Do Science Jobs Make The Best Careers? A new survey names "mathematician" as the number one career in the U.S. Statistician, biologist and software engineer are among the top five on the list. Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com and JobsRated.com, explains the rankings and what they mean for science job seekers.
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Do Science Jobs Make The Best Careers?

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Do Science Jobs Make The Best Careers?

Do Science Jobs Make The Best Careers?

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IRA FLATOW, host:

Up next - the top careers in the country. What would you say is the best job in America, according to the new survey by CareerCast.com? Remember sitting in a ninth grade algebra class thinking, you know, why do I need to know this? I mean, when is this ever going to come out handy in my life - studying all this mathematics? Well, it turns out, your algebra teacher may have known a thing or two, because according to the results of this new survey, the number one job in America is mathematician. And the equations don't stop there. Of the top 10 jobs, nine out of the 10 of these jobs use math and could be classified as science-related jobs. Joining me now is Tony Lee. He's publisher of CareerCast.com and JobsRated.com. He joins us by phone. Welcome to Science Friday.

Mr. TONY LEE (Publisher, Career.Cast.com and JobsRated.com): Thank you, Ira.

FLATOW: Wow. We like to hear that kind of stuff.

Mr. LEE: Well, it's great. And when the survey came out with mathematician as the number one ranked job, we heard from lots of elementary and middle school teachers who said, finally, I can put something up on the bulletin board to show the students there's a reason they need to pay attention in this class.

FLATOW: (Laughing) We're all sitting there saying, I'm never going to use an upstream-downstream problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Well, here's the answer to that. How did you decide the top 10? What were the factors that went into the judging?

Mr. LEE: Well, we've actually been doing this study for a number of years, and we've been refining the research over the years. We look at a lot of different criteria, but the criteria that stands out most as most important is the environment of the position, meaning, do you have control over your daily activities? Your income level, the employment outlook - are people hiring, you know, in that field? The physical demands of the job - you know, can you actually get hurt, you know, in your work? And then the stress levels and then there are lots of other components, but if you look at those - and we've come up with kind of a numerical equation - that's how we found out that a lot of the top jobs tend to be science-oriented, math-oriented, where a lot of the bottom jobs, sadly, are more physical-type jobs, outdoors, with a lot of physical demand.

FLATOW: Lumberjack was your least desirable job.

Mr. LEE: Yeah. Lumberjack ended up the worst job in the country, and of course we heard from some lumberjacks, who said I love what I do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: Sadly though, you know, the one who was most vocal came back and said, you know, I've been a lumberjack for 20 years; I've only broken my leg twice and my collar bone once. It's not that bad.

FLATOW: There you go. How many…

Mr. LEE: Those of us in offices say, yeah, well, that's still not so good.

FLATOW: Let's - so, your top - some of your top 10 jobs are mathematician, actuary, statistician, biologist, software engineer, computer systems analyst, industrial engineer and accountant - all in the top 10, all requiring math skills. But, you know, I don't want to upset any of the actuaries out there but, you know, the number two ranked job, actuary - you know, even Woody Allen says, can you think of anything more boring than being an actuary?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: Well, you talk to actuaries, you know, and they tell you that they love their job because it's very math-oriented, and you're determining the length of things. You know, actuaries typically work for insurance companies, but now they work in lots of places, and they're determining how long you're going to live, how long a bridge is going to last, you know, lots of fairly interesting things, if you're into, you know, the statistical side of life.

FLATOW: I know, my daughter has a career set to be an accountant, and she loves it, so I can understand that there're, you know, there are these people who love to do the number crunching there.

Mr. LEE: Absolutely.

FLATOW: Have you heard from the math teachers saying other things like, keep the studies going, and give us more of this?

Mr. LEE: (Laughing) Yeah. I think they'd to keep the study going as long as math teacher - or mathematician ends up number one every time. We've probably heard more from folks like biologists and industrial designers saying, you know, I think my job's number one, and they've given the rationale as to why. It's a lot of fun to see people debating over why they think their job is better or why they think their job is worse. So, if you go to JobsRated.com, we have all those discussions going. People can contribute as to why they think their job is better or worse.

FLATOW: Let's go to Barry in Arizona. Hi, Barry.

BARRY (Caller): Oh, hi. Thank you. The one issue I have is, like, there doesn't seem to be that many jobs for science and math nowadays. How can you - how does your Web site help people in those fields? I have a PhD in the sciences.

Mr. LEE: Well, a couple of things. One, the ranking is actually of 200 jobs total, so within the 200, there are actually quite a few more science and math-based jobs. And then two, our site is actually a job database with hundreds of thousands of positions, and there are thousands of jobs available today in most of these fields. So, I'd encourage you to go in and take a look.

FLATOW: Craig in Quakertown, PA. Hi, Craig.

CRAIG (Caller): Hey, what's going on?

FLATOW: Hey.

CRAIG: Hey, I have a - I just want to put my two cents in. You know, the mathematical equation that they came up with had nothing to do with the fact that people are actually happy with what they do for a living.

Mr. LEE: Yeah, no. That's great. That is a great point. And I think the point that we need to make clear is there are people extremely happy doing jobs that no one else would want. You know, dairy farmer, taxi driver, commercial fisherman are all jobs that landed on our worst list. Yet, there's some very happy commercial fishermen out there. This is meant as a guide. This isn't a definitive, you know, decision - you should not have these jobs.

It's to help primarily those folks who are either going through a career change because they've lost their job or they're unhappy, or students - you know, middle school, high school, college students - who are thinking, you know, I'm debating between this direction or that, you know, which has the best long-term outlook in terms of hiring, the best income, the most - least likelihood that I'm going to get laid off or hurt on the job? That's what this study is really to be used for as a guide.

FLATOW: Talking about the best jobs in America this hour on Talk of the Nation, Science Friday from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow talking with Tony Lee. Let me see if I can get one quick question in before you go.

(Soundbite of telephone dialing)

(Soundbite of man talking on the phone)

FLATOW: Oops. Wrong one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: I don't know what happened there. Next.

Unidentified Man (Caller): Are you there?

FLATOW: Yes, go ahead.

Unidentified Man: Yeah, I'm a wastewater operator, and I'd like to know where that job falls into.

FLATOW: A wastewater operator.

Mr. LEE: A wastewater operator is a little too - we only did 200 jobs. I will tell you that, unfortunately, at a very different level than what you do, but garbage collectors did end up at the bottom of the list. But remember, if you're a wastewater operator and you're working in a clean environment inside, you're not out in the cold or our in the heat, you've got kind of a controlled environment, and you have control over your day - you don't have fierce deadlines and not someone standing over your shoulder - then it's probably going to rank as a better job, as opposed to a worse one.

FLATOW: Well, Tony, thank you for taking time to be with us today and good luck on the jobs.

Mr. LEE: Thank you, Ira.

FLATOW: Tony Lee is publisher of CareerCast.com and JobsRated.com. You can get links to his Web site on our Web site also.

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