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New GIS student - some questions.

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#1
Michael P.

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Hello everybody!

I'd like to begin by introducing myself. I'm Michael, and I'm in my last year of a BA degree program in archaeology in the Netherlands. Since my first year, I've been fascinated by the possibilities of GIS and its applications in archaeology. During this final year, I'm specialising in computer applications within archaeology which is heavily based on using GIS - MapInfo, Surfer and ArcGIS in particular. It also includes basic training in tools such as the (robotic and non-robotic) Total Station and (D)GPS.

Because I do not see myself working in archaeology, I'd plan on doing a master's in Geo Information Science in order to specialise in whatever GIS has to offer. Before making decisions like these however, I'd first like to talk to GIS specialists such as yourself before committing myself to something that important. While many faculty members have experience using GIS (particularly MapInfo), none of them have a degree in it. Instead they come from fields such as physical geography, archaeology and earth sciences. Many questions I have therefore remain unanswered. There appear to be very few GIS specialists I can talk to in the Netherlands, or at least my direct area.

Without having anything to add, I'll begin with the questions. Even if only one of these is answered, I'd be extremely happy.

What sort of skills does a GIS analyst require? Many job listings require experience with various packages and perhaps being able to script in Python, but are there any inherent skills that I should really grasp in order to become somewhat proficient at my job? For example, I'm not at all good with mathematics. Currently I'm teaching myself the basics of trigonometry, geometry and algebra because even those skills were mostly gone from memory. I have some experience with statistics. Am I hopeless without a solid foundation in mathematics?

Is there a large (international) demand for GIS-specialists? I'm especially interested in ecology, mining, landscape, urban planning or (merchant) navy applications, but as an entry-level position everything would be great. I often hear there is a large demand for GIS-personnel, but we all know the demand can be over exaggerated.

Will the fact that I'll have a bachelor's degree in archaeology (with a master's degree in GIS) be a limiting factor? While many skills learned in archaeology can be extrapolated to other areas of work, I can imagine many companies would rather play it safe and go for someone with a sociology or geography degree or, better yet, a technical background.

Is it possible to freelance during or after my studies? Will it be possible to gain experience and make some money on the side helping with projects for a small amount of money by doing the menial tasks? And, later on, simply freelance from project to project? I'm somewhat adventurous, so travel is not an issue. Is this something inherently possible with a GIS specialisation?

Is there anybody here who has experience with one of the various GIS MSc programmes in the Netherlands?

I have many more questions, but for now I won't bother you with the rest. Thanks in advance!

Edited by Michael P., 27 September 2011 - 06:29 AM.


#2
dsl

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What sort of skills does a GIS analyst require?


I can't speak for the Netherlands, but ESRI is certainly popluar in the US. Each country seems to have a preference for their particular GIS software package. ESRI has a new license for a 100USD you can get a home use license, which would be perfect way to learn their software. I don't use a lot of Math in my day to day job, outside occasionally cracking open a book to remember how to calculate percent slope to degree. I won't say that for particular jobs you won't need a math background (Lidar processing, or Remote sensing?), but I can't see it as a general requirement. Others may have a different opinion. I think for a GIS Analyst programming is really important, so learning Python would be really useful. You can learn python with a geospatial lean by going through these tutorials: http://www.gis.usu.edu/~chrisg/python/. If you focus on ESRI, python is good, but also look into VB.NET or C#. If you are interested in web mapping, learning Javascript will be particularly useful. I also feel strong basic skills such as working with topology, digitizing, editing geometry are particularly important.

Is there a large (international) demand for GIS-specialists?

Hard to say with the current economy, but I see job adverts in the US still.

Will the fact that I'll have a bachelor's degree in archaeology (with a master's degree in GIS) be a limiting factor?

No it won't hurt. We hired someone with those qualifications for a GIS Analyst position (with the masters in GIS). The only thing that might worry a future employer is that they might not think you plan to stick with GIS, e.g. after a few years switch back to archaeology.

Is it possible to freelance during or after my studies?

Anythings possible ;) See my answer to the next question

Is there anybody here who has experience with one of the various GIS MSc programmes in the Netherlands?

. I did attempt a MSc through the UNIGIS program (which I think has a university in the Netherlands). I also had a BA in Geography/GIS, but wasn't working in GIS when I started with the program. After the first year, I did get a job as a GIS Analyst and really struggled to work all day in GIS and then come home and study GIS. So I think in answer to the question above, you might actually find it hard to do both, or might find that getting the experience may be more valuable. However, my inability to complete the program had nothing to do with the quality of the program. I still would recommend it.

HTH,
David

#3
dsl

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Oh, and you might check out the gis.stackexchange.com for different answers to your questions. They may have a page dedicated to this topic, or you can repost there.

#4
Michael P.

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Dear dsl,

Thank you very much for your elaborate answer. I'm actually looking with interest at the UNIGIS program, and I'm thinking of doing the UNIGIS MSc part time after my BA while working some 28 hours a week in a GIS-related job. It's either that or do a full 2 year MSc course at Wageningen or Utrecht, but I feel job experience on the side is perhaps equally valuable (if not more so).

Your answers have really helped with some worries I have been having. If mathematics is really not that big of a problem, that's a huge burden lifted off of me. While I would like to become adequate beyond c-student middle school mathematics some day, I'd like to do that at my own pace without the worry that my job depends on it.

I'm looking forward to other answers, but yours has been very valuable.

Perhaps the most important question of all; I can't get enough of ArcGIS, and my course material does not cover enough of it. What are some good ways to brush my skills up in my spare time? ESRI offers some tutorials, and I through the magical power of Google I found some other tutorials, but the more the better! And for a newbie, it's hard to filter crap from gold.

Edited by Michael P., 27 September 2011 - 12:56 PM.


#5
Melita Kennedy

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For specific Esri topics, you might look at the live training seminars.

Esri Live Training Seminars

Each one is about an hour and are a quick way to get an introduction to various software capabilities. Previous ones are available for free.

Melita

#6
dsl

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If mathematics is really not that big of a problem, that's a huge burden lifted off of me.


I will say that it can be useful, especially if you learn some programming. Brushing up on things like cartesian coordinates can help. Knowing some trigonometry will help if you need to calculate angles, or deal with survey data. Set notation is useful in understanding unions intersects and difference. Even some cursory knowledge of graph theory could be useful. Basically, knowing the math will help you get behind the software, and not see it as just a black box. Or at least that is what it has done for me just studying on my own. But I don't think there is anything beyond some algebra required for the MSc.




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