Financial Literacy - Careers
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Off-the-beaten-path careers

Not everyone thrives in the typical office environment.

The vast expanses of utilitarian cubicle farms are best left to those whose personalities jibe more with logical and structural tasks as opposed to those who lean toward the visual and intuitive, says Judith Gerberg, a New York City-based career development expert and head of Gerberg & Co.

You're likely a good fit for an offbeat type of job if you're more driven by self-expression, can work independently and are more holistic by nature, she says.

Offbeat jobs can range from relatively benign pursuits, such as acting and software engineering, to hazardous occupations, such as commercial fishing and aerospace operations.

Gerberg recommends that you thoroughly assess your skills and the demand for them before setting out to pursue an off-the-beaten-path career because competition for some of these jobs is intense.

"I think that to pursue an odd or risky way of earning a living, you do have to have something that you are passionate about, something that you'll do no matter what and something that is needed and wanted," she says.

Extraordinary vocations
  • Cell biologist
  • Alaskan crab fishing
  • Intelligence officer
  • Candy manufacturer
  • Peace Corps volunteer

Cell biologist

Mike Kiledjian, who has a doctorate in molecular biology, is one of many scientists pushing the edge of the genetic envelope to find cures for human diseases.

He says his interest in research started in high school and evolved into an interest in gene expression -- the process by which genes are switched on and off.

Today, the professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., leads a team of investigators searching for a drug treatment for a disease known as spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA. It is a leading cause of hereditary infant death in the United States, occurring once in every 6,000 births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's an extremely challenging job, and you're answering questions that really have no answers until you address them, so that's pretty exciting and rewarding if you can answer them," Kiledjian says.

But for every breakthrough there are hundreds of frustrating dead ends. "You can't be easily discouraged because there are many failed experiments, and you have to learn from them and improve on them to get an experiment to work, and hopefully (it will) give you a reliable result," he says.

You have to be patient enough to hang in there until your "eureka moment" arrives, says Kiledjian.

His team identified a scavenger enzyme in 2002 known as DcpS that suppresses a beneficial protein known as SMN. The compound his team is working with inhibits the action of DcpS and may provide some relief to those who suffer from SMA.

What they do: Study the physiology, components and the life/death cycle of cells as they relate to their environment. 

Pros: Work can lead to breakthroughs in finding cures for human diseases.

Cons: Requires patience and persistence to deal with setbacks, which are common.

Education required: Bachelor's degree for basic research positions up to Ph.D. for lead researchers and university-level teaching.

Salary range: According to Salary.com, the average is $45,859 for a junior level biologist to $103,030 for a Ph.D. level, depending on experience and regional markets.

A job that's good for: People who enjoy working in a laboratory setting, are adept at solving puzzle-like problems and are very tolerant of failure.

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