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Urgent help required please with choice of masters

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#1
GISMapper

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Dear Members,

This is my first post on these forums and I would really appreciate if anybody could help me with a big decision I have to make in the next 7 days.

I have applied to three universities to study GIS and Remote Sensing. I have being offered places at all 3 but can't decide which one to choose as there are some major differences in what the courses offer and how they are run.

One university on offer is in the top 10 universities in the world. However the course is in GIS Science as opposed to GIS and Remote Sensing which the others offer. This course seems to have some practical elements but also lots of theory. However it also has a practical side and contains more hours of lectures/labs than the other courses. I have a numbe of questions regarding this.

1. Does the fact that the course title is not GIS (as in systems) and is GIS Science matter if I want to eventually work in GIS or Remote Sensing? What is the difference between GIS Science compared to standard GIS and Remote Sensing?

2. Also the course doesn't contain Remote Sensing in the title but contains remote sensing as 2 major options within the course itself (all 3 are taught masters). Will its absence in the Master's title potentially hinder me in getting a job/Phd in Remote Sensing if the title on my CV makes it sound less about remote sensing and more about GIS Science? Or does GIS Science as a title imply that it contains both GIS and Remote Sensing within it as a subject?

3. This courses seems to offer slightly less classes in remote sensing. Can this lower my chances of getting a remote sensing job in the future? Is the extra theory that GIS Science offers (about map projections, spatial data mining etc) valuable in getting a job in GIS or Remote Sensing as opposed to the more practical elements of the other courses which I could do?

4. Is having one of the top ten universities in the world on your CV a big bonus or does it count for much? I know experience is most important in GIS/Remote Sensing which I know I need to get as well but is it worth sacrificing the words remote sensing in the title and studying a little less remote sensing going to hinder me in applying for a remote sensing position in the future?

5. There seems to be a lot of mention in the course outline of statistics, geometry, map algebra, least squares method, chi-tests and so on. My math is okay but has never been my strongest point and I worry that I may struggle if the level is too high. How difficult is the mathematics associated with GIS Science? If you have less experience in Maths is it easy (if you work hard of course) to keep up with the math element? Does Math get super complex at a Masters level in this subject?

6. One of the other courses offers 2 months work experience and no dissertation (coursework assessed) but is located far away from where I live right now. Would you rank two months work experience as being THAT important over attending a world renowned instituation? Would an employer consider 2 months experience as anything particularly useful?

Sorry for all the questions but it is a nightmare trying to choose the right course as I am afraid if I do too much theory in GIS Science instead of the more practical standard GIS and Remote Sensing courses which I've been offered, I may end up being unemployable with too much theoretical knowledge and not enough practical knowledge.

All answers will be helpful.

Thanks in advance

#2
Bryan Swindell

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Theory versus applied, practical knowledge is always a tough decision. I would say that if you are planning on going into the private or government sector, take the applied path. If you want to go on to a PhD and beyond, go for theoretical (where you will most assured be buried in advanced math!). Employers usually want folks who can sit down at a computer and get things done efficiently (ie, crank out products that bring in money). They don't need you to have especially deep and sophisticated knowledge about GIS science - just creativity, smarts and a good work ethic. Get familiar with as many different software programs as you can, and be sure to get some exposure to basic geostatistics. Also, unless you have great personal interest, don't worry about getting too heavy into remote sensing science. The need for basic GIS folks is much greater than that for RS, in the private sector.

#3
Rob

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I'd see it different from Bryan's post.

First, don't get caught up with what words are or aren't in the program's title.

Second, anyone can learn how to operate the GIS software fairly easily. A good analyst is going to understand WHY they should do something, WHAT is really happening to the data, and WHAT the limitations are. That's all based in GIS theory, and once you leave the university, learning those types of things are going to be much more difficult than learning how to use some piece of software. Plus, you are going to learn the software any place you study. My $0.02. And Good luck.

#4
Bryan Swindell

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Yes, I'd agree with Rob. There's more to GIS than clicking buttons. I'm assuming that you've had some exposure to the theory behind vector and raster data formats and relational databases in your undergrad work. If not, you will most certainly need it in your Master's program. Also, he's spot-on about program titles. Dig into course syllabi to find out exactly what skills you will gain. Those courses that expect you to design, implement and write about your own GIS projects will serve you the best. And, keep in mind that every one who posts here will come from a different angle and from a different sector - no one will share the exact same opinion on the best way to go about GIS education. Good luck!

#5
GISMapper

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I agree with both of you but this where I am confused. The theory in the GIS Science Masters course seems different to the theory offered in the regular GIS course. GIS Science whilst dealing in certain practical issues seems to address GIS in more philosphical ways such how important is the subject as an Information Science and how humans interact with GIS and GIS interacts with humans. Whereas the GIS theory in the regular GIS course seems to deal more with decision making and uses and applications of GIS, map projections etc. rather than the maths about how they're derived. Is it important to know in detail how co-ordinates are mathematically derived if one works industry?

So in essence there are two types of theory on offer. Both go beyond clicking buttons but the bottom line is which is more valuable? I can see where both of you are coming from but after completing a 4 year BA in Natural Science moderating in Geography, I found that a lot of the theory I had learned to be useless in terms of getting a job and don't want to make the same mistake twice (I ended up completing a Postgrad Diploma in Education and becoming a teacher) if the theory on offer in GIS Science is not so useful.

If both courses offer theory at the different levels. Does there come a point when that theory becomes wasteful unless, as Bryan says, you wish to stay in acadaemia? Which type of theory is more important in getting a job? Also does having an undergrad qualification in Natural Science show to some degree that I am capable of going beyond clicking buttons but can also analyse and problem solve solutions? Is studying GIS Science in some ways repeating some of those analytical skills already gained at undergrad science level?

Also Rob, do you think that the maths involved in GIS Science would be hardcore and difficult for a geographer with a limited math background? I am pretty scared of being in a class of students potentially of Maths and Engineering backgrounds and not having a clue what is happening :( Is it a struggle for someone from a Geography background to keep up with, for example, understanding how algorithms work and help improve GIS or the mathamatical principles behind mapping?

Edited by GISMapper, 08 July 2010 - 05:22 PM.


#6
David Medeiros

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I'm not sure the program titles are a reflection of the program content as much as the content is a reflection of the program or school its being taught at. What I mean is one schools GIS (systems) MA may be more or less the same as an others GI Science; or two GIS Systems programs may differ radically in content regardless of identical names.

I myself have just enrolled in whats actually a Geography MA but is essentially a GIScience degree. The program seems to span both practical and theoretical aspects of GIS with the option to complete either thesis or a project. Meanwhile the next closest program, a GIS MA is very much more of a theoretical research based program, with no project option.

In other words, don't get hung up on the program title, look at the content. You should be doing an MA in GIS for the knowledge and experience it will get you, not any credit the program title will earn you with employers.

As for the math, you really shouldn't need to worry too much about it IMO. Even the GI Science MAs are not hard sciences in that regard. Your not studying to be a geodesist.

The best advice I can think to give you is to go talk to the respective program heads and ask them some of these questions, see what they have to say about it. Good luck!

GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.

 

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#7
Martin Gamache

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First of all congrats.

GI Science is getting to be fairly standard.
Remote sensing is all statistics and matrix algebra. If you don't like math or computer programming I would suggest not going into graduate work in GIS or Remote Sensing.

Most employers will be more interested in your thesis work, your coursework, and your publications than in what your program was called. Chances are people in the field will want to know who your advisors were and if they recommend you. Graduate school is about making those connections and building a strong network within academia that can help you find employment, Phd positions, postdocs etc... So choose a school based on the faculty, the research areas they specialise in, whether those areas are of interest to you. Find out if the faculty has a good reputation, who your advisor will be, speak to other graduate students, chat with your current professors. Look at the faculty's recent published articles, what journals do they publish in or serve on editorial staff. All this will tell you a lot about a dept.
I spent time in two graduate programs with vastly different teaching approaches, funding levels, and number of faculty. Larger, better funded programs have some advantages in terms of resources. If you have time visit each school... it might be worth the investment in your time to do so.

Good luck in your choices.

#8
Martin Gamache

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First of all congrats.

GI Science is getting to be fairly standard.
Remote sensing is all statistics and matrix algebra. If you don't like math or computer programming I would suggest not going into graduate work in GIS or Remote Sensing.

Most employers will be more interested in your thesis work, your coursework, and your publications than in what your program was called. Chances are people in the feld will want to know who your advisors were and if they recommend you. Graduate school is about making those connections and building a strong network within academia that can help you find employment, Phd positions, postdocs etc... So choose a school based onthe faculty, the research areas they specialise in, whether those areas are of interest to you, whether the faculty has a good reputation, speak to other graduate students, chat with your current professors, look at their recent published articles, what journals do they publish in or serve on editorial staff.
I spent time in two graduate programs with vastly different teaching approaches, funding levels, and number of faculty. Larger, better funded programs have some advantages.

Good luck in your choices.



#9
GISMapper

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I have tried to get in touch with lecturers but as it is summer, everyone is away so I'm relying really on intuition and you guys to help me hopefully (thanks to everyone who has commented so far).

To help make things clearer, I have created a comparison of what the courses offer.

1. Masters in GIS and Remote Sensing:
1. Introduction to Geographical Information Systems
2. Aspects of Geographical Information Science
3. Work Placement
4. Theoretical Concepts of Remote Sensing
5. Digital Image Processing
6. Advanced RS

Please note that the above courses contain some of what is included in the courses below, eg. image understanding is included within Digital Image Processing. I guess this is what Martin was referring to, that there is a certain level of overlap. Assessment by means of projects, reports, essays, exams and work placement. No disseratation.

2. Masters in GIScience
1. Mapping Science
2. Spatial Structures & Representation
3. IT & GIS
4. Analytical Methods
5. GIS Data Analysis
6. Management/Group Project
7. Advanced Topics in GIS 1
8. Advanced Topics in GIS 2
9. Spatio-Temporal Data Mining
10. Image Understanding
11. Introduction to Environmental Remote Sensing

Assessment by means of essays, exams, reports, dissertation.

I hope the above helps give a clearer indication of my dillema and shows what I mean by the masters in GIS and RS looking more practical (but still with theory) than GIS Science which looks like more theory but still with some practical work - the reverse of the other masters.

From looking at the course titles how difficult would you say the math level might be? For example, when studying map projections and datums, do you learn detailed mathematics regarding how these are derived or is it more about a general understanding of the theory?

Do you think courses in Spatio Temperal Data Mining would be extremely complex or am I being too scared of complex sounding lingo regarding the topics within a subject like this eg. STARIMA (Spatio-Temporal Auto-Regressive Regression) and Geographical Weighted Regression (GWR) and two machine learning approaches -DRNN (Dynamic Recurrent Neural Networks) and SVM (Support Vector Machines)? Is such a subject like this useful for working in industry?

Please let me know what you think of the course outlines in terms of employability within industry following either of these masters courses.

#10
David Medeiros

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In my opinion, based solely on the course titles and lack of a dissertation option, I'm not sure I'd call the first program a true masters. It seems more like an advanced certificate program. The second set reads much more like most masters programs in GIS that I have come across so far.

GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.

 

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