The Best Jobs in the World

By Sean Carroll | January 6, 2009 10:14 am has taken a look at their URL, and decided that they should rate the best jobs in the world. (Methodology here; thanks to Diana Brodie for the pointer.) Obviously crazy, of course. I mean, Mathematician? Biologist? Philosopher? Dude, get serious.

1. Mathematician
Applies mathematical theories and formulas to teach or solve problems in a business, educational, or industrial climate.

2. Actuary
Interprets statistics to determine probabilities of accidents, sickness, and death, and loss of property from theft and natural disasters.

3. Statistician
Tabulates, analyzes, and interprets the numeric results of experiments and surveys.

4. Biologist
Studies the relationship of plants and animals to their environment.

5. Software Engineer
Researches, designs, develops and maintains software systems along with hardware development for medical, scientific, and industrial purposes.

6. Computer Systems Analyst
Plans and develops computer systems for businesses and scientific institutions.

7. Historian
Analyzes and records historical information from a specific era or according to a particular area of expertise.

8. Sociologist
Studies human behavior by examining the interaction of social groups and institutions.

9. Industrial Designer
Designs and develops manufactured products.

10. Accountant
Prepares and analyzes financial reports to assist managers in business, industry and government.

11. Economist
Studies and analyzes the effects of resources such as land, labor, and raw materials, on costs and their relation to industry and government.

12. Philosopher
Studies questions concerning the nature of intellectual concepts, and attempts to construct rational theories concerning our understanding of the world around us.

13. Physicist
Researches and develops theories concerning the physical forces of nature.

14. Parole Officer
Monitors, counsels, and reports on the progress of individuals who have been released from correctional institutions to serve parole.

15. Meteorologist
Studies the physical characteristics, motions and processes of the earth’s atmosphere.

16. Medical Laboratory Technician
Conducts routine laboratory tests and analyses used in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease.

17. Paralegal Assistant
Assists attorneys in preparation of legal documents; collection of depositions and affidavits; and investigation, research and analysis of legal issues.

18. Computer Programmer
Organizes and lists the instructions for computers to process data and solve problems in logical order.

19. Motion Picture Editor
Supervises the filming and editing of motion pictures for entertainment, business, and educational purposes.

20. Astronomer
Uses principles of physics and mathematics to understand the workings of the universe.

The real lesson, of course, is that it’s awesome to be a professor. Or a parole officer. Whichever.

And here are the worst jobs, of course:

1. Lumberjack
Fells, cuts, and transports timber to be processed into lumber, paper, and other wood products.

2. Dairy Farmer
Directs and takes part in activities involved in the raising of cattle for milk production.

3. Taxi Driver
Operates a taxi cab over the streets and roads of a municipality, picking up and dropping off passengers by request.

4. Seaman
May perform any number of tasks involved in the operation of ships, boats, barges, or dredges.

5. Emergency Medical Technician
Attends to situations which demand immediate medical attention, such as automobile accidents, heart attacks, and gunshot wounds.

6. Roofer
Installs roofs on new buildings, performs repairs on old roofs, and re-roofs old buildings.

7. Garbage Collector
Collects refuse on a designated municipal route, and transports trash to disposal plants or landfill areas.

8. Welder
Joins or repairs metal surfaces through the application of heat.

9. Roustabout
Performs routine physical labor and maintenance on oil rigs and pipelines, both on and off shore.

10. Ironworker
Raises the steel framework of buildings, bridges, and other structures.

Interestingly, dangerous and low-paying jobs involving a great deal of manual labor seem to come in below the glamorous and largely sedentary lifestyle of a typical academic. Although opinions differ; my brother is an EMT, and he couldn’t be happier with the job.

  • Blake Stacey

    OK, let’s get the Monty Python jokes out of the way right now. . . .

    Their job descriptions sound oddly, er, odd. “Studies the relationship of plants and animals to their environment” might go better with ecologist than biologist, and it’s awfully eukaryote-centric to boot. “Uses principles of physics and mathematics to understand the workings of the universe” is just as much physicist as it is astronomer. And, of course, pure mathematicians don’t exist.

  • jefe

    Math #1! Math #1! Math #1! Take that, physics! I guess there is some satisfaction in proving things over just accumulating evidence.

  • greg

    And, of course, pure mathematicians don’t exist.

    They probably graphed the ratings based on the number of people in those jobs then. And not being mathematicians, assumed that since the asymptotic climb to infinity as the number of mathematicians went to zero, that mathematician was the best possible job.

  • Sean

    I think mathematicians just have the jobs with the least amount of danger. What do you have to worry about, drinking too much coffee?

  • Eugene

    I am rather surprised that “soldier” is not in the list of “worst jobs” : Enforcing your nation’s security and other nation’s insecurity by employing suitable weapons.

  • ollie

    I’ve been a sailor (submarine navy) and I am a mathematician (albeit a lousy one; I’ve got a few publications, all of which are of minimal importance)

    And where I cannot say that being a mathematician is better than being a scientists, I can vouch for the relative positions of being a math professor and being a sailor.

    The latter pays better but the former is much more desirable, at least to me. :-)

  • Allyson Beatrice

    Hmph. No Science Secretary? Whatevs.

  • Adam A

    Wow…. what a crappy criteria set. Physical demands are one of the criteria despite the fact that not everyone thinks that the optimal job is one where one never has to leave the desk.

    My wife is starting to take a few classes at community college to get some employable skills (the University of Chicago did not seem to do much of this), and they given her a lot of career testing. So far, I’m struck my how much the set of recommended jobs varies from person to person. I don’t think the recommended sets for the two of us intersect at all.

    If I wind up leaving physics, it will probably be due to the lack of any physical demands.

  • TomC

    A quick click on “View Ratings” for Astronomer and Physicist shows one immediate reason why these might be overrated: The assumed workload is 45 hours per week in both jobs. I love my job, and so do most of my colleagues, but I don’t know a single one of them that works 45 hours a week.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    I’m lucky enough to work in an environment found more-or-less near the top of the list, and spent my college days in a recurring summer job where I did a fair amount of roofing, along with rough carpentry and other aspects of home construction. Really puts things in perspective. I put a roof on a 4500 sq. ft. house once in the blistering heat of early August, and there’s nothing quite like hauling two 80 lb. bundles of shingles up a 40′ ladder when it’s 90 def. F out. Over and over. Follow that with baking above them as you try to nail them in place before they melt in your hands, leaving you covered with grit and tar. And did I mention bituthene? The evil that is bituthene? They don’t call it “bitch-a-thene” for nothing. I hate to make references to tar babies, but that’s exactly what I looked like after wrestling with a huge roll of that one hot, humid day.

    My brother is an electrician, and he loves his job, but it’s a bit more cushy than framing and roofing. That said, it can be quite physically demanding, and it’s a pretty rough crowd he encounters almost daily on-site. Construction is a hard job, and it’s got a lot of hard people working it. As for EMTs: I’m also surprised it’s on such a low wrung. I was a certified EMT once, but made it through maybe 3 months of volunteer service before I gave it up and let my license expire. Too inconvenient, and not as educational as I hoped it would be. That said, the real EMTs, the people who trained me, were a little fanatical about it. My paramedic teacher was clearly a hard-core adrenaline junkie, though there can be very little excitement to the job much of the time. In fact, in my three months, the most “exciting” thing I ever encountered was an old lady immobilized in her bathroom with a prolapsed rectum. I worked a rural area. Which was fine, because the stories I heard about car wrecks made me atheistically pray for boredom. Takes a certain kind of personality, methinks, and those personalities appear to simply adore the experience of dealing with emergencies and saving lives. Nothing wrong with that, but it seems to be a highly self-selected workforce, which again makes the dissatisfaction seem somewhat odd.

  • Winter Solstice Man

    They forgot the other worst job in the world: English major, where your most often used phrase is “You want fries with that?”

    And you are always asked “Are you going to be a teacher?”

    Lousy pay, rotten kids, worse parents, little to no respect – oh yeah!

  • Adam A

    @low math: I have a friend who is a paramedic and was previously an EMT. He got his paramedic training because as an EMT, he mostly spent his time retrieving morbidly obese people from their apartments, shuffling very old people from nursing home to the hospital and back, and bringing schizophrenics psych hospitals It sounds like it was fun at first but that he was looking for a little more. Being a paramedic seems to have fit the bill.

    I guess my point before was that any rating system that works without reference to the personality of the person who will fill the job is probably crap. Roofing sounds really hard, and it probably wouldn’t be the top of my list; however, in high school, I worked some summers at boy scout camp doing a lot of manual labor. Despite living outside all summer in the humid Texas heat doing manual labor, it was one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve had. I briefly considered becoming a forest ranger after that experience.

  • Pat McComb

    The top of my worst job list would have to include rodeo clown.

  • Radha

    Seriously, Parole Officer at #14? Just a smidgen less desirable than Physicist?

    One of the better jobs I had as a kid was working for a podiatrist. Washing feet, bandaging, cleaning up, talking with the old folks with bunions, corns, ingrown whats-its. Very physical, very humanizing work. Sometimes it’s nice to reconnect.

  • CarlZ

    @OK, let’s get the Monty Python jokes out of the way right now. . . .

    Since you insist. Everybody knows that the best job in the world is lion tamer.

    Closely followed by accountant.

  • Tom

    Really? No one noticed the glaring omission in worst jobs? Compiling job rankings!

  • ollie

    # Sean Says:
    January 6th, 2009 at 11:40 am

    I think mathematicians just have the jobs with the least amount of danger. What do you have to worry about, drinking too much coffee?

    Sean, are you forgetting the professor at Stanford who was hacked to death (by an axe) by a disgruntled graduate student? :)

    In all honesty, there are some classes (e. g. Business Calculus) where I feel dumber after each class than I did prior to the class.

    When I get repeated questions of the following nature “how did you get x* (x + y)= x^2+xy?, well, my brain cells scream in agony.
    (and no, I am not talking about convolution product! :) )

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  • Nate

    I have to agree with the others saying that the criteria here have some pretty dubious assumptions built-in. Beyond the weird idea that everyone wants a job that doesn’t require any movement, stress, or even accountability, the criteria are almost entirely negative. There’s no provision for someone actually getting something out of a job, other than a paycheck and possibly a swanky new title.

    Maybe it would seem more accurate if it was called “Best Jobs for People Who Would Really Prefer Not Working at All But That’s Life I Guess.”

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  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    I’m also pretty amazed at the ranking of “Parole Officer”. Doesn’t one in that line of work deal with a clientele which includes certain individuals who might, say, have fewer compunctions than average about killing you if you piss them off? And, since part of your job is reporting violations of parole which could lead to reincarceration, doesn’t pissing off purportedly reformed criminals kind of come with the territory? That’s a good job? One of the BEST jobs??? Who knew!

  • Ginger Yellow

    Which magazine is it that does a worst jobs in science poll? Because I’m pretty sure that whale shit researcher is a worse job than taxi driver.

  • Kaleberg

    This sounds awfully close to the Treiman Standard International Occupation Prestige Score. Of course, the best job is being a CEO where one’s contract stipulates $10M if you do well and $10M severance if you screw up. You can’t lose, and no matter what, you never have to work again! I’d like to have a job where I’m properly motivated.

  • BrianR

    Whoever made this list needs to hang out with some geologists!

  • Ben Button

    No, Sean, you won’t die as a mathematician from a surfeit of coffee. You die from spending too many sleepless nights thinking: “What am I going to do when the ideas stop coming??!!!”

  • ts

    Yet another meaningless ranking…

  • Chuck White

    I’ve done both types of jobs. I was a plasterer for many years after political infighting destroyed the land development company for which I was CFO.

    Honestly, being a plasterer was, by far, the more satisfying job. The money wasn’t great, but stepping back at the end of the day and looking at tangible results was a habit I came to enjoy greatly. That “stepping back” exercise became a daily ritual for me. I always left work with a sense of accomplishment.

    Business management had it’s moments, but they were much less frequent. The stress was constant and the work day didn’t end until you finally fell asleep. The money was much better. To this day, the balance between money and a feeling of fulfillment is difficult.

    The only occupation I can imagine may strike a good balance, is to be a physicist. I had a high school math teacher who told me “I just wasn’t cut out to be a physicist.” So I gave up on that ambition … and, knowing what I know now, I will never forgive that man.

  • mgary

    Did anyone else notice that their pay rating system makes almost no sense. They add two entirely unrelated numbers–in fact, the units don’t match. They add the percent growth potential to the median salary, which in a typical case, is almost exactly the same as the median salary. A far more logical method would be to either simply use the median salary or to multiply by some sort of weighted growth potential factor, rather than adding the two dimensionally inconsistent numbers.

  • Peter Coles

    If I’m not violating the prohibition on Monty Python, I’d just like to say that I never wanted to be a physicist. I wanted to be a lumberjack. But looking for the lyrics on the net I found this version which contains an interesting variation:

    I cut down trees, I eat my lunch
    I go to the laboratory
    On Wednesdays I go shopping
    And have buttered scones for tea

    Shurely Shome Mishtake?

  • joe

    The jobs are rated mainly by their “negatives,” e.g. stress, physical demands, etc. They even consider public contact and the number of machines used to be negative factors. Sure, they throw in things like income and employment, but they leave out job satisfaction and any sort of enjoyment. Unsurprisingly, the jobs that are the most physically intensive are rated the lowest and the least demanding jobs (in terms of physical exertion and deadlines) are rated the highest… though I personally like how the list turned out; take that, lumberjacks!

  • Lab Lemming

    “Whoever made this list needs to hang out with some geologists!”

    Going outside and physical activity are considered negatives by this system.

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  • Samantha

    Hmmmm. Biologists are listed as working 45 hours/week. Not until they are tenured they don’t.

  • John

    All your Ivory Towers would crumble if it were not for the people performing what you call the worst jobs in the world. Somebody has to do the real work. They have my greatest respect.

  • Brian Mingus

    I am quite happy that I have switched from one of the worst jobs to the best! :p

  • Chris

    >>I think mathematicians just have the jobs with the least amount of danger. What do you have to worry about, drinking too much coffee?

    Ah, but Sean, you forget that the world’s largest employer of mathematicians is the National Security Agency. In reality, mathematicians live a life of danger and international intrigue. Think Paul Erdos meets James Bond.

  • Robb

    But there’s a separate list of the 10 most satisfying jobs – with nary an academic in sight. Apparently we should all become physical therapists or construction machinery operators.

  • Lori

    Seaman is one of the worst? Maybe it depends on the exact position. My husband is a tug captain and it is his dream job. Not only does he not have a boss looking over his shoulder, he also doesn’t have to sit behind a desk and he makes a very comfortable 6-figure income.

  • Lisa

    There are so many bad and good jobs left off of this list. Sewage facilities work seems worse than garbage collecting; and what about working at the landfill? Mining? Inseminating cattle? Cleaning the incinerators at the morgue? And many of the top jobs contribute nothing to society, and/or seem to be replaceable by machines.

  • Tony

    Seaman also includes commercial fishermen, and I still cringe when I remember “The Perfect Storm.” The No. 1 lesson from this study on seems to be that math is a key ingredient to many successful careers, whether you become a mathematician or use math skills is some other way. I just hope our kids get that message loud and clear.

  • Spiv

    I find this list pretty funny: I had to get down to #9 on the list of “best” before I saw a job I didn’t think I would hate (crunching numbers all day sounds similar burning to death to me). Incidentally, industrial designer is pretty close to what I do anyway.

    I only had to make it to #8 on the “worst,” being that I enjoy welding in general. Then again, doing it as part of a hobby, and doing it for a job are likely sorely different.

    For reference, I used to be a software engineer. And it was, in fact, the feeling of death by slow fire, minus the smell.

  • Peter Coles

    I’m not sure I’d really enjoy being a welder, but it’s a job I’d be prepared to solder on in.

  • Julianne

    I love you Peter.

  • Daryl

    I must say this is by far the most biased list I have ever seen…it basically says “Trades suck and the people who perform them are all idiots” frankly, the only criteria used to rate this list is how much money they make, how many years of school it takes to acquire said job, and how much they spent on that education. Sure, garbage collector and taxi driver suck pretty bad, and really I can’t see how there is any incentive to perform either of those jobs but this list is simply ASSUMING (very blatantly) that anyone performing these jobs has simply gotten stuck in them because they were too dumb to do anything else. Welding is fun to me, boats are great and roofers get to work outside all summer long in the sun since you cant roof in the winter or rain. Honestly, not everyone WANTS to be a mathematician, personally I find math to be INCREDIBLY boring, I dont want to crunch numbers and figure out the mass of a star based on its rotation around its partner, I want to make things. That and I would REALLY love to see a scientist go out and fell his own trees to make the papers he needs to write notes on. Maybe I’m getting a bit bent out of shape over nothing here, but the post seems VERY unfairly biased, and not in a humorous way whatsoever.

  • Peter Coles

    Julianne, I love you too. Shall we dance?

  • Sean

    Get a room, you two.

  • Peter Coles

    It’s more exciting in public

  • Isis the Scientist

    I gotta call “bullshit,” Sean. Physiologist is the #1 best job!!!111!!!1!!11!

  • Sean

    Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. It seems the sole criterion for bestness was “unlikely to be killed on the job,” so physiologists didn’t stand a chance. Too many pointy implements.

  • Peter Coles

    Why isn’t astrologer on this list? Seems like a cushy number to me.

  • John

    Flying Flight Crew in the US Coast Guard Coast is absolutely the best job in the world. We get to play with cool toys, save lives, catch drug runners and work with the greatest people from all over the US.

    … and then there were all those deployments around the Caribbean …

    But I almost died twice, as in making a large smoking hole in the ground.
    Still would not have traded it for the engineering degree I was unable to complete.

    They also pay a decent pension so I now have plenty of time to play with my chainsaw, weld in my shop, work on the roof of my old house and mess about with my boat. And of course I have plenty of time to study Physics, Astronomy and Engineering without having to worry about getting a degree and a job with it.

    My high school teachers told me I was going to waste my life away in the military … Ha!

  • karina

    this list is shit. how the hell did accounting get on this list?

  • estraven

    Not only mathematician is a better job then physicist or biologist, but mathematicians get tenure way earlier! And of course we don’t crunch numbers. We do not, however, work short hours.

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  • momo

    Best job in the world? Lets see hmmm… there is power,prestigue, adrenaline,courage, self confidance, health, wings…to make it short THE RIGHT STUFF… or to say PILOT… and they are prety good at math and physics too! Only job thats on this planet better than that is astronaut but again most astronouts are pilots…. and I made one mistake all jobs on this list are from planet, when they make a list of jobs thats not on planet maybe they will mention it. And if in some point mankind needs representative,pretty sure it wont be matematician…


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Cosmic Variance

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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