LET INGA TELL YOU:
I continue to be impressed with how many really interesting careers are out there that I never knew existed.
For example, in a column I wrote some months ago on colonoscopies, I came upon the work of one Mike Levitt described as "the world's authority on intestinal gas." As I noted at the time, that would have to be every 10-year-old boy's ultimate dream career. You could just imagine the utter rapture on their little faces: "That's a real job?" Think how much harder they would have studied in school if they knew that this was a future option!
At a dinner party last year with a group of scientists, one of them was lamenting that her company can never find a good "fungal physiologist." They are apparently in great demand and even if you hire one, some other company will likely poach him/her from you. This definitely goes under the heading "Careers that sound icky but pay great." And that your guidance counselor never suggested to you.
A reader, responding to my recent column on low-flow toilets wrote: "I wanted to alert you to the existence of a very funny book dealing with every aspect (of excremental functions) including toilet design. It was written by an emeritus faculty UCSD, who was an internationally respected algologist."
As fun as the book sounded (it was; I read it), it was the "internationally respected algologist" that immediately grabbed my attention. An instant Google search revealed that an algologist is either a person who specializes in the study of pain ... or algae. (Could make the annual convention confusing at best.)
The author, as it turns out, specialized in the latter and was in fact known as "the father of green algae genetics," which, like "fungal physiology," is a career path I never knew existed. If he were alive I would ask him what inspired him to go into algae. Did he have a pool guy as bad as mine?
I recently came across a career aptitude testing report for my father from July 1937. (I really have to get on those file boxes.) The report noted that "Solely from a consideration of Henry's work sample scores, his outstanding characteristics and those which he should make every effort to use are:
1. Extremely subjective personality 2. Inductive reasoning 3. Tweezer dexterity.
OK, I get that tweezer (fine motor) dexterity is really useful in a lot of professions, but if I were his parents, I might have considered killing myself that it made the top three of my 16-year-old's assessed skills. What was most intriguing to me was the limitations of careers within the four possible categories (Science, Business, Language and Social).
The Language Category consisted in its entirety of Advertiser, Journalist, Lawyer, Salesman (Real Estate) and Salesman (Life Insurance.) The Business Group career options — all of five — were Purchasing Agent, Specialty Salesman, Office Clerk, Accountant and Certified Public Accountant. Were these really the only choices in those categories then?
After my divorce 35 years ago, I underwent a battery of career tests at the behest of my husband's lawyer who was less interested in my job aspirations than getting me off his client's payroll. What I remember about that test battery was that it really was battery. One test in particular gave you two choices and asked "Would you rather do this or this?" Often the answer I wanted was "neither" or even "not if they were the only two choices between me and death." But you had to pick one.
The results accurately showed I was social and people-oriented, but liked to work independently (amen; committees drive me bat***t crazy) recommending that three careers to which I would be ideally suited would be Nursing Home Supervisor, Chamber of Commerce Executive or Liquor Store Manager. After the fact, I fantasized a career creating new career tests.
Of course, much of the time, despite the best laid plans (or more often, a total lack of plans) people just fall into professions. A La Jolla friend has made a successful career (defined by living in La Jolla) out of manufacturing coloring books and crayons. Another lives off the manufacture of filters for home heating systems — you know, the ones you're supposed to change every four months and actually change every four years? A friend of my husband's lives a good life off the manufacture and wholesaling to hardware stores of woven doormats.
Recently, I saw ads for Waste Water Operators. All things that people want or need. I think I can safely say that not one of these guys had a guidance counselor who said: "I see your strengths as being in the coloring book/heating filter/door mat/waste water field."
By the way, dad ultimately went to Brown, and then, post-war service, Harvard Business School. Inquiring minds want to know: Was it the tweezer thing?
— Inga's lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at email@example.com