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Careers for the Super Smart

Careers that could prevent or cure mental or physical illness.

Axventura, Wikimedia, CC 4.0
Source: Axventura, Wikimedia, CC 4.0

Some highly intelligent people choose to use their smarts to just slide by. They talk their way into jobs they can do easily, find housing that’s below-market, and so on. This article isn’t for them.

Most highly intelligent people recognize noblesse oblige, the obligation to use their gift to contribute to Gross World Happiness.

Of course, a person’s career choice should capitalize on strengths and interests and skirt weaknesses and distastes. But all things equal, highly intelligent people will likely make the biggest difference when choosing one of two careers: researcher and data scientist.


It seems that the most potent path to that, other than perhaps world leader, is researcher on such conditions as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Of course, no one person is likely to cure let alone prevent such a disease, if only because those are mere catch-all terms for different manifestations and etiologies. But even if your life’s contribution is just to have closed some blind alleys, future researchers will be able to stand on your shoulders to make further progress. So your life will have been most well-led—contributing to the eradication of a widespread, horrific disease that affects millions of people every single year.

Of course, the path to employment as a researcher is steep and rocky. Even with a Ph.D. from a prestigious institution, meaningful employment is far from guaranteed. That generally requires getting to do a Ph.D. under a world-respected professor/advisor and focusing on a manageable-sized avenue of research on a pervasive and thus fundable disease such as the aforementioned.

If I were starting over again, I would indeed try to become a researcher, perhaps focusing on developing an intelligence “pill,” so that fewer babies would have to start life with a genetic strike or two against them.

I might even take the inordinate risk of trying to acquire the expertise without even going to college, let alone for a Ph.D. I would study on my own and when I acquired baseline knowledge, I'd query world-class experts in hopes that one would allow me to work in the lab, if only as a bottle-washer for starters. I’d then focus my learning on what that lab was working on so I could apply my learning on a just-in-time basis and add more and more value to the research effort. If no such expert would take a chance on me, I’d apply to be an undergraduate student at universities where world-class research on intelligence was being conducted and try to get the aforementioned type of professor to be my advisor. After completing my B.S., if my current advisor was unwilling to keep me on in a substantive role, I’d re-query the researchers at other universities that had rejected me sans bachelor’s. If none would take me on, I would go the traditional route and apply to PhD programs in genetics.

Data scientist

I refer here not to the people who are experts at querying databases but at creating algorithms for wiser queries and more potent, models and algorithms for deep learning or machine learning; self-teaching computers. Like researcher, the career of data scientist has enormous potential for enhancing humankind: from pandemic prevention to climate-change mitigation, from intracranial-embedded computers to AI-driven counseling.

Two careers I’m less enamored of

Lawyer. Many high-IQ people choose to be lawyers, seduced by the promise of prestige and money. But American Bar Association research found inordinate unhappiness among lawyers, perhaps because many contentious people enter the field, the often contentious nature of the work, and the required hyper-attention to detail, often merely in the service of one well-heeled company, non-profit, or government wresting money from another.

Investment banker. Increased percentages of GDP are going to people who contribute little to Gross World Happiness, but do contribute to the pricing of IPOs, job-killing mergers and acquisitions, and exotic forms of equity and bond trading/arbitraging. Some investment banking could enhance humankind, for example, raising money for an undercapitalized effort to create a coronavirus vaccine, but most investment bankers’ primary motivation is pecuniary. Most high-IQ people have career choices that are more contributory yet still allow a good-enough income. It really is true that beyond a middle-class living, not only is net happiness unlikely to improve, managing all that money and its purchases (e.g., manses, yachts, investments, insurance) ain’t fun.

The takeaway

Intelligence is among the greatest gifts one can receive. Alas, too often, it’s squandered by laziness or by trading impact for money and prestige. If you’re fortunate enough to have received The Gift, are you using it wisely?

I ad lib on this topic on YouTube.