Jobberish: Back to the futurist

Opinion by Amanda Ach
Jan. 25, 2012, 12:28 a.m.

Jobberish: Back to the futuristThere are many scary things in the world — birds, small spaces, the thought of running out of Doritos — but the scariest of all might be the future. And coming from me, that’s really saying something, because I have a legitimate bird phobia. I think they are terrifying creatures (pigeons especially), and I strongly dislike them. But back to my point — the fact of the matter is, the future can be scary. As a senior in college, my future has never been as unclear, and therefore as terrifying, as it is now. For most of my life, I’ve pretty much known what was coming next. In kindergarten, it was first grade. In high school, there was college. But now, there are a million options, and as exciting as that is, it’s also just as scary. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times, I have no idea what I will be doing next year. Right now, it seems like my life is just going to drop off into some kind of a black hole come June, and that’s not the most comforting thought. Most of us want to know what life has in store for us, and we’re not alone. Plenty of people dedicate their lives to knowing the future — psychics, fortune-tellers — but unfortunately (pun intended), most of these people can’t actually see into the future. That is, with one exception: the futurist, which will be this week’s column topic.


I’m aware that a futurist sounds like a made-up job from a bad sci-fi movie, but it’s really not. Essentially, the job of a futurist is to analyze data from the present and past to form theories about the future of humanity (no big deal). As a futurist, you would work in a consulting role with companies or the government, helping them prepare for where the human race is headed.


One of the great things about a career as a futurist is that because people want to know so many different things about the future, you can focus on almost anything, from population issues and human health to economics and climate-change policy. Anything with potential impact on humanity is fair game. Your job would be to identify the future problems in whatever field you’re interested in and suggest ways for humans, companies or the government to adapt that will prevent those problems from arising.


This isn’t some crystal-ball-holding, tarot-card-reading gig — it’s a highly academic discipline. There’s a Twitter account and everything. But in all seriousness, a career as a futurist is both intellectually stimulating and demanding. This means you will need at least an undergraduate degree in a relevant field, and certain concentrations will require even more schooling, such as economics and health-related issues. Given the nature of the job you’ll be doing, a good futurist will be someone who enjoys creative problem-solving, recognizing patterns in data and seeing both the big and little pictures. Also, some interest in the future of humanity could be considered a bonus.


In the end, though, it’s worth it. Not only will you be making a six-figure salary within your first few years as a futurist, but you will also be applying all that academic knowledge you’ve acquired over your years here at Stanford to real-life problems. It’s no wonder the field of future-consulting has exploded recently, with literally dozens of future-consulting firms in the United States alone, not to mention several in Europe. This means that if you see yourself as a future futurist (I couldn’t help myself), you will have the luxury of choosing not only your focus area but where you want to live as well.


Ultimately, being a futurist isn’t so much a job title as it is a way of turning an academic interest into a successful career. With the salary and flexibility, not to mention the field’s unique growth in this economy, it’s a great path to pursue. Lastly — and this is just a tiny little insignificant side note — you’ll be helping to ensure the future of our species.


Want to be a part of Amanda’s future? Let her know at aach “at” stanford “dot” edu.

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