Good careers for 2006
To learn more
OOH profile: www.bls.gov/oco/ocos060.htm
National Association of Social Workers: www.socialworkers.org
Read: Days in the Lives of Social Workers: 50 Professionals Tell "Real-Life" Stories From Social Work Practice by Linda May Grobman
Computer programmer. Many programmers love their jobs because they get paid to work on puzzles. Plus, the field is advancing quickly, so there's always something new to learn. The problem with this career is that with so many excellent programmers in China and India willing to work for a pittance, U.S. programmers who don't distinguish themselves will have a hard time convincing employers they're worth a middle-class salary.
Registered nurse. Nurses are often critical to patients' recovery. There are other nice rewards. The average salary for a basic staff nurse is more than $57,000, and in many cities, nurses often earn over $100,000 a year. Job security is excellent, since nursing is among the fastest-growing careers. Plus, just a two-year degree will generally land you a job, while a four-year degree will give you a wide range of choices, from obstetrics to hospice. With a moderate amount of additional training, jobs such as nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner are within reach, offering a degree of autonomy approaching that of doctors. Caveat: Every year, nurses are responsible for thousands of patient deaths. Please consider this career only if you are truly caring and detail-oriented.
To learn more
OOH profile: www.bls.gov/oco/ocos083.htm
American Association of Colleges of Nursing: www.aacn.nche.edu
Read: Life Support: Three Nurses on the Front Lines by Claire Fagin and Suzanne Gordon
Scientist. At a very senior level, most scientists have great careers: concocting their own research ideas, delegating repetitious work to underlings, presenting findings at conferences all over the world, maybe even curing a disease. Unfortunately, few of those positions exist. To land one, you first need a Ph.D. in a demanding field. Even then, decent jobs can be hard to find; one Rand study found that there's a 30 percent oversupply of Ph.D.'s in fields such as molecular biology. So grads often end up doing one- or two-year postdoctoral projectsmore education and a tiny stipend. There are bachelor's- and master's-level jobs as scientists, but these generally offer little autonomy: You're a functionary, doing relatively routine tasks at the Ph.D.'s behest.
To learn more
OOH profile: www.bls.gov/oco/ocos047.htm
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology: www.faseb.org
Read: Who Wants to Be a Scientist?: Choosing Science as a Career by Nancy Rockwell
Military officer. This job title is a catchall for hundreds of professional occupations: from manager to physician, accountant to engineer. A military career has many pluses: excellent free training, extensive benefits, and esprit de corps unmatched in most civilian jobs. Of course, you must accept a bureaucracy to end all bureaucracies and the possibility of getting assigned to remote, unappealing outposts. (Killeen, Texas, anyone?) Oh, yes, there's also the chance of getting ambushed in Iraq. Troops who have enlisted for one or two tours are eligible for the officer corps through Officer Candidate School. Other routes in are ROTC and the prestigious service academies: West Point (Army), the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and the Coast Guard Academy. These schools offer small classes taught by unusually dedicated instructors. When I visited the Air Force Academy, the cadets were more enthusiastic about their college experience than students at any of the 100-plus colleges I've visited, including Harvard and Stanford.