How to Become a Geographer (With Work Environment)
Updated February 27, 2023
There are various exciting career options for geographers to pursue. Many of these roles require higher education, a professional network, and field experience, giving geographers the tools and skills to succeed in their area of expertise. If you're considering a career as a geographer, it's beneficial to learn more about this role and the steps you can take to enter the profession. In this article, we share what a geographer is, explain how to become a geographer in eight steps, and discuss the work environment.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
What is a geographer?
A geographer is a scientist who studies the Earth, its inhabitants, and how they interact with each other. They have extensive knowledge of the patterns and distribution of population, land use, economic activities, and climate. These individuals may work as researchers, professors, instructors, or in planning and development. For example, a geographer may work with legislators and city planners to plan infrastructure. While geographers' responsibilities vary depending on the industry and role in which they work, here are some potential responsibilities:
Advising policymakers: These individuals can use their knowledge of geography, land use, and the environment to help policymakers make informed decisions.
Conducting and presenting research: Geographers may investigate various topics or questions in their field and present their findings to others through formal presentations or written reports.
Creating maps: These scientists can use the information they gather to develop detailed maps and models.
Gathering and analyzing data: Geographers rely on various tools and methods, such as remote sensing, geographic information system (GIS), surveys, and fieldwork, to collect information that leads to understanding.
Overseeing projects: These individuals may plan and manage projects, including urban planning initiatives and environmental assessments.
Staying up to date with trends and field developments: Regardless of the industry they work in, geographers continue learning by attending workshops and conferences and reading academic literature.
Teaching: Geographers who work in educational institutions, such as universities, may lecture, conduct laboratories, and advise students.
How to become a geographer
Learn how to become a geographer by perusing these eight steps:
1. Obtain a bachelor's degree
You can begin by attending a university to pursue a bachelor's degree in geography or a related study, such as earth science, environmental science, or urban planning. If you already know which geography role you want to pursue, consider perusing the job requirements to determine what to study. For example, if you want to become a project manager, you might study urban planning. During your time as an undergraduate student, work diligently to earn grades that can help you get into a master's program of your choosing. Begin establishing your professional network by developing relationships with professors and colleagues.
2. Gain work experience
During your time as an undergraduate student, you can pursue a geography internship where you gain hands-on experience that aligns with your career goals. For example, if you want to work for the government, you might pursue a government internship where you perform environmental assessments and partake in land use planning. Pursuing volunteer opportunities for community organizations and nonprofits can also provide you with experience. Once you've earned your bachelor's degree, consider pursuing one of these entry-level roles:
market research analyst
remote sensing specialist
3. Consider earning a graduate degree
Pursuing a master's degree or a doctorate in geography or a related field can provide you with more job opportunities and an increased salary. Typically, these programs educate students about physical, regional, and human geography. While pursuing a master's degree is likely to take two years of full-time study, obtaining a doctorate can take between four and six years. Some courses you can expect in a geography graduate program include:
advanced physical geography
cartography and map design
climate change and global environmental issues
demography and population studies
environmental management policy
GIS and spatial analysis
4. Join a professional organization
There are numerous ways that joining a professional organization, such as the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG), can benefit your career in this field. Industry-specific organizations often hold workshops and conferences that you can access to keep current with recent developments. Being a member of a professional association provides networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities. Many of these organizations have valuable resources, such as databases and publications, that members can access to use in their work. Including a membership on your resume also show potential employers that you're dedicated to your field.
5. Discover job opportunities
To begin your job search, you can consult your professional network about opportunities. For example, you might ask your university colleagues if they're aware of work opportunities for geographers. Perusing job boards and professional networking websites can help you find listings. You might also consider the industry that interests you and visit organization websites to determine if they've listed jobs that align with your career goals. Some industries that hire geographers include:
consulting firms, which can help clients plan and manage their resources and operations
military, for geospatial analysis and mapping
private organizations, such as resource management firms, technology organizations, and real estate developers
research institutions, such as universities and think tanks
6. Update your resume
Once you've identified an opportunity that interests you, update your resume to include your latest qualifications. Review the job description to identify keywords, like skills and educational requirements, that the hiring organization is looking for in the ideal candidate. Include the following sections on your geographer resume:
Contact information: In your resume's header, list your name, phone number, e-mail address, and the city and province or territory where you live. Including this information allows hiring managers to contact you to set up an interview.
Professional summary: In one to three sentences, communicate why you're a suitable candidate for the geography role for which you're applying. For example, you can write, detail-oriented and highly motivated Geographer with three years of experience in academic and applied settings.
Work experience: Share previous and current professional experiences that can help you excel in the geography role for which you're applying. For each role that you highlight, list the job title, the organization's name, the dates of your employment, and your major responsibilities.
Education: Share degrees that show employers you meet the education requirement mentioned in the job listing. For example, you can share that you've earned a PhD in geography.
Skills: List skills that the job listing mentions, including additional skills you believe may help you excel in the role. Some skills you might list include spatial analysis, GIS proficiency, cartographic skills, critical thinking, communication skills, and data management.
7. Submit your application
Next, review the geography job listing to determine if the hiring organization requires additional documents from you, such as a cover letter. Ensure you read the instructions for submitting your application carefully. Some hiring organizations prefer you submit your application via a form on their websites, while others want you to send your materials to the hiring manager via e-mail.
8. Prepare for your interview
To prepare for your job interview, research the hiring organization to determine its mission, values, and current projects. For example, the organization might focus on sustainability. Explaining that you share similar values during your interview is beneficial. Reviewing the job description and considering how your skills and experience align with the requirements can help you identify what qualifications to mention. Researching geography interview questions can inform you of example questions about topics like geographic theories and GIS analysis. Consider preparing answers for these questions and rehearsing them with a friend or family member.
Geographer work environment
As a geographer, your work environment can vary depending on the specific job you have. For example, if your primary focus is research, you may frequently travel to observe ecosystems or landscapes that are specific to your subject matter. Conversely, if you work at an educational institution, you're likely to spend most of your time in classrooms, lecture halls, and university research labs. If your work involves analyzing data you've gathered, you may work in a traditional office environment. Most geographers work 40 hours per week, with schedules varying depending on the role.
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