The Worst, Most Torturous, Icky, Painful, Stinky, Dangerous, and Just Plain Horrible Jobs in Science
Ah, science! Ennobling. Fascinating.
Deeply challenging. Also, dangerous, gross and mind-bogglingly boring. We at Popular Science are sometimes brought up short by the realization that there are aspects of science—entire jobs, even—that, when you strip away the imposing titles and advanced degrees, sound at best distasteful and at worst unbearable. Having chosen last month our second annual Brilliant 10—a group of dynamic researchers making remarkable discoveries—we turned to this pressing question: For the rest out there, just how bad can a science job get?
The answer: Really, really bad.
We solicited nominations from more than a thousand working scientists and culled the list for the most noxious. Then we voted. Which is to say, there is absolutely nothing scientific about the ranking of the worst jobs in science that appears on these pages; it is simply the collective opinion of a group of alternately awestruck and disturbed editors who rarely suffer anything worse on the job than keyboard-
induced repetitive-motion syndrome.
As happens in science, fundamental assumptions are herein turned on their heads. If you assume, for example, that people employed to supervise fart-smelling research would dislike such work, think again. Ditto Robert Jones, who adores working with flesh-eating beetles to remove every last morsel of decay and make his skeletons truly gleam. Mosquito researcher Helge Zieler says the beauty of the Brazilian rainforest far outweighs the thousands of mosquito bites and the malaria he suffered there. Science is full of inquisitive people who take great pleasure in doing jobs that others would not touch with a 10-foot pole—and the world is indisputably a better place for their efforts. We're grateful that someone out there is doing these jobs. Even more grateful that it isn't us.
-William Speed Weed (2003)