From years of watching them on TV or the big screen, you probably have a pretty good idea of what a day in the life of an archaeologist or top chef is like, right? Like everything in Hollywood, the portrayals of these careers aren’t always based on fact. Check out some of the professions that get the most screen time and see how fiction stacks up against reality.
Attorney – Most attorneys in fiction are involved in criminal law – either prosecuting or defending high profile cases, usually involving murder, intrigue or conspiracy. In reality, lawyers practice in a variety of specialties such as tax law, estate planning and bankruptcy. In fact, many attorneys never go to trial and instead serve as legal counselors to individuals, businesses, non-profits and government agencies. To become an attorney typically requires a bachelor’s degree, three years of law school and passing a state bar exam.
Fictional Attorneys: Ben Matlock, “Matlock”; Elle Woods, “Legally Blonde”
Archaeologist – On the big screen, archaeologists are jetsetters who voyage to exotic locales researching ancient mysteries and legends. While archaeologists have been involved in some of history’s most exciting discoveries, such as the unearthing of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb, archaeology isn’t all glitz and glamour. Many archaeologists are employed by universities, museums and the government and hold positions as professors, curators and field researchers. When most people picture archaeologists at work, they envision “digging in the dirt” but many archaeology jobs also require a PhD and extensive hours spent researching and writing.
Fictional Archaeologists: Lara Croft, “Tomb Raider”; Indiana Jones, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
Doctor – People love hospital dramas – “House,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “ER” – are just a few examples of popular shows set in the fast-paced world of medical emergencies. TV doctors are often shown entangled in steamy romances or making risky medical decisions without their patients’ consent. In reality, most doctors would lose their licenses if they acted anything like the doctors on TV. Doctors are at significant risk for malpractice lawsuits and generally tread very carefully when making significant health decisions for their patients. While physicians do have the opportunity to improve their patients’ health on a regular basis, many doctors don’t routinely deal with life or death matters unless they work in the emergency room or an intensive care unit.
Fictional Doctors: Richard Webber, “Grey’s Anatomy”; Abby Lockhart, “ER”
Chef – With the growing popularity of the Food Network and shows like “Emeril Live” and “30 Minute Meals,” more people are getting a taste for cooking. The rise of celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Giada De Laurentiis has also created increased interest in the profession. As you probably imagined, there’s more to becoming a great chef than just a love of eating. To become a successful chef, a person must demonstrate creativity in the development of new flavors and recipes. Artistic sensibilities are essential in preparing food that not only tastes great but looks appealing as well. Respected chefs build their reputations over time by consistently creating dishes that restaurant-goers and critics alike applaud.
Fictional Chefs: Monica Geller, “Friends”; Kate Armstrong, “No Reservations”
Forensic Scientist – Do you love solving mysteries? If so, you’ve probably been intrigued by TV shows like “CSI” and “Without a Trace.” These programs feature law enforcement agents solving murders, kidnappings and other high-profile crimes using the latest technology in forensic science. The real-life career path for a forensic scientist is broad – from medical examiner to crime scene investigator and from forensic psychologist to composite artist. The daily job functions and experience required for a position in forensics depend on which field a person chooses. For example, medical examiners spend much of their time conducting autopsies and medical school is a prerequisite. Many jobs in forensics require at least a master’s degree.
Fictional Forensic Scientists: Dana Scully, “The X-Files”; Temperance “Bones” Brennan, “Bones”
While the Hollywood-version of these jobs is often more glamorous than the real-thing, it can still provide a basic introduction to many interesting professions. Just make sure you do your own research before pursuing a career based on what you’ve seen on TV or in a movie, otherwise you might be disappointed to find out not all archaeologists carry whips and that Chihuahuas aren’t generally brought into the courtroom.