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Geog/GIS MA the right direction?

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David Medeiros

David Medeiros

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I know I've asked similar questions in the past, bear with me as I'm actually applying to grad school now but have some doubts about really making GIS my career:

My search for full time work in cartography & GIS is going on two years now. I work part time as a GIS tech for a local city IT department. I have one largish contract as a cartographer due to end (after several fits and starts) late this summer and do an assortment of odd mapping jobs as they come to me. The municipal work is the most stable, but is only half time, low pay, no benefits and mind numbing at times. The contract work is far more interesting but very unstable and the magazine work I do, though some of the most interesting pays the least.

The nature of working several part time jobs on contract or per diem is that it’s more work, for less money, than similar full time positions.

I have a solid background in digital cartography (a decades worth), a good eye for information and graphic design, an educational background in Physical Geography and a fair amount of entry-level experience with GIS data and software (years of GIS to Illy, some analysis). My strategy after CSAA closed their cart dept. was to go back to school for a GIS certificate and roll all of these skills together into a well rounded GIS practitioner who could converse with and serve the many disciplines GIS serves, especially in the natural sciences community. The certificate got me the municipal job and that’s about it. Responses to my resume, initially easy to come by based on my cart/geog background, have slowed dramatically lately. I’m finding that in order to do the kind of work I want to do and get out of basic GIS tech work I need to go back to school yet again, for a Geography/GIS MA.

I’ve enrolled for next fall but my concern is that I am heading down the wrong path. I do not want to be a programmer, or a database designer; I have no interest in leaning SQL, Access, C+, etc. But I’m increasingly afraid that’s where I’m headed.

My question to the group is, is there a place in GIS/ digital mapping for someone who excels in geography and cartography but is not a programmer? If I want to do GIS work in the natural sciences, is an MA in Geography (mostly a GIS degree) the way to go? Or should I be looking at further education in some other area? And finally, is there any future in cartography alone as a career path (aside from the few super stars in the field)?


GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.





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Thank you for writing this David, as I have similar questions . I'm looking to get into GIS/cartography but I'm not all that certain what kind of education I need to be pursuing. I was planning on doing the online GIS certificate program with Penn state, but it sounds like from your experience that a certificate isn't enough. Personally, I'd like to know what GIS skill sets are in demand and which are not.



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David, Thank you for a very interesting post! I am in sort of reverse situation to you. I am about to finish my GIS studies (BS), learned a lot about programming, databse design, BUT didn't do any ArcGIS->Illy, didn't learn much extra geography knowledge (except extended highschool geography course and personal interests). And I am wondering what's next? Fortunately, I study abroad, back home there are more than Geo/Carto/GIS jobs for me. But I love Geo/Carto/GIS field. I am considering starting something on my own in this field, even if it will serve more entartainment purpose, than scientific. As not a person with a big budget I am considering some kind of a web business (probably providing some resources to the public at first), oriented towards my home country.

I am not as experienced as many other members of this board, but I think that nowadays you can't escape using technology (yeah, SQL, C#/++, etc) - if you want to take advantage of your already existing excellent skills. As well - even if you won't be doing everything yourself, you won't find yourself not understanding what's happening in the project you work with. I find programming knowledge extremely useful, but even more useful I find data mining and discovery knowledge - this can serve you a lot if you want to do innovative projects. Yes, it's not only about algorithms, it's also about using the existing data and turningit into something meaningful, or gathering the data from multiple resources.

The only thing with courses on GIS - my only disappointment in my course is that my faculty's research is narrowed down only to one way of using GIS solutions, which resulted in few big gaps in my knowledge about dealing with data and turning it into maps.

Good luck.

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