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"Forget the Rest" blog

A dirty job? - 10 worst careers in science

The Albuquerque Tribune
By Sue Vorenberg
Tribune Reporter
November 17, 2005

Which would you rather be - an orangutan-urine collector, semen washer or Los Alamos nuclear weapons scientist?


10. Collector of orangutan urine
9. NASA ballerina, hired to dance with a robot for the press
8. Do-gooder, out in the wild trying to save endangered species
7. Semen washer, lab tech at a sperm bank who prepares samples.
6. Vulcanologist
5. Nuclear weapons scientist
4. Extremophile excavator
3. Kansas biology teacher
2. Manure inspector
1. Human lab rat

Popular Science's November issue says those first two are better than being a scientist at Los Alamos National
Laboratory. Weapons scientist ranked fifth on the magazine's annual list of the 10 worst jobs in science.

It cited as proof a series of FBI investigations at the lab, classified materials accounting problems, and former Director Pete Nanos calling scientists "buttheads" and "cowboys" before shutting the lab down for months starting in December 2004.

The lab's operating contract - held by the University of California - has gone up for bid this year for the first time since Los Alamos was founded in the 1940s.

On the plus side, the job of lab scientist did rank better than the magazine's top pick - human lab rat in medical
studies - and second place - manure inspector. But of all the jobs at the lab, the worst is quite possibly held by the
spokespeople stuck answering all the media's questions about scandals and problems, said Penny Boston, a scientist at New Mexico Tech who spends her time slogging through bat poop to look at strange creatures in extreme environments.

"There you are, a sacrificial sandwich, stuck between management and the press," Boston said.

Boston's job, extremophile excavator, came in fourth on the Popular Science list, worse than her Los Alamos

Kevin Roark, the main spokesman for the lab during the scandals, said he doesn't find that, or anything else about the Popular Science article, particularly amusing.

"Popular Science should just talk about science and not try to be funny - it's not funny," Roark said. "Everything about it is just insulting. That's not funny. We're talking nuclear weapons."

Los Alamos weapons scientists were not willing to comment on their dubious ranking, but Tom Sanford, a nuclear
physicist at Sandia National Laboratories, took a stab at it.

"I'm real happy with my job," Sanford said. "I used to work at Los Alamos and I'd work there again. It's a good
place, with good people."

Sanford runs the Z Machine at Sandia. For a fraction of a second, the machine can create the fusion power of the sun.

"The deeper we look at those processes, the more intricate and beautiful we find nature to be," Sanford said. "It's a
fascinating process of trying to unravel what's happening in nature."

For Sanford, the worst job in science would be something like fossil hunting in hot, dry weather.

"That's got to be tough out in the heat and dirt," he said. "That or some sort of forensic job would be unpleasant.
Trying to understand how somebody was killed. That's yucky stuff."

Boston said Sanford's job doesn't sound so bad, but when asked if she would work at Los Alamos?

"Not on a bet," she said. "I wouldn't want to work in any environment that's continually contentious. That just wouldn't be any fun."

Boston, who says she likes the rotten-egg smell of sulphur and slogging through bat guano, said there are a few other science jobs in the Southwest that she would probably hate.

"Anything with vomit sounds like the worst possible job," Boston said."Higher mammal vomit - especially human vomit - just bothers me."

Geologist Maya Elrick agreed with Popular Science's take on Los Alamos. Elrick is a paleo-oceanographer at the University of New Mexico and spends time in Sanford's nightmare world, hunting for ocean fossils in the hot New Mexico sun.

"Yeah, Los Alamos would be bad, for all the reasons Popular Science says you wouldn't want to work there," Elrick said. "Although another bad New Mexico science job would be a high school biology teacher in Rio Rancho, where they're having the intelligent-design debate."

In the magazine article, Kansas biology teacher came in third for the same reason.

"Another bad one would be a wildlife biologist in Catron County, where they're trying to relocate endangered wolves,"
Elrick said. "The ranchers don't like that and keep shooting them."

Elrick thought of another job she probably wouldn't want any more than she'd want to work at the beleaguered lab.

"Governor Richardson's physical fitness adviser," she said with a laugh. "That would be a tough one."

Copyright 2005, The Albuquerque Tribune. All Rights Reserved.,2668,ALBQ_21236_4246256,00.html



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