
posted by Peach at 1:44 PM on October 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

Yeah, there are a lot of civil engineering jobs where you're out in the field all day as well as more specialized fields like mining engineering. A lot of petrochemical engineers work in the field as well, the pay is great, but over the long term oil has gone through a number of booms & busts.

Then there's completely different fields like medicine, many doctors and nurses are up on their feet most of the day.

There's a variety of jobs in what I can only lump together as "recreation studies" - here's some sample jobs in the field.
posted by GuyZero at 1:45 PM on October 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Supply chain engineer would be worth researching.
posted by typecloud at 1:46 PM on October 14, 2019

Lots of other (all?) science careers require a lot of math and use of computers, so he shouldn't feel restricted to engineering just because he is good at those. Lots of science lab jobs definitely are not-office jobs--you're moving around the lab a lot, with occasional sitting down at a computer in some cases. Not a lot of fields of physics, math, or computer science, maybe, but many fields of biology, geosciences, and chemistry could be lifelong lab jobs. And then of course there are field sciences--forestry was mentioned above, but ecology, wildlife, fisheries, geology, etc. can all involve field work, either occasionally or all the time.

Honestly, being a professor of a field science, I sometimes long for a quiet day when I sit down with my computer in my office--between teaching and research (and all the meetings that come with academia), they don't come that often.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:49 PM on October 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

There are a LOT of engineering jobs out there that involve time in the field, but note that for many/most you have to be willing to travel. Computers are of course involved, but not the center of the work that same way.
posted by Lady Li at 1:57 PM on October 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

My wife just went back to school to get a degree in Arboriculture. It's the grad program, so it's paid for and her jobs through the school are also well-paid and mostly outdoors. Right now she's taking two courses that are outdoorsy (a landscaping design class and an undergrad Intro to Arboriculture class, in which the lab consists of wandering around campus identifying trees) and the other two are statistics and programming in R. So both math/computers-y and outdoorsy!
posted by restless_nomad at 2:34 PM on October 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

(Oh, and she's auditing the undergrad How to Climb Trees class, which for some reason her long-ago history undergrad didn't offer.)
posted by restless_nomad at 2:35 PM on October 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

Chemical engineering (anything from oil refining to plastics to biological pharmaceuticals) can involve a ton of time walking around the factory floor, and there’s a lot of jobs. At the refinery I did an internship at, there were even bicycles to ride around the (huge) plant and go see all the units. It can be a fairly physical job and there’s lots of multinational companies with plants in different countries (southeast Asia for example) that an engineer can expat in.
posted by permiechickie at 2:38 PM on October 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Surveyor is a good option, but otherwise I would recommend against anything in the construction field— the industry culture is still pretty backward and there are a lot of serious occupational hazards compared to other fields. Starting pay is high, though it can lead to difficulty pivoting to another field if it's not for him.

Landscape design is also a good option, though like other flavours of the design/architecture field in the USA compensation isn't great.

Would "flexible hours and location of work" satisfy his requirement to not be in an office? Software or web development could be that, and it's paid much better these days than the above.
posted by a halcyon day at 2:55 PM on October 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Professional stage management.
posted by BostonTerrier at 3:02 PM on October 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

For a ChemEng job where he'll be out and about a lot he'll be either working operations in a particular plant/site, or on a travel-based job going around similar plants, usually being an expert in one particular part of the process. Note that these environments are often not super pleasant - loud, dirty, and hot. They will also come with all the stress of being in charge of making sure the plant making XX million dollars of product per hour keeps doing that without interruption. Plus they tend to not be located near nice cities. Of course, some people love all this, but generally people do 5-ish years of field work then switch to an office based design role when they start thinking about having a family.
posted by Jobst at 3:02 PM on October 14, 2019

Lots of great jobs in film and TV.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:34 PM on October 14, 2019

If he likes interacting with people, community organizer with a nonprofit or union rep could be good fits. I know people who do both.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:01 PM on October 14, 2019

Response by poster: (These are awesome -- keep 'em coming!!)
posted by wenestvedt at 4:08 PM on October 14, 2019

I heard a retired airline pilot say he'd never had an office. A shortage of pilots is expected. Downside is low pay with a little airline until you have enough flying hours to get an airline job.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:15 PM on October 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Construction Project Manager sounds like it would fit. I also love retail for the same reason.
posted by frumiousb at 4:18 PM on October 14, 2019

Real estate appraiser.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:21 PM on October 14, 2019

I would expect disciplines related to environmental and ecological sciences/engineering to have a very good job outlook, given, well, a lot of things about the world today, and certainly a lot of importance. The water supply alone is an enormously complicated system, for example, and that's only one piece of the puzzle. A lot of the work in this area requires at least spending part of your time both interacting with whatever bit of the environment you're supposed to be managing and also interacting with the surrounding community. I have known several very cool people who were in this general line of work and sometimes regret that I was in no way outdoorsy enough to consider such things appealing.
posted by Sequence at 4:33 PM on October 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

If the Built Environment is a draw, consider commissioning engineer. Travel to projects near completion, prove everything works. You mix in interpreting drawings, understanding how systems work, and identifying issues.
posted by Muted Flugelhorn at 4:37 PM on October 14, 2019

A grip in film production.
posted by greta simone at 6:36 PM on October 14, 2019

I can strongly suggest geology!
posted by Gneisskate at 7:17 PM on October 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Occupational therapy!
posted by rip at 7:53 PM on October 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Landscape architecture.
posted by sallybrown at 8:09 PM on October 14, 2019

I have a friend who is an Environmental Protection Specialist for the state EPA. He specializes in air quality. He drives around quite a bit, and installs devices to test air quality, and checks them, and analyzes the results at the lab.

He likes being out and about, traveling around, and seems to enjoy his job a lot. Most recently involved in installing air quality detecters at a school, where they are testing air quality for some government mandate due to the location (saw his picture in the local paper, standing on a ladder, installing the device, smiling away).

He also built his own greenhouse out of old ship wood and spare glass doors, and does raised bed gardening, made an outdoor potting bench using an old sink that he found on his travels (someone was giving it away for free), and in general, is happy and seems to enjoy life a lot.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:19 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Environmental / biological fieldwork for the government or for university research
posted by WeekendJen at 6:09 AM on October 15, 2019

Physical Therapist
posted by kathrynm at 8:04 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lots of healthcare jobs, MD/PA/RN are the obvious ones.
posted by queens86 at 11:41 AM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Skip college and join a trade union apprenticeship.
posted by teslacoilswoah at 9:04 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

What about Safety or Industrial Hygiene? Some of it is deskwork, policy writing, reports, etc. A lot of the job, however, is walking around the plant floor, talking to people, and coming up with creative solutions. There's normally training involved too, either classroom or practical. In IH, there are running tests and doing ergonomic assessments, which get math-y. I'd love a safety tech that was good in CAD to come up with custom guards, tables, fixtures, and so on.

It doesn't have to be in manufacturing, either -- there's a lot of safety/occupational health work going on in Healthcare, construction, labs, etc.

(I am 100% biased - everyone loves to hate on "The Safety Guy", but in order to be good, you need a lot of very diverse skills that are underappreciated)
posted by Sparky Buttons at 8:10 AM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Heavy Equipment Operator. Play with Tonka trucks seasonally, get paid well, lots of open positions.
posted by Cris E at 7:56 AM on October 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Heavy Equipment Operator. Play with Tonka trucks seasonally, get paid well, lots of open positions.

Damn you! *shakes fist* He won't stop talking about it!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:48 AM on November 13, 2019

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