Geospatial Career Q&A with Undergraduate
June 4, 2012
I recently received the following email from a student nearing graduation with a bachelor’s degree and seeking geospatial career advice.
You’re obviously a busy guy, so I’ll try not to make this too protracted. I just wanted to say “thank you” for writing your blog.The perspective you have as someone versed in both academic geography and business is not something we students get access to everyday–it has proved extremely helpful and left me extremely hopeful that academia isn’t the only option for us geographers.
I’m a soon-to-be-graduating senior geography student. Though I have a formal concentration in GIS, undergrad students here are required to take a wide range of classes (both physical and human geography) in addition to this concentration. This is fine with me–a varied perspective’s sort of necessary to navigate life–but it’s left me as a jack of all trades and master of none. The only really *specific* thing I have going for me is independent research experience. This, I feel, has really improved some of my so-called “soft skills,” even if it hasn’t been particularly valuable in other ways.
My main concern is over how to spend this summer. I have to take just a single geography course in order to graduate, but I want to take a few others to gain some additional skills (and maybe accumulate a little knowledge in the process…).
My main interests are in cartography, statistics, and data visualization–much of this rolls over from my original major, graphic design and illustration. I’m hopelessly addicted to beautiful graphics and the information they can tell us.
So as an either/or proposition, would you recommend an independent study in database management–to help organize all those spatial datasets– or a (possibly unpaid) internship stitching together shapefiles? While this internship would perhaps be a little dull, it does constitute real-world experience using GIS. Alternately, I could register for independent study to learn how to program in R.
In conjunction with one of these “courses” I plan to take trigonometry to set the foundation for calculus. Calculus, at a minimum, seems to be required for almost every graduate program in computer science or statistics, and would certainly be helpful for those in geography.
Thank you for your time. I understand if you’re not able to answer these questions in depth; I’m just looking for a little perspective.
In response, I asked the following question: if you could do anything, anything at all, what would it be and where would it take you in the next 5 years? Focus on what you would be doing day-to-day rather than on job titles, organizations, etc.
Hmmm. That’s a tough question. I’ve thought about it before, but never gave myself a really solid response.
After much deliberation:
Starting something and then growing it into something substantial is something that’s really been on my mind, whether it be a business, a non-profit, a school, a website, etc. I like the idea of making something from nothing, and I relish working hard. Bonus points for the autonomy and flexibility that seem to be inherent to this approach. However, while I think I’ve taken a relatively entrepreneurial approach to my education, I haven’t exactly broken new ground in the “real world.”
Specifically on a day-to-day basis though, I’d like to spend time communicating with people. It doesn’t have to be in the traditional, face-to-face sense either. One of my strengths is finding and synthesizing a lot of information, and then writing about it as I understand it. On the flipside, I really enjoy doing the same thing with graphics–condensing a lot of data into a very small, detailed blurb of information.
Hope that helps.
This is great. Now, any subject areas of particular interest? You mentioned climate. Are you big into climate change? Is there a topic for you that generates the most enthusiasm?
I too await your next blog. 25 years apart, but I share his passion for health GIS. Am currently mapping some stuff from social perspective, although data is a tough area in my country, almost non-existent or questionable.
There is a line in the students letter that struck a chord with me and I am glad that I am not the only one. It was “left me as a jack of all trades and master of none.”
I often think that maybe I should have concentrated on something specific, however, I am so interested in Geography as a whole that I tend to be like the character Doug from the movie “Up”. I see the interconnectedness of everything whether it is soil, hydrology, planning, viticulture, history.
That is a very tough question about what the final masterpiece would be, but it is also very simple. I would do vineyard site suitability. I would do that in a heartbeat. Anytime, anywhere.
A professor of mine once said when I was faced with the prospect of getting hired for a job that I really wasn’t planning on getting.. “Take what you can get, until you can get what you want.” Although I am now 42, I have plenty of time to get what I want even if I had to take what i could get…
Darren – thanks for the comment. I’m not convinced that being a “jack of all trades” is such a bad thing. The flip side of the coin would be a “one-trick pony” and less ability to adapt. It sounds like you’re fortunate in that you know exactly what you’d like to be doing. Now, go get it!
[…] Part 1, I posted a line of questioning I received from a soon-to-graduate geography major. You’ll […]
[…] In Part 1, I posted a line of questioning I received from a soon-to-graduate geography major. And in Part 2 I provided suggestions for what to do this summer. You’ll want to go back and read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already. 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 hitting the job market. […]
[…] In Part 1, I posted a line of questioning I received from a soon-to-graduate geography major. 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 Part 2 I provided suggestions for what to do this summer. In Part 3 I cover hitting the job market. You’ll want to go back and read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 if you haven’t already. […]