GIS careers and post-graduate programs

This is an FAQ for students in my courses.

I’m thinking of pursuing a career in GIS.  Where do I start?

First, try to think about how you want to use GIS in your career.  There are two general types of GIS positions: (1) GIS specialists or technicians, who usually use GIS all day every day or (2) GIS generalists, who use GIS as just one part of their job, such as an urban planner who might use GIS once in a while to create a map for a report.  Neither of these is inherently better, it just depends on where your interests in aptitude lay.  In my experience, the majority of students who take my courses tend to fall in the latter group.

Try to get some GIS experience before you graduate by volunteering (e.g., with a non-profit organization), working as a research assistant, or working on a research project in GGR491 or GGR462 .  If you are considering a GIS-oriented project for GGR491, please note that I only supervise 1-2 students per year and there is often stiff competition.  You may also consider that, just because you want to use GIS for a project, it does not mean that I am the most suitable supervisor.  For example, if GIS is really just a tool you are using to explore a bigger question related to some other subject area, you might be better off with a supervisor who has a strength in that area.  If you go this route, I would still be happy to answer any GIS-related questions you may have.

This article does a great job of explaining your options after graduation: A student’s guide to jobs in GIS and cartography

Is the GIS minor enough to get me a job?

That depends on the job.  The GIS minor provides a strong foundation in both theory and practice.  The software used in our courses is widely used in many fields is an industry standard.  For many entry-level positions, the GIS minor would be considered adequate preparation.  However, no matter what GIS program, diploma, or degree you obtain, much of what you will learn will be on the job.  Employers are looking for people who not only have specific software and problem-solving skills, but that have shown that they can think, communicate, work well independently as well as with others, and that will not require a lot of hand-holding. Having said that, there is only so much that can be taught in a half-year course that meets for two hours per week.  If you want to gain more breadth and depth in understanding GIS and/or get more software-specific training, you should consider a post-graduate diploma or degree.

I’m thinking of getting more GIS training/education after I graduate.  What are my options?

There are three main options, depending on what your long-term goals are:

College diploma: Many community colleges offer post-graduate GIS diplomas specifically designed for people who may already have some GIS background but want to acquire more training.  These are usually quite intensive, one year programs where you learn skills that lean more toward positioning graduates for technician positions (although you would not be in any way limited to these positions).  There are often courses in programming, surveying, cartography, and database management.  Fleming College has well-respected programs in GIS called Applications Specialist and Cartographic Specialist, as well as Geomatics Technician.  Another strong option is the Centre of Geographic Sciences in Nova Scotia that has a variety of one- and two-year programs specializing in areas such as marine geomatics and GIS for Business.  Job placement rates from both schools are usually quite high.  Ryerson University has a certificate program in Applied Digital Geography and GIS that you might also consider.  There is some overlap with material taught in our GIS minor, but they also have courses we don’t offer, such as Business GIS.  For more information, go to the geography department website and look for a link to continuing education.

“Professional” Master’s degree: Some universities offer one-year Master’s degrees in GIS.  I have called them “professional” because they are generally geared towards practical training and education for someone looking to improve their professional credentials, as opposed to a more traditional, research-oriented graduate program (see below).  Ryerson University has a one-year, intensive Master of Spatial Analysis degree program that provides opportunities for an internship and is particularly strong in the area of business GIS.  I’m not as familiar with other programs, but you might also consider the Master of GIS programs at the University of Calgary or Penn State (the latter of which can be done completely online).

“Research” Master’s degree:  Most universities offer one or two year Master’s degree programs, where the emphasis is more typically oriented towards conducting research, either as preparation for a research position in government or industry, or for advancement to a Ph.D. program.  Many geography or earth science departments allow students to specialize in GIS and/or spatial analysis.  In this case, you should think about how GIS might fit into your research.  Some students want to work on GIS itself, such as developing a new method for performing spatial analysis.  More typically, students are interested in some other aspect of geography, such as hydrology or urban planning, and want to apply GIS techniques to help them solve a particular problem.  In either case, the best approach is to look carefully at the courses offered but perhaps more importantly, who the faculty members are and how their interests match your own.  I can’t really recommend a particular school or department, as each one varies in strengths depending on what topic or field you are interested in.  Some traditionally strong schools include McMaster, Queen’s, Waterloo, McGill, and UBC (this is not by any means an exhaustive list).  As for U of T, consult our faculty listing for professors who include GIS in their research interests.

Can you help me get a job?

From time to time employers contact me asking if I know of any good candidates looking for a position.  I am not a placement service, but if I know of current or former students who might be interested and qualified, I am happy to pass on information about a possible job.  I must emphasize though, that these positions come up only sporadically, so it is very hit-and-miss.  I would not want to get someone’s hopes up too much.  If I hear about a job that may be of interest, I will post it to my LinkedIn group for University of Toronto GIS Students and Alumni.  Please note that this is a closed group, and members must have taken GIS courses at U of T to be included.

There are a number of job websites you can find through an Internet search.  You may find that these websites tend to focus on specialist and technician types of positions.   If you are looking for a position in a particular field where GIS is one part of the job, look for jobs in your field that mention GIS.  For example, if you are interested in using GIS in municipal planning, then look for planning jobs where GIS is listed as one of the required skills.  You are less likely to see those types of jobs listed on a GIS jobs website.  This is not an easy process.  Jobs where GIS is one of the criteria will likely not have GIS in the job title, so they are not as easy to identify.

Would you be my graduate supervisor?

Please go to this web page for more information.

How do I enroll in a degree program or register for a course in GIS?

If you are a U of T student, you should contact the registrar at your college.  If you are not a U of T student, contact the Faculty of Arts and Science.  If you have questions specific to the geography department, you should contact the appropriate graduate or undergraduate counsellor in our department.  Please note that I have no control over admissions in my courses.