I’m planning a trip to China in May 2019 and I’d like you to join me! Click here to view details including the itinerary, costs, dates, etc. Or follow this link: https://www.efcollegestudytours.com/professors-trip/2151104MA
I’ve wanted to visit China for ages but it’s been challenging to find time while juggling a career and a family of five. I have a good friend who works at Education First (EF) and so I decided to take a closer look at opportunities to travel. I like what I see and so next year I’m taking the plunge. The trip is geared toward those interested in China’s economy and culture and it’s designed primarily for college students but anyone who wants to sign up is welcome.
Why go to China with me? Well … why not? I’m not an expert in anything related to China but EF provides the guides and arranges visits to local businesses and cultural attractions in Beijing and Shanghai. I love to travel and I’m like a kid in a candy store when I arrive in a foreign land and get to explore an unfamiliar culture. I know a bit of China’s rich history, especially the 20th Century, and I have a pretty good grasp on how China’s economy has risen so dramatically over the past 30 years. But I’ve never been to China, I don’t speak Mandarin and I won’t know my way around. I’ll be exploring and learning with you, not telling you what you should know or which museum you must visit.
Anyway, I just want to start getting the word out. Our flight to Beijing leaves from the Denver airport on May 6th, 2019.
Learn more here: https://www.efcollegestudytours.com/professors-trip/2151104MA
If you’re thinking about going to graduate school in Geography in Fall 2018 you should be getting started now. Some programs have deadlines before the end of the calendar year and you have some work to do to find the right research mentor. You also need time to study for the GRE and take it twice to be sure you apply with the best score possible. Fair or not, your GRE score is probably the most important element of your application because it’s the easiest way for admission committees to sort and rank applicants.
One place to start your grad school campaign is by checking out the AAG Guide to Geography Programs. I downloaded the most recent AAG Guide so I could identify every PhD program in the US as a starting point. For my rankings this year I’ve decided to provide a more lengthy list of programs divided into tiers. All of these programs offer a PhD in Geography. This, to me, is important because I think you’re far better off attending a program where you can stay for a PhD if you decide to go beyond a Master’s. Staying with the same department for a PhD after completing a Master’s will usually save you at least 1 year of grad student poverty, maybe more. Plus, you’ll encounter better research mentors at PhD granting departments and you’ll likely have a better overall experience at a flagship public University. This is not to say programs offering a Master’s degree in Geography but no PhD aren’t worthy of your consideration. But, it’s not practical for me to rank every program on the planet. And, I just think it’s better to have the option to continue grad school without disrupting your personal life. Things get complicated as you move through life. People tend to form life-long partnerships, have kids, buy real estate, form tight-knit social circles, etc. This can make moving to a new program problematic.
The AAG omitted Boston University and the University of Georgia from their list of PhD granting departments. Not sure why. The AAG also listed Georgia State and Southern Illinois among PhD granting departments but, from what I can gather, these departments do not offer a PhD in Geography. There are a handful of departments offering a PhD in Geography but only as an interdisciplinary degree and/or in conjunction with one or more other departments. These programs include UC Davis, Florida International, Toledo, Portland State, Temple, South Dakota State and the University of Southern California (USC). Any of these programs might make a great individual fit for you but I can’t recommend them to most aspiring geographers.
Hey, where are the online programs? I didn’t bother with them this year for three reasons. One, I don’t recommend online graduate education. Learning face-to-face from an experienced researcher is better. Two, there are a lot of programs coming and going and it’s difficult to know which ones are worthy of recommendation and which are fly-by-night efforts to boost revenue. Three, some of these programs charge extremely high tuition and I don’t want to be seen as recommending accumulation of student debt as part of a successful career campaign. You’re better off scraping by however you can and avoiding debt while pursuing your education, even if it takes more time.
GIS is the future, dude. Why should I even bother studying geography? I’ll just get a GIS certificate and take a short cut.
Well, GIS is actually the past, dude. The future (for private sector careers and academic research) in geography will be driven by advances in data science applied to spatial problems. You won’t really become savvy in computational methods, data visualization or other data-intensive fields of study by taking classes online. You need a mentor who knows how to do this stuff properly. And you need a deeper understanding of the world, the ability to think spatially and the quantitative and qualitative skills to solve complex problems. You won’t get that with a GIS certificate.
As always, I welcome your comments, critiques and corrections.
If you’re considering a spatial career and wondering where you might find a strong geography program, I would urge you to take a very close look at the University of Buffalo. Buffalo has been a leading geography department for many years and continues to provide an innovative and rigorous analytical approach to geography education.
Last week I was fortunate enough to visit the geography department at “UB” and speak to the department’s faculty and graduate students about spatial careers as part of their Colloquium Series. I had a delightful time touring department facilities, meeting faculty and spending time with a terrific group of graduate students.
Here are 5 reason to choose the University of Buffalo:
Here’s a gif from my dinner out with a great group of graduate students (click on the image to load animation). Good times…except for the collective disappointment when Sarah didn’t finish her rice. 😉
Based on comments, the majority of readers are most interested in online graduate programs and several new players have emerged just in the past year. So, for my 2016 rankings, I’ve decided to focus on online Master’s degree programs in GIS/Spatial. To keep the task manageable I will not include any Certificate programs, only programs offering graduate degrees.
As I’ve cautioned in previous posts (see 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 rankings), the programs I consider to be the very best may not be the best for you. Graduate education is an individual decision; there is no one-size-fits-all approach. That said, I’ve ranked the programs according to my perception of quality and relevance for students wanting to pursue a Spatial Career.
Other programs worth investigating (in alphabetical order):
Well, there you have it! I hope this provides some direction and insight for those of you shopping for an online GIS graduate degree. I would have liked to include tuition information but for many programs it’s very difficult to figure out actual costs. It’s not clear how in-state/out-of-state tuition comes into play nor how additional fees might impact total program cost in some cases. You’ll have to investigate on your own. Obviously cost is a huge consideration so as I learn more I’ll try to keep you posted. Thanks for reading!
The other day a reader asked for information on careers in geography and I referred her to this page on the Association of American Geographer’s website: http://www.aag.org/cs/what_geographers_do
The page was still open in my browser this morning so I poked around a bit and found this.
Job options for expertise in Spatial Statistics include GIS Tech, Statistics Assistant and Architect? Really? I realize this page is somewhat dated but come on. How about Statistician? Or Data Scientist? I don’t know where the AAG gets the notion that spatial statistics people should consider a career in Architecture. I’m not saying it’s completely unrelated but it certainly doesn’t logically follow.
I checked the citation and didn’t find any hint of Spatial Statistics being related to pursuing a career as an Architect. I did, however, find an interesting chart illustrating strong demand for spatial statistics and GIS. If it was a top priority in 2008 imagine how it’s perceived today after the emergence of Big Data Analytics.
Tables 8 and 9 are from p. 368-369 in Skills in Professional Geography: An Assessment of Workforce Needs and Expectations.
Funny, I don’t see any mention of Social Theory. Although I suppose some would say it’s what the General Skill, “Critical Thinking” is meant to represent, anyone from outside Academia would probably not know there is extra significance to the word “Critical” here. In any case, these charts reaffirm my contention that Geography should marginalize Social Theory and more fully embrace Spatial Analysis.
In the meantime, could the AAG update these job titles so young aspiring geographers aren’t misled?
If you’re thinking about going to graduate school in geography and you’re a regular reader you know I promote the idea of finding the right professor to advise you rather than only looking for a good graduate program. I also suggest contacting potential research advisors as part of your admission campaign.
Dear Dr. Q,
I have read your papers X, Y and Z and have a few questions about how the work might be extended. Should I send these questions to one of your Ph.D. students or may I send them to you directly?
Your name here.
In two sentences, you have demonstrated that:
1. You know what the professor is working on and you have a significant interest in it.
2. You have the capability to read peer-reviewed papers
3. You have the capability to think beyond what’s in the paper to what future papers might look like.
4. You understand that the professor is a busy person, and that a graduate student might be more responsive. If you impress the graduate student, the professor will hear about it.
5. You have the tact to develop a bit of a relationship first before asking about coming onboard as a Ph.D. student.
You might object that you don’t know what kind of research you want to do. If that’s the case, why would an advisor take you on?
You might object that you don’t really care what work you do, you just need admitted into a Ph.D. program. Again, why would an advisor take you on, especially if the choice was between you and someone who had a passion for their research area?
Finally, you might object that having to read and think hard about three papers just to find out that the professor doesn’t have any funding for students is not a good use of your time. As reading papers and thinking hard about them is something you’ll be spending the rest of your career doing, raising this objection might indicate that a Ph.D. is not a good fit.
To sum up all of the above: promotions are an external validation that you’re already doing the work required by your new job description. Getting accepted into a Ph.D. program is just another promotion. You don’t need to be great at research (there are further milestones to demonstrate that), but you should be able to show that you have the capability of doing research. To demonstrate that to a particular professor, read their work and comment on it intelligently.
Very few prospective students do this (perhaps because very few prospective students are able to do this). But the ones who do get noticed.
In recent battles with some of geography’s social theory gang (see Beware, Strikes Back, More Sorcery) I was reminded of the inane initiative led by Eric Sheppard to change the name of the Association of American Geographers to the American Association of Geographers. While flexing their verbosity muscles to argue against my advice to avoid social theorists, it was pointed out by one of the disgruntled social theorists that my comment on the name change suggestion was in poor taste (although one among the gang said I was “exactly right” to point out the ridiculousness of the effort). Another suggested the number of “upvotes” I received was “irrelevant” even though it did position me at the top when “Sort by Best” is the chosen option for reading the comments. I think many (at least a dozen) AAG members were happy to see refreshingly candid and direct language, long overdue in geography and throughout academia.
After re-reading the column, and shaking my head in frustration once again, I decided to peruse more recent President’s columns hoping to see something less aggravating.
I was rewarded!
The first three columns written by the AAG’s current President, Sarah Witham Bednarz, are the best I’ve read in a long time.
I was delighted to see she recognizes the disruptive environment facing Higher Education and the need to innovate rather than circle wagons to maintain status quo.
As I organized the agenda for the workshop eight actions emerged as key to healthy geography departments: teach, promote, build, innovate, nurture, manage, reflect, and envision. Departments must have a clear (and shared) vision of what and who they are and be prepared to work to build toward that vision. This may require innovation, a euphemism for change, something that is never easy. Departments need leaders who manage effectively and who are willing to nurture their colleagues, enabling them to succeed across different stages of their careers. Healthy geography departments care about teaching, learning, and the lives of the students they touch. Finally, healthy departments take the time to reflect, to assess, plan, and refocus as needed, together. It’s hard work but important to every department in every institution and thus, to the discipline.
I hope her leadership does indeed facilitate a discussion about “what and who geographers are” before (what I see as inevitable) creative destruction pounds the shores of the academy. If geography is not better positioned when the tsunami comes in I fear the discipline is in danger of being swept further from its rightful place in the academy, wedged prominently between the humanities and pure science. For this reason it is my contention that Social Theorists should play a far less “critical” (pun intended) role in the discipline while geography departments and their curricula should conform to some standard whereby all students receiving a bachelors, masters or doctoral degree know something about each of the 3 pillars of geography: human, physical and technical. As it stands, too many graduates with a degree in geography are familiar with only one or two of these pillars. This has a negative impact on our ability to promote the applicable workplace talents of recent geography graduates. And, as a result, increasingly career-minded students are less likely to choose geography. Ask anyone in the private sector: uncertainty is the best way to chase off a potential paying customer.
Correcting this deficiency should be a top priority before enrollment numbers force the hands of Deans who won’t have many options aside from initiating far less pleasant forms of change.
In addition, the entire academy needs to begin recognizing the value of outstanding classroom instruction as well as the value of alternative, more accessible forms of scholarship having an important impact on society. A good example of the latter is the work being done by Anthony Leiserowitz at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Along with traditional peer-review research, Tony’s work includes videos, downloadable reports sans paywall, outreach on social media, and televised appearances with Bill Moyers and Bill Maher. Geography departments around the world ought to be clamoring for Dr. Leiserowitz to bring his work under the disciplinary umbrella. Way to go, Tony! And Go Ducks!
To me, this multi-channel approach to research dissemination is the future of scholarship. In contrast, publications in obscure academic journals with readership numbers equivalent to the editorial board population should be largely deprecated. The sooner the better.
What’s absolutely clear, at least to me, is the reality that Universities are not adequately preparing students for short-term or long-term career success despite asking, in parallel, for more tuition dollars. Part of the problem is the rapidly changing conditions of the job market and disappearing State funding but I think much of the problem is due to the monopoly held by the academic publishing oligarchy. This cabal may as well be headed by Vladimir Putin or El Chapo Guzman as its grip on the academy is equally thorough and far reaching. Somehow the incentive for teaching professors to remain active, productive and relevant in their chosen field has morphed, in part, into a game of Balderdash where those who make up the fanciest words are rewarded with tenure and promotion while only lip service is paid to those with outstanding teaching records, accessible scholarship on salient contemporary issues and the ability to advise students as they embark upon a variety of career paths.
In short, I think the new AAG President is on the right track. Keep it up, President Bednarz!
And let me know if you need any help battling against the Social Theorists who, I believe, are more likely than anyone within the AAG to filibuster proposed innovation attempting to enhance the clarity of disciplinary focus.
Uncle Owen: “Do you speak Bocce?”
Social Theorist: “Of course I do. It’s like a second language to me. I’m also fluent in postmodernism and poststructuralism.”
Uncle Owen: “What I really need is a Professor who will help me succeed in my career, even if I don’t become an academic scholar.”
Social Theorist: “I’m afraid I’m not terribly familiar with careers outside the academy. But if you learn to speak my gibberish I will sign off on your Master’s degree and you’ll be able to find a decent job even though you’ll need to retrain yourself to speak with normal humans.”
You may have noticed I’m battling with the Social Theorists who’ve over-populated the discipline of geography for far too long, preventing true geographers from being seen as useful in the workplace. Here are a few more of their efforts to argue for their own relevance, along with my replies.
“We need people to work through new ways of thinking and practicing and making sense of a changing, complex world.” and “First, whatever the workplace all students enhance their employment prospects and the quality of their work by being able to think critically and philosophically and to be able to apply that to their endeavours. The whole point of the University is that it educates, it challenges, it stimulates, it facilitates critical reasoning and reflection, it enables independent *thinking*; it is not simply training for rote employment.”
I agree. There should be a Department of Philosophy and a Department of Sociology in every University. There should also be a Department of Geography in every University. And the geography department should be composed of geographers, not philosophers and/or sociologists.
“…some professors might be more theoretically, rather than applied, orientated, but their role is an important complement to more practical skills and knowledge because it engages and produces independent, critical thinking.”
Again, I agree. Every grad student should take at least one, preferably two semesters of Theory in Geography. Most of it is boring as hell, but necessary. That said, social theory is not a legitimate sub-discipline of geography, it’s a different discipline altogether. You can be a geographer who also contributes to philosophy or sociology but you are not a geographer if all you do is philosophy or sociology.
“Just because you do not understand it does not make it a fairy tale – as your post details itself, you barely tried to learn the language whilst a student, but nonetheless dismiss it because you don’t understand it “
I understand social theory. I understand it well enough to know 80% of it is a pile of shit. I probably understand its role and relevance to society better than most who claim to specialize in it. I say this because I learned theory in geography from a true master, Alec Murphy. He brought it to life and inspired me to take it seriously (and I did indeed do the reading in his class). But then I was forced to endure, in other far less inspiring human geography seminar rooms, how it can be utilized to create alternate fantasy worlds and to serve no purpose aside from verbal/written ammunition in unproductive semantic disputes.
The claim that others don’t understand social theory is always the line of defense. And, this attitude of superiority is part of the problem. I think it comes from a feeling of insecurity because, deep down, you realize you’re enjoying the luxury of being a paid scholar without, in turn, making a sufficiently meaningful contribution to society’s priorities. So you hide behind absurd jargon and the ridiculous notion that you’re smarter than everyone else. If you are a practicing geographer and, in parallel, also contributing to social theory research – more power to you. But, let’s stop producing so many social theorists in geography departments. In doing so, we’re diluting the discipline and paying too little attention to far more pressing problems we are well-equipped to address.
“The accusation about no-one understanding, caring about or reading social theory simply is a statement without empirical evidence.”
There’s easily obtainable empirical evidence. Why not survey every student of geography and ask them what they want from their geography degree? Put various outcomes on the list along with “understanding social theory” to see what students value. Or, ask parents/taxpayers (the people paying your salary) where they want their money and your time invested. Or ask employers who hire geographers for their input.
I’ll go out on a limb and predict all three groups will plead with geography departments to spend less time on social theory and more time on spatial/geographical/environmental problem solving.
I’m not saying do away with social theory. I’m saying geographers need to do a better job of clarifying what we do and I’m saying the non-academic population is begging the entire academy, not just geography, to become more relevant.
It’s time to listen.
Last week I wrote a post warning my GIS-inclined readership to Beware of Social Theorists in Geography. Apparently this struck a nerve with some who fit the description and don’t want me to express such an opinion. Here’s the text of the primary voice in opposition to the contents of my post:
I’ll encourage you to (1) read or re-read Nadine Schuurman (2000), a GIScientist, on the unnecessary, if well-trod, distraction created by precisely the line of thinking your advice advances — to divide the discipline (http://phg.sagepub.com/content/24/4/569.short), and (2) to help your audience by reflecting on the philosophical training/reading that composed your own **Ph**D, however spatial scientific it might be, which likely would be a much more productive point of commonality in the discipline.
Schuurman (2000, 587) writes in her conclusion after a brilliant re-telling of the story of 1990s hair-splitting and nasty name calling (of which your post seems somewhat nostalgic), “The greatest danger is that critique of GIS will develop its own vocabulary and references. … Social theory can, by definition, only tangentially engage a technology which is written in the language of computational algebra and constructed through the laws of physics. The present danger is that sociotheoretical critics of GIS will create a self-reinforcing world framed in a discourse unrecognizable by practitioners and scholars of GIS.” Indeed, a real pickle — and one that has been discussed for decades now. HOWEVER, she continues to pinpoint the problem that your post illustrates well: “GIS scholars are apt to respond by discounting critical attention to implications of their work in favor of attention to theory and practice situated within the technology.” The point was to recognize that we benefit when we are actually speaking with one another, not to gloss over the potential irreducibles in our various epistemologies, but to trace and understand their various departures, to build stronger interpretations and claims.
Since these dark times, there have been incredibly productive engagements between spatial scientists and critical/social theorists within the discipline. Dismissing these engagements (see here: http://criticalgis.blogspot.com/p/critical-gis-bibliography.html) is to fan the flames of a science war that you seem ill-prepared to address. Of course, I could be misreading your advice.
Here, dear Readers, is my response.
Allow me to apologize for the strange collection of obscure syllables above. Despite this man’s advanced education it’s clear he’s lost the ability to communicate in plain English. I’ll do my best to help you wade through the jargon and parse his syntax. It’s a path fraught with peril. So, follow along as I boldly go where very few plain spoken humans have gone before.
But first let me expose the skeletons in my academic closet. I do have a Ph.D. in geography but I lack any noteworthy scholarly production. After finishing grad school I went into the private sector so my business resume better illustrates my professional accomplishments than my curriculum vitae. I also must admit I was a below average graduate student. I didn’t read everything assigned, relying primarily on abstracts alone to complete my understanding of various topics in the discipline. I was far more interested in computational approaches to applied geography problems. I also had a job outside of grad school so I could support my family and thus I had to be efficient with my time. I never really figured out how to include the term postmodernism in a sentence and I was often admonished for failing to properly cite key figures whose work I found too boring to endure. My dissertation research wasn’t even published except for the copy collecting dust in Knight Library. I teach now. But only as a lowly Statistics Lecturer in the Business School at Colorado State University in Pueblo (where?). In short, I’m an academic failure (sorry, Bart).
Despite my failings, I have a unique perspective on the discipline of geography. I understand how the academic game is played and I successfully mastered the art of identifying skills used by top research geographers that are actually applicable in the “real world” (for the social theorists, this is a different sort of universe where problems must be solved rather than discussed endlessly). I also served on an admission committee while I was a Master’s student so I know more than average about what it takes to gain admission to a good graduate school and a good geography department. In addition, I’ve hired several geographers and coached many more on this blog and elsewhere.
As it turns out, and this may come as a shock, most students of geography don’t become tenure track professors. In fact, almost none of them do. Instead, the overwhelming majority of geography students enter this unfamiliar real world where jobs are not handed out to those whose primary talent involves speaking in tongues and publishing fairy tale ideas in obscure academic journals.
Sadly the discipline of geography has few representatives from the real world who are in position to help aspiring geography majors, geography graduate students or job hunters with a degree in geography. There were certainly very few helpful resources for me when I decided to pursue a geography education in the early 1990s. One of my goals with this blog is to provide a third party perspective to help aspiring geographers reach their career goals. I don’t know if I’m succeeding, obviously I have detractors, but I’m certainly trying my best.
Now, let’s move on to translation of the hieroglyphics written above.
First, the social theorist says I should read a 15-year old paper explaining why people like him shouldn’t criticize research involving GIS technology and vice-versa. He states this as if GIScience has remained stagnant since 2000 and as if the world knows or cares about the ongoing debate and navel gazing within geography. Also note the holier-than-thou tone where he speaks down to me as if I’m a student in a seminar where he presides over his unworthy minions.
Second, he says I’m trying to divide the discipline of geography. Here’s a news flash, pal – the discipline is already divided. There are two camps. One camp does research on salient topics that are important to contemporary society. The other camp writes a pile of drivel no one understands, no one cares about and no one will ever read. One camp has driven the growth of geography by becoming relevant while the other camp has continued to obscure the discipline and prevent it from being looked upon as useful to the private sector (the place where the vast majority of geographers make a living now and will make a living in the future). So, while this Kumbaya peace accord might help faculty coexist at AAG conferences, it does nothing for students of geography or the standing of the discipline as it relates to the value of a geography degree.
Third, he says the discipline benefits when we speak to each other. Well, sure, I’m all in favor of cross-disciplinary communication, research and problem solving. But, I don’t care about pandering to members of the discipline whose work doesn’t resemble anything even remotely geographical in nature. I think the discipline benefits when we have clarity about what it means to study and practice geography. This would suggest a more consistent curriculum and a more coherent and cohesive explanation of what geographers do. At the moment, although it has changed for the better in the past 20 years, the average professional who might be in position to hire a geographer thinks we study States and Capitals.
Fourth, he says I’m “fanning the flames of a science war”. Whatever. If we’ve been at war no one has died and no one has really noticed. I don’t like to tip-toe around issues. I prefer candor. I find candor far more effective than the passive-aggressive style of someone who implies I’m not worthy because I forgot, heaven forbid, the critical contribution of someone who wrote a friendly paper helping her stay in good stead with her unproductive colleagues who might otherwise have denied her tenure and ruined her career. In my experience debate is a highly effective process that often produces important insights even if it also results in bruised egos.
Finally, he says I am “ill-prepared” for this debate. This is his way of declaring I’m not qualified to contribute to the discussion of what geography should be.
Thankfully, I live in the real world. Here, I’m allowed to say what I believe about geography and its role in society and my voice isn’t required to survive a gauntlet of sanitizing journal reviewers. My opinion matters to my small readership because I tell them the sort of truth they rarely hear from professors. My opinion matters because I’ve figured out how to make geography training valuable in an increasingly competitive and tech-driven global marketplace. And, my opinion matters because I represent the overwhelming majority of geography students and geography graduates who’ve never published in the Annals and never read it because most issues provide limited yield in the way of useful knowledge.
So, I stand by my advice to avoid social theorists in geography. Unless you plan to become a stuffy elitist academic who dwells on the ethereal, these well-meaning but misguided wanna-be philosophers won’t help your career and they might just do long term damage to your prospects for earning a living … at least on this planet.