September 7, 2012
Recently someone sent me what, according to them, was a list of the worst science jobs you could possibly have. I’m always suspicious of lists that claim to rank things, mainly because such rankings are subjective, unless we’re talking about my previous List Of The Greatest Lists Of All Time, because The Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels was clearly superior to Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists Of All Time, and not just because Rolling Stone ranked Aerosmith higher than The Kinks, but that’s another story. The problem with lists of the worst jobs is they’re never put together by people who actually do the jobs. In fact, as far as I know, the people who do the so-called worst jobs are never asked for their input. Maybe they’d come up with a few different suggestions. My idea of the worst possible job is accounting. I’d rather have my body covered in paper cuts and be dipped in malt vinegar on an hourly basis than work as an accountant, but obviously there are people who love being accountants so much they even go to school and earn advanced degrees to be better accountants. And whenever I deposit my paycheck or tax time rolls around I’m grateful for them. Plus being accountants they get to laugh at actuaries. Anyway, here are some of those supposedly terrible science jobs:
– Archaeological garbologist. It may not sound like the world’s best job, but there are people who study the waste in landfills to determine what we’re throwing away and how long it lasts. Do you ever think about that half-eaten burger you threw away and wonder how long it’ll be around? The frightening answer is: probably forever. When all the trash that gets put into landfills gets packed down all the air is pressed out and it’s often perfectly preserved. Someday in the distant future aliens will dig through Earth’s remains and marvel at how much we really liked potatoes. But I don’t see how being an archaeological garbologist is a bad job. You get to be out in the open air, even if you are exposing things that haven’t seen open air in decades. And I’m sure the people who dig through the garbage wear protective gear. And they get paid to do it, which makes garbologists seem like people who manage to fall through the not-so-proverbial hole in the privy and come out smelling like a rose. The only thing that would make it a bad job is if they had to eat what they find.
– Elephant vasectomist. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: the worst thing about this job is telling the elephant he has to keep an ice pack on his groin and that he can’t do any heavy lifting for a couple of days after the procedure. Actually I think the worst thing about being an elephant vasectomist is that there can’t be that much call for it. The tension that builds up while sitting around waiting for the phone to ring must be unbearable. With elephant populations dwindling I’d also think there’d be more focus on getting more elephants to reproduce, but I also understand that zoos, with limited space and resources, sometimes want to their bulls to start shooting blanks. But even then I can’t believe there’s so much call for elephant vasectomists that anyone’s able to make a full-time career out of it. I’m sure there are people who have developed this as a specialty, but the broader term for them is veterinarian. These are people who love working with animals enough that they’re willing to do whatever jobs bring them close to animals, and they knew what they were getting into when they signed up for the class on how to perform elephant vasectomies. Plus imagine how many parties they get invited to. If you ask someone what they do and they say, "I perform elephant vasectomies" you’re going to want to hang out with them because they’ve obviously got some great stories.
– Sewage tank divers. People often, and with good reason, say that firefighters are heroes. Firefighters save lives and property, usually by putting themselves at risk. But take just part of the basic job description-you have to be prepared to run into raging fires to drag people out-and it sounds like one of the worst jobs you could possibly have. In spite of that people voluntarily go through rigorous training to become firefighters. But I think sewage tank divers also deserve to be considered heroes. I’m not kidding about that. Like firefighters they’re willing do a difficult and even dangerous job that has to be done to preserve the health and well-being of large numbers of people. And if you’re grossed out by the thought of swimming in sewage believe me when I say being a professional swimmer is a worse job. One of the shocking revelations of the last Olympics is that professional swimmers spend so much time in the pool they sometimes can’t be bothered to get out when they need to go to the bathroom, and they only wear Speedos. At least sewage tank divers wear lots of protective gear. The only two downsides of being a sewage tank diver are you never get celebrated for the work you do, and chances are you don’t get invited to a lot of parties.
And the common theme that runs through all these jobs is that no one falls into them accidentally, although accidentally falling in to any of those workplaces is a job-related risk. They’re not like being assistant manager of a fast food joint, a job that some people get solely by not being fired or not quitting longer than any of their coworkers. Not that being assistant manager of a fast food joint is necessarily a bad job. If you’re lucky enough to love what you do, no matter what it is, then that’s a good job. And I’ve noticed that the saddest people in the world are the ones who think the only way they can feel better about themselves is to put down what other people do, which makes me think that, for the people that do it, the worst possible job must be making lists of the worst jobs for Popular Science.