Friday, February 15, 2013

Comment of the week: corrections after chemistry?

That moment on the blog, when someone suggests a career in corrections... From the alternative careers thread, Anon021320130859p says:
A pattern that is emerging among more successful careers right now is that they deal with loss aversion. Society continues to spend irrational amounts on healthcare because we are attempting to avert a loss of health that will come anyways. Much money has been spent on accountants and financiers trying to pick safe ways to invest or just hold on to cash longer, not necessarily to take big risks. We also spend enormous amounts on military to prevent things that are unlikely. The U.S. also has a the highest per-capita prison population, presumably to prevent all those people from inflicting more damage in society. So career recommendations: 
1. Medicine - Doctors may be in deep debt, but they never worry about being unemployed. Careers related to it will probably fair well. As long as people are convinced they can spend huge amounts of money to live months longer...
2. Accounting - Always seemed stable, just boring.
3. Defense - Find a way to make a career in that area, probably get a pension. Soldier, medic, technician, air traffic controller....
4. Corrections - Some of the strongest unions are in corrections, correctional officers make lots of money and can retire early with a pension. Police, prison guards, private security?
As someone who has seen (in a volunteer capacity) California correctional officers at work, I do not envy their jobs. Imagine sitting at a gate on a metal folding chair in the hot southern California sun wearing a thick, puncture-resistant dark green jumpsuit. No thanks! Never mind that they are likely to see their wages decrease over time...

That said, the problem-solving aspects of police work would be interesting, but I do not wish to face the depravity of the human heart on a day-to-day basis. Yikes. 

10 comments:

  1. If someone wants to "face the depravity of the human heart on a day-to-day basis" I have the perfect job for them: scientist in the pharmaceutical industry.

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    1. I agree, my entire career as a chemist has been as a contract worker, and my last stint was at Sanofi, when the closed the largest research site in the US down and kept 45 people out of 1500

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  2. Correctional officers jobs are awful, at least in Mississippi at Parchman (State Pen). My father works there as a teacher, and the people they hire as correctional officers are pretty ummm...under qualified? They aren't allowed to have weapons, so you will parade around all day with the worst of society with a stick. They aren't given much training on how to use said stick. Obviously the prisoners are all sunshine and never throw bodily fluids or anything like that. Oh and don't think its like the prisons on TV shows where you walk down a row of cells with inmates in them, no no, individual cells are far to expensive, so most of these guys are held in open bay military-type barracks, free to roam about.

    So yeah, I would STRONGLY advise against being a prison guard, at least in a state jail. Now one of those cushy private jail facilities, or federal pen? Perhaps.

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  3. Ya, I don't think there are any "sure thing" jobs for one to suggest to one's kids as a field of study. For me at least, this is apretty serious concern.

    Even being an MD (probably the surest thing), from what I can see, is a sucky lifestyle (insurance crap, horrible hours at least for a good portion of your career). That said, people who are smart enough and work hard enough to get into med school (not me!) are likely going to do well regardless.

    I think in the end the best approach to to tell your kid "do what you enjoy" with some caveat about practicality. Is it worse to major in dance at school (which apparently you can at UCLA), with little hope of finding a career than to bust your hump getting a PhD and then having little hope of having a career? I'm not sure.

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    1. I have met several people who make their living off of dance. They are not on Broadway or MTV or at the Met, but they make a living off of running local studios, teaching, and local performances. In recent years I have seen too many friends in "hard sciences" struggle with employment and many former classmates in "those worthless unemployable humanities" do well financially and career-wise to scoff at their employment prospects.

      One suggestion I would make about future fields of study is to consider whether a field has a place for a broad range of abilities or if it is a field where only the top 0.0001% can be successful and earn a living. The top pole vaulter in the world can probably make his or her living at it, but there is no room for good professional pole vaulters, fair professional pole vaulters, or average professional pole vaulters. IT and nursing have a spectrum of jobs that cover a much broader continuum of skills and talents.

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  4. As someone who has parents who are retired correctional officers (Feds), I'd like to echo what anon @ 8:08 said. Yes, even though the pension is ok (not super fantastic, though) and the job security is good, there are a lot of other factors which make prison work unattractive. Anon mentioned incompetent coworkers -- this is very true. I know for a fact that Federal prisons will strike a deal with local municipalities to offer something like 20% (or more, even) of the jobs to locals as a sort of bribe to allow the prison to be built there. Since these prisons are often built in Nowheresville type places, the local candidates leave a lot to be desired, to say the least.

    Also, the inmates are no picnic either, even in the Federal system! There is a misconception that Feds only house inmates convicted of "soft" crimes like tax evasion and the like. While that's true, they also have their fair share of murderers, rapists, etc. who in addition to their state felonies also have some federal time to serve as well.

    And, of course, there are the safety hazards inherent in prison work. To make this point more obvious, I'll just say that my mother had a whole drawer in her office at work that was full of homemade weapons she had confiscated from inmates. At least in chemistry, we might get an out of control exotherm or something but we are never in danger of being shanked!

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    1. The feds probably don't pay as well or have as good a pension as some states. My experience is with CA prison guards that pull in enormous salaries and usually can retire early with nearly 90% of their pension if they play things right. Look up the "100K Club" if you'd like to see how much CA govt employees make...just off their pension.

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    2. I think it's fairly clear that the sharp knives will be out for the California correctional officers' wages over the next 10 years.

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  5. I'm with bbooooya on this one. Pretty much the only advice you can give anyone is to do what you enjoy (within the limits of its being a marketable skill), because you're going to be doing it for an awfully long time (hopefully).
    And in the course of my career, I've come to question just how much it is worth busting one's hump for anything. Life is all about trade-offs, after all.I've finally reconciled myself to the fact that I'm never going to be a Francis Crick or a Warren Buffet no matter how hard I try, so my rule of thumb is, once it starts becoming a bore, it's time to go home.
    One is open to being exploited in any field of work, so you have to keep your eyes open, and constantly re-evaluate your goals. That being said, if I was starting out again today, I hope I would be a lot more circumspect than I was back then. Probably wouldn't be , though!

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  6. Agreed with the others. My friends in corrections are miserable. Including the lawyers. The only people I know in forensics who are happy are academics who actually enjoy the adjunct lifestyle. They do exist.

    DoD is not as plum a job as it once was. Civilians no longer are guaranteed a pension. They get the Thrift Savings Plan like the rest of Federal employees. It's like a 401K. And right now with the impending Sequester many are afraid for their jobs, not to mention furloughs. Every September all Federal employees are at the mercy of Congress. In recent years the budget has never been signed in a reasonable amount of time. Additionally most new Federal hires have a 2 year probationary period. They're no longer guaranteed job security. For those applying for Federal jobs pay attention to the NTE codes, which stand for "not to exceed". There are many 2 year jobs these days. On the plus side I've noticed DoD advertising far higher salaries for incoming scientists than comparable academic and sometimes even industry jobs. It seems that it takes longer for HR in the government to adjust to the changing economic climate (not surprising).

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