Friday, November 18, 2005

Eureka! Worst Jobs in Science

So you thought trash collectors have it bad? You told your parents you were going to be a baseball player or actress, and they insisted you went into "science?" Well scientists sometimes don't have the greatest jobs, either. Thanks to Popular Science Magazine we can examine and hypothesize about this year's top ten worst jobs in science: 1) Orangutan Urine Collector: People in white lab coats go running around in rain forests, trying to figure out the exact moment Dr. Zaius is going to take a leak. ("Dr. Zaius" was one of the Orangutan leaders in Planet of the Apes) They operate using big plastic sheets, which they try to throw down on the rain forest floor at key moments, or the more daring among them use a plastic bag on a pole. Recommended accessory: goggles and deodorizer. They couldn't just stick a catheter in some sick zoo oragutan for this? Guess not, they're trying to determine something about the "levels" in free-ranging rain forest critters. 2) Space Ballerina: The NASA guys want to show off to the public a new robot they've invented that has a sensitive "skin" that can detect the presence of astronauts and get out of the way before any embarrassing space collisions occur. Who better to promenade with in public than a Ballerina For Hire? Sure, the lifts may be clumsy, but the thing is NOT supposed to step on her foot. And no one's going out for drinks after the performance. 3) Expeditioner for Earthwatch: These are volunteer positions that people take during their vacation time to help out with particular scientific causes. So, for example, instead of sunning yourself in Hawaii, you could be analyzing dirt! Or watching frost melt! Or trying to exterminate mosquitoes before they give you malaria! One volunteer had his eyes swollen shut when he got bitten by something they were studying. He is still not sure what it was. You can't count on getting a tan, but you MAY be able to get a t-shirt. 4) Semen Washer: Like today's sanitation engineers they insist on being called by their technical name, cryobiologists. (No sense crying over spilled specimen bottles!) These specialists work at the "sperm bank." Hopefully with nice 9-5 hours and days off for all the federal holidays including Columbus Day! (Do they issue a receipt after you make your deposit? Insist on identification to make sure you're depositing to the right account? Offer prizes for people opening new accounts? Is there a drive through for sperm donors in a hurry? How about an ATM for privacy?) Semen washers use centrifuges and preservatives so that deposits are "insured" for up to 20 years in the freezer. 5) Volcanologist: Or in the venacular, Occasional Human Sacrifices. See, it's no good studying volcanoes from afar. You have to get right up close to them and peer inside. And sometimes, like those projectile vomiting infants, these volcanoes "spit up," hitting the poor volcanologists with molten lava. These guys and gals are "on call," meaning the minute a volcano looks like it's going to spew ash and bury a town, they are supposed to come running to get some great recordings on their instruments from the slope of the volcano. No wonder these people so often get turned into lava statues. 6) Nuclear Weapons Scientist: If you work for a rogue country, somebody may be trying to kill you to keep you from allowing that country to join the "nuclear club." Even if you work for a non-rogue country, it just isn't that prestigious telling people your job is to develop weapons for the purpose of wiping out humanity. And if you decide to give up your job at the lab, it's tough to go over to academia. The reason? All that work you did in the lab is "classified." You can't prove you did it, and you certainly can't publish anything about it! Then there was this nasty eye-burning laser incident... 7) Extremophile Hunter: As much as this sounds like chasing kids with skateboards, bungee jumpers and people who ski out of helicopters, the truth is a lot more nauseating. Apparently it involves going to some of the most remote, stinkiest places on earth to see if any living things are inhabiting the area. (Aside from the dumb scientists "looking for them," of course.) Apparently there is a Extremophile Microbe that has been discovered living in arsenic-saturated mud that gives off enough gas to smell like a herd of elephants after a baked bean barbecue. Only not as pleasant. It is also laced with a combination of smells representing rotten eggs, natural gas and dead fish. So breathe out of your mouth, I say! 8) Biology Teacher in Kansas: Because of the ongoing debate over evolution vs intelligent design, Kansas' biology teachers are stuck worrying about if they are going to be sued, ridiculed, fired, or adversely publicized on any given day. What to do? Go with the Big Bang Theory. We all just exploded onto the scene intact. Or try both theories. God exists! Things change! What more do you need to know? 9) Manure Inspector: Ha! Well at least they don't have to inspect the manure of that Extremophile Microbe. How bad can this be if you're allowed to wear a gas mask and wash your hands before lunch? Isn't every farmer on the planet somewhat of a manure inspector? Well the scientists who specialize in this are trying to make sure the manure samples are not contaminated with E. Coli bacteria, because the farmers don't want that stuff getting onto the vegetables. Experts in the field assure us that even if you wear gloves while getting your samples, the smell somehow gets embedded into your skin. 10) Guinea Pig: Yes, they need humans in the lab. Real live ones. The pesticide companies need to know what happens to the human body when exposed to a variety of compounds. (That glow-in-the-dark skin? It's great for exercising at night.) When even mosquitoes reject you, then you know your onto something toxic! Somehow that career as a singer/songwriter is starting to look better after all!

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