Many of today’s teenagers feel like they’re just treading water, struggling to find meaning in the frantic pace of their daily activities. The pressure to keep up with peers can be overwhelming, and many students may begin to wonder whether the stress is worthwhile.
In his book, The Path To Purpose, Stanford professor William Damon argues that the root cause of our children’s growing anxiety is an endless series of short-term goals. They are expected to perform well on a nonstop string of exams and deadlines that seem to have no relationship with the real world. But we can fix that, Damon argues, by helping our students find a larger sense of purpose, a way to make sense of their lives.
One way to do this is to help children develop a sense of their futures. Parents cannot choose their children’s paths, but adults can offer them insight into careers that align with their interests and abilities.
Parents do this instinctively when children are younger: if Emily loves to put band-aids on her dolls, her mother might suggest that she could become a doctor. But as students get older, they need these suggestions more than ever.
The workplace has become more specialized since parents choose a career, and it’s hard for parents to keep track of new career paths. To help, we interviewed several experts to create a list of up-and-coming careers for students who are interested in math and science.
For students who like Environmental Science: Sustainability Coordinator
Saving the environment through energy conservation is an idea that appeals to everyone. Suzanne Emerson is the proprietor of Emerson Environmental, a company that promotes sustainability by assisting homeowners in choosing and implementing energy efficiency and water conservation maintenance and upgrades. Emerson became interested in green concepts when she was a Girl Scout, and went on to become an environmental lawyer before starting her own company. “Many people are interested in home energy efficiency, in reducing their carbon footprint, and in saving on their utility bills,” said Emerson. “But it is not easy for a homeowner to figure out what the most cost-effective repairs and upgrades are for their home.” Emerson enjoys helping people learn about how their home works, and how they can make it work better while helping to reduce strain on the environment. She sees a strong future for Municipal Sustainability Coordinators, people who help local governments develop and implement greenhouse gas reduction and other sustainability programs.
For students who like Computer Science: Software Engineer
With more and more of our lives revolving around our computers, the demand for software engineers is skyrocketing. Developing the products that drive the Internet can be a fast-paced, exciting career. “I've worked enthusiastically as software engineer at Facebook for over two years and have had some of the coolest experiences of my life here,” says Tom Whitnah. He has had the opportunity to work on many interesting projects, like the Live Feed product used with CNN for President Obama’s inauguration. When I asked Whitnah if he thought that his job would ever be outsourced to China or India, he had a definite opinion: “In a fast-paced company that makes and implements decisions quickly, it's been paramount to have all engineers in the same office. It seems very hard to imagine compartmentalizing the engineering work done here enough to move it offshore. I think the skills learned and applied in engineering will continue to be very applicable in many fields and industries, even if the tech landscape changes significantly.”
For students who like Statistics and using numbers to analyze trends: Clinical Data Manager
Biotechnology companies are inventing medicines for illnesses that used to be impossible to treat. And while there’s always a need for the cutting-edge Geneticists who develop the drugs, most people don’t know about the scientists who collect and analyze the patient data. Clinical Data Managers help evaluate the trials that that proves a drug’s efficacy to the FDA. Carol Garvey, a Director of Clinical Data Management at Genentech, enjoys the dynamic environment of her workplace: “It’s always interesting to learn how a drug under study works or does not work based on the clinical data that comes in. I also like that I am able to work with many great minds across many disciplines, such as doctors, statisticians, programmers, project managers, and epidemiologists.” Garvey says that there are many different kinds of college degrees in her department, but that one talent is key to success: “Soft skills, I mean collaboration, learning to work across diverse groups with diverse knowledge.” She thinks that students should always be open to any and all job possibilities, since they can lead to new careers that we’ve never even dreamed about. And no matter what the future holds, she advises: “You can and should have fun at work. I have shared many laughs with my colleagues, from all levels.”
For students who like Algebra and number manipulation: Certified Public Accountant
Thanks to legislature like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the recent turmoil in our financial markets, companies are in growing need of talented accountants. “Getting a CPA puts students in line for many career paths in the Accounting/Finance area—tax, financial reporting, audit, management,” says Corporate Controller Christine Steele. She feels that public accounting experience is not only the best learning opportunity for someone interested in finance, but also a crucial resume item that demonstrates experience and knowledge. “Accounting is not just addition and subtraction, and demands a good understanding of business as well as accounting regulation, but it is a challenging and demanding career.” Additionally, accounting offers good job security: “All companies need an accounting department, so jobs are available in a wide range of industries and locations.”
For students who like Geometry and spatial concepts: Industrial Architect
Architecture can be a rewarding career for creative students with strong visualization skills. “I enjoy the challenge of looking at a design problem a client has and knowing that in the end, I will come up with a solution. I never know what that solution might be, but in the end, I am pleasantly surprised,” says architect Robert Medan. Natural architects are people who “enjoy visualizing how things are built. This interest and curiosity should extend to everything in our physical surroundings.” Medan sees funding diminishing for private sector work, but openings in Institutional work such as schools, hospitals, and community centers. His advice for potential architecture students: “Keep yourself focused on the goal of becoming an architect. It is a long, arduous process that requires many years of dedicated study and work. Take that Calculus class, take Physics, lots of history and try to enjoy learning. It is all worth it in the end.”
For students who like Physics and figuring out how to make things work: Site-Based Engineer
Engineering has long been a go-to career for students who love math and science. Mats Andersson is a lead engineer at Serra, a systems integrator in the field of automation. He is always looking for recruits who like to size up problems and offer solutions. “The best part of being an engineer, “ he says, “is the feeling of accomplishment when a project is complete and everything is functioning flawlessly. It's just like taking a class and getting an A in school, or learning how to ride a bike or stand on a surf board.” Unfortunately, some engineering jobs are being outsourced, so it’s important to think about positions with good job security: “There will always be a need for local engineers in the infrastructure, construction, mechanical, and mechatronics fields.” Specifically, he pointed to facilities that can’t be moved overseas: plants that manage water or water waste, and food-processing industries. He also sees growth in green engineering: “The hottest topic right now is the environment and everything that supports it, like energy savings and alternative sources.”
For students who like Biology: Alternative Medicine Practitioner
American healthcare is experiencing a shift as more people choose treatments that do not fall within the realm of conventional medicine. According to the New York Times, the last decade saw a14% increase in the number of adults who used at least one alternative or complementary treatment such as acupuncture, chiropractic, or homeopathic. Dr. Jo English is a Licensed Chiropractor who enjoys helping her patients cultivate good health. “Chiropractic assists the natural healing ability of the body to get well rather than covering up symptoms, so we can get people healthy without using drugs or surgery,” says Dr. English. She thinks that curiosity in natural health care and how the body functions are good assets for a student who is interested in her field. She adds, “They should also posses an entrepreneurial spirit, as most chiropractors are business owners as well as doctors.” Dr. English and other licensed practitioners have a wide scope of practice to treat people, and can refer out for medical care when needed. In addition, the hours of these practices can be more flexible than those of conventional offices, and the relationships with patients less rushed.
The above is a list of careers that are more than just jobs. They represent the fulfillment of the talents and passions of the experts interviewed. By talking to your student about his own calling, you can help him see the link between his schoolwork today and the career that will bring him life-long satisfaction.