Ahead-of-the-Curve Careers

Cutting-edge careers are often exciting, and they offer a strong job market.

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Cutting-edge careers are often exciting, and they offer a strong job market. Alas, the cutting edge too often turns out to be the bleeding edge, so here are some careers that, while relatively new, are already viable and promise further growth. They emerge from six megatrends:

Growing healthcare demand. The already overtaxed U.S. healthcare system will be forced to take on more patients because of the many aging baby boomers, the influx of immigrants, and the millions of now uninsured Americans who would be covered under a national healthcare plan likely to be enacted in the next president's administration. Jobs should become more available in nearly all specialties, from nursing to coding, imaging to hospice. These healthcare careers are likely to be particularly rewarding. Health informatics specialists will, for example, develop expert systems to help doctors and nurses make evidence-based diagnoses and treatments. Hospitals, insurers, and patient families will hire patient advocates to navigate the labyrinthine and ever more parsimonious healthcare system. On the preventive side, people will move beyond personal trainers to wellness coaches, realizing that doing another 100 pushups won't help if they're smoking, boozing, and enduring more stress than a rat in an experiment.

The increasingly digitized world. Americans are doing more of their shopping on the Net. We obtain more of our entertainment digitally: Computer games are no longer just for teenage boys; billions are spent by people of all ages and both sexes. Increasingly, we get our information from online publications (just look where you're reading this), increasingly viewed on iPhones and BlackBerrys. An under-the-radar career that is core to the digital enterprise is data miner. Online customers provide enterprises with high-quality data on what to sell and for individualized marketing. Another star of the digitized world is simulation developer. The growing ubiquity of broadband connectivity is helping entertainment, education, and training to incorporate simulations of exciting, often dangerous experiences. For example, virtual patients allow medical students to diagnose and treat without risking a real patient's life. A new computer game, Spore, allows you to simulate creating a new planet, starting with the first microorganism.

Globalization, especially Asia's ascendancy. This should create great demand for business development specialists, helping U.S. companies create joint ventures with Chinese firms. Once those deals are made, offshoring managers are needed to oversee those collaborations as well as the growing number of offshored jobs. Quietly, companies are offshoring even work previously deemed too dependent on American culture to send elsewhere: innovation and market research, for example. Conversely, large numbers of people from impoverished countries are immigrating to the United States. So, immigration specialists of all types, from marketing to education to criminal justice, will be needed to attempt to accommodate the unprecedented in-migration.

The dawn of clinical genomics. Decades of basic research are finally starting to yield clinical implications. Just months ago, it cost $1 million to fully decode a person's genome. Now it's $300,000 and just $1,000 for a partial decoding, which, in itself, indicates whether a person is at increased risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and 15 other conditions. Within a decade, we will probably understand which genes predispose humans to everything from depression to violence, early death to centenarian longevity, retardation to genius. Such discoveries will most likely give rise to ways to prevent or cure our dreaded predispositions and encourage those in which we'd delight. That, in turn, will bring about the reinvention of psychology, education, and, of course, medicine. In the meantime, the unsung heroes who will bring this true revolution to pass will include computational biologists and behavioral geneticists.