Geeks rule the Earth, it’s true. But we usually do it on our own terms.
Lifelong learners need occupations which utilize all of their skills and interests, or at least their best ones. But sometimes that job doesn’t exist yet, and you have to create it for yourself. To help make my point, I turn to the World Science Festival 2011, held last June over five days in NYC, which highlighted several geek-only cool jobs in a series of speeches, appropriately titled “Cool Jobs.” While some speakers are bright young minds in an established field, the coolest of the cool jobs are ones created by people with multiple skill-sets who had to carve their own niches to succeed.
Take Heather Knight as a for-instance: Knight (in the pic above) is an electrical engineer and social roboticist. Her resume is a long one, but highlights include running Marilyn Monrobot in NYC–makers of ““charismatic machine performances”–and working on the epic award-winning Rube Goldberg machine featured in OK GO’s “This Too Shall Pass” video. She could aptly be described as a Robot Talent Agent, which is definitely not an occupation our grandparents would have had available.
Working in the areas between art and science, social roboticist Heather Knight builds interactive robotic experiences. Whether they’re flowers that watch and react to passer-bys, or a sculpture with over 15,000 sensory fibers, Knight seeks to address this interplay, making you unsure of whether you’re interacting with the robot, or if it is interacting with you.
The following video is pretty long at 20 minutes, but Knight’s stories are interesting (even if she seems a bit frazzled). If you’ve got time, give it a watch.
If you did watch the video and you can remember back as far as the first minute or so, you might already know what this next guy does. Canadian rap artist, writer, and “former tree-planter” Baba Brinkman is a scholar with a M.A. in comparative literature, who began his career as a rap troubadour after graduating in 2003. He’s no Eminem, but Brinkman is definitely playing to a specific audience:
A self-styled “lit-hop” performer, Baba derives his raps from literary and scientific themes, stressing the parallels between modern hiphop and the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Baba made waves at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where he performed his award-winning show The Rap Canterbury Tales. In 2008, he was challenged to give the works of Charles Darwin a similar treatment, and the subsequent show, The Rap Guide to Evolution, is now playing off-broadway at the SoHo Playhouse.
Anyone who can combine rap and Chaucer is ok in my book. Brinkman’s probably not going to get a Grammy from this performance, but combining wildly divergent interests into a way to relay information is pretty awesome.
Beth Shapiro, an Evolutionary Paleogeneticist–an Ancient DNA Detective!–is my favorite on the list. She spends her time digging up 20,000 year-old short-faced bear remains in the Siberian tundra. Then she pulls DNA from them, Jurassic Park-style. Shapiro is a pioneer in studying ancient DNA, a field that’s only a couple decades old.
[S]he travels to the cold reaches of the world to find DNA samples of long extinct animals such as mastodons and saber-toothed tigers. She hopes to learn more about what life was like for these ancient animals, and how they responded to a rapidly changing climate. She brought with her some samples she pulled from the Canadian permafrost, and you may be surprised at what she found.
Again, the video is long (and painful to watch as three kids suit up to touch some fossilized reindeer poop), but worth a peek if you find archaeology and genetics interesting.
I consider my job pretty cool, though maybe not quite on par with building robots. If you could invent a dream job, what would it be? And if you have a seriously cool job, what is it?