How to Become a Geographical Scientist
If you want to understand the world around you — literally — there is no better way than by studying geographical science. This field uses technology to answer important questions about our world: Why are different places the way they are? What is the relationship between people and where they live? How can we best take care of our planet and its unique natural characteristics?1
If these questions sound exciting to you, and you are interested in both the social sciences and the natural sciences,2 consider becoming a geographical scientist.
What Do Geographical Scientists Do?
Geographical scientists, also known as geographers, study the world — not the scientific makeup of Earth, as geologists do, but where things are located on Earth and what that means.3
In other words, geographical scientists study both the physical aspects of places on earth and how humans interact with their environment.
There are two kinds of geographical science: human geography and physical geography.2 Because geographical science is such an interdisciplinary field, it is a perfect choice to tackle complex issues affecting humans such as economic and social concerns, as well as environmental and climate issues.
What Tools Do Geographical Scientists Use?
Modern geographical science is heavily dependent on powerful new technology, such as geographic information systems (GIS), which allows geographical scientists to gather, analyze and understand data. In the hands of a geographical scientist, this information can be used to look for solutions in areas such as climate change, agriculture, public safety, real estate and more.2
Other tools include remote sensing, global positioning systems (GPS), online mapping and other new technology.3 The advent of so many new technologies has allowed us to understand the geography of the world around us better than ever before.
What Areas Can Geographical Scientists Work In?
Geographical science has many potential subcategories depending on your particular area of interest and your personal strengths.3 Within each of these subcategories, you'll find a variety of potential job titles.
- Economic geography (community resource specialist; environmental economist)
- Political geography (policy consultant or researcher)
- Cultural geography (historic preservationist; cultural studies teacher)
- Population geography (demographer; market analyst)
- Geomorphology (environmental scientist; geophysicist)
- Weather and climate (climatologist; atmospheric and space scientist)
- Biogeography (forester; soil and plant scientist)
- Natural hazards (forest fire inspector; ecological risk assessor)
What makes a good geographical scientist?
Geography may be a scientific field, but that doesn't mean geographers spend their time locked away inside of a laboratory. Instead, geographers often conduct fieldwork, so it's important to feel comfortable interacting with a variety of people, including fellow scientists and the different communities you'll encounter throughout your career. This is especially true if you wish to go into human geography, but it's also relevant for physical geographers.
In general, successful geographers should be good at visualizing information, since geography is a very spatially focused discipline. Other personal strengths that might make you an effective geographical scientist include being:3,5
- Comfortable with technology. Geography is heavily reliant on geographical information systems and other forms of technology, so you must be willing and able to master these highly specialized technological tools.
- Analytical, good at critical thinking and problem-solving. Geographers must be able to determine which data sets to use, define their methods, and then conduct thorough and in-depth analysis of that information.
- A skilled, clear communicator. After completing research, geographers must then communicate their ideas to teammates or other audiences in written reports. It's helpful to be able to write or speak to a range of individuals, from scientists to policymakers to laypeople. Fluency in another language is also a plus.
The Path to Becoming a Geographical Scientist
- Complete a bachelor's degree in geographical science or geography. Take every opportunity possible to learn about geographic information systems (GIS), an essential area of expertise for modern geographers. You can also improve your marketability by pursuing additional education outside of geography, such as coursework in business, economics or real estate, which are some of the different fields where geographers can find work.5
- Work an internship or entry-level job. This is a great way to gain professional experience, strengthen your resume and determine whether geographical science is right for you. Some federal government positions will accept candidates with a bachelor's degree.6
- Earn a master's degree in a field related to geographical science, such as geography or geographic information science. To qualify for more advanced positions in government or the private sector, a combination of professional and academic experience will be necessary.5 Because geographical science is a highly competitive field, look for opportunities to specialize in interdisciplinary areas, especially if you are interested in working in the private industry.
Many positions for geographical scientists require a master's degree, and nearly all geography jobs call for expertise in geographic information systems (GIS). Prepare for professional success in geographical science and pursue career advancement with Kent State University’s online Master of Geographic Information Science (GISc).
1 Retrieved on January 12, 2020, from http://www.aag.org/cs/about_aag/about_geography_2/overview
2 Retrieved on January 12, 2020, from http://www.aag.org/cs/mycoe/geographic-learning
3 Retrieved on January 12, 2020, from http://www.aag.org/cs/jobs_and_careers/what_geographers_do/overview
4 Retrieved on January 12, 2020, from https://researchguides.library.wisc.edu/GIS
5 Retrieved on January 12, 2020, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/geographers.htm#tab-4
6 Retrieved on January 12, 2020, from https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/geographer