Geospatial Career Q&A with Undergraduate Part 2 – Summer Suggestions

June 13, 2012 at 1:39 pm  •  Posted in Education, Geography by  •  13 Comments

In Part 1, I posted a line of questioning I received from a soon-to-graduate geography major.  You’ll want to go back and read Part 1 if you haven’t already because otherwise my response may not make sense. My response is in 3 parts: (1) summer suggestions, (2) hitting the job market next year, and (3) long-term (3-5 years) career positioning.  In today’s post I’ll cover summer suggestions.

In regards to your original question (“what should I do this summer?”), my advice is to do a little bit of everything, at least until you find something that sticks.
  • Can you do an independent study class where you learn some database technology like SQL Server (cost of developer license is nominal) or MySQL (free) and also learn some R and work a few hours a week stitching together .shp files?
  • Do it all if you can manage, but limit the .shp file work – they would most likely just be taking advantage of your need for experience in exchange for grunt work.  Maybe 10 hours a week or something so you can still list it as a legit internship but don’t have to slave doing advanced data entry all summer.
  • For the database piece try to come up with a real-world project that would be interesting to you that will force you to learn a few things about being a geospatial database administrator.
  • Same thing for the R piece – can you find a relatively simple project that will give you a taste for the spatial statistician route and use R to conduct the data analysis?
  • You should probably combine the two to get more bang for your buck.  I might be able to come up with an idea for a project.  If you’re interested, leave a comment and I’ll get in touch.
  • Keep it simple and FINISH.  The project doesn’t have to be fancy, just something involving real data, some basic analysis and a presentation of the results (with maps and data graphics).  The key is to finish the project and create something for a portfolio.
Try to find a professor who knows something about a bunch of these technologies.  If that’s not possible, try to find an open minded professor who is willing to supervise an exploratory independent study so you can earn a few credits.  If you don’t need credits, then just go out and do the best you can.  Use your time to be creative so you have something to show people in September.  Let me know if I can provide assistance – I can probably point you in the right direction and provide a bit of guidance but I don’t have time to become your tutor.


[By the way, there’s a new open source statistical package that purports to be just like SPSS.  It’s called PSPP and you can download it here.  Maybe try that if you don’t like R.  I’m guessing it would be easier to learn and, like R, it’s free.  I haven’t tried it yet but I plan to check it out soon.  Yes, geographers are allowed to use “regular” statistics (as long as you remain wary of spatial autocorrelation).  Not everything requires an ESRI product.  GeoDa is another program worth exploring.  There are many others that I should probably list but I’ll leave that for another blog post.]


My analogy for career clarity and discovery, and I’ll expand a bit in my next post, is to treat it like you might approach a visit to a new microbrewery.  It’s often best to start by ordering a sampler rather than going straight for a full pint.  If you don’t try a taste of everything you won’t know what you’re missing ….or your senses will be dull by the time you get through the entire menu (btw, I arrived at this analogy after many years of laborious market research).


In follow up posts I’ll cover (2) hitting the job market and (3) long term career positioning.  Have a great summer!


  1. Caryn Sobel / June 13, 2012 at 2:10 pm / Reply

    Justin, I have followed this discussion from the beginning, and appreciate the time and thought you and others put into the topic. I have followed the suggestions, and have been working on independent database study, along with attending local conferences on my particular interests–I intend to combine what I learn into a project that is useful for my community. I am fortunate to have professors who are interested, active locally, and available year-round for help. Thank you especially for the info on PSPP; SPSS is only offered to poli sci majors here, and I brought that up at our recent department evaluation. I will be looking into it. Have a great summer.

    • Justin / June 13, 2012 at 2:15 pm / Reply

      Thanks, Caryn! I appreciate the feedback! Will you let me know what you think of PSPP? Also, let me know when you complete your project and I’ll post a link to it, if appropriate. Good luck! Best, Justin

  2. Ann Bradbury / June 14, 2012 at 11:18 am / Reply

    Thank you for the advice. You confirmed that I am headed in the right direction. I just started creating a Database for my current position, more fun than I expected. Will be doing independent study with a professor next fall. I will look into the open source statistical package. Sounds interesting. Thanks for the suggestions! Go ducks.

    • Justin / June 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm / Reply

      Ann – glad I could help! Good luck and, yes indeed, Go Ducks!!!

  3. Darren / June 14, 2012 at 2:32 pm / Reply

    For give my ignorance but when you say learn some “R”, do we mean statistics “R”?

    • Justin / June 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm / Reply

      Darren – yes, good question, when I talk about “R” I am referring to the open source statistical computing platform available for download:
      R has become one of the main software packages used by statisticians and analysts for number crunching. I see R mentioned along with SAS or SPSS all the time in job descriptions. It’s powerful and there are good add on packages for spatial analysis. If you’re interested in the spatial statistician career path, I would definitely recommend taking the time to become familiar with R.
      Thanks for pointing out the need for clarification! Best, Justin

  4. vivek / June 15, 2012 at 3:34 am / Reply

    i followed your blog as you saying and doing some work on gis ….
    i wish to know from you what algorithm or methodology(or any link which can help me there)i should follow in “assessment of most suitable land for agriculture on basis of soil prperties”..
    i have landsat TM data ,band 3 and 5 ,,,to detect moisture of soil and working in Arcgis…
    also,plz let me know is it sufficient band or i have to get all 7 band raters?

    • Justin / June 15, 2012 at 1:47 pm / Reply

      Vivek, I’m afraid that I don’t really know anything about soil suitability analysis. I would need to start with an old-fashioned literature search to find out who has written something about the topic and then dig into the material. I did a quick Google Scholar search and found a couple of books that might provide a good place to start:
      “Soil survey and land evaluation” by Dent, D.; Young, A. 1981.
      “Remote Sensing in soil science” by Michel Adrianus Mulders. 1987.
      Good luck with your project! Best, Justin

  5. Pingback: Geospatial Career Q&A with Undergraduate Part 3 – Hitting the Job Market | Geographical Perspectives

  6. Pingback: Geospatial Career Q&A with Undergraduate Part 4 – Long Term Career Planning | Geographical Perspectives

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  8. Himanshu / April 9, 2013 at 9:52 am / Reply

    Im a Remote sensing and GIS student (masters) but didn’t find any internship yet for this upcoming summer, so if u have any idea or project then i would like to work with you..

    • Justin / April 9, 2013 at 9:59 am / Reply

      Himanshu – I will let you know if I hear of anything interesting. Good luck! You might try to investigate what opportunities are being advertised at the AAG meeting in LA this week. Cheers, Justin

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