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Discussion: Masters in GIS

in: Orienteering; General

Jul 8, 2020 2:40 AM # 
FrankTheTank:
I have a BS in mechanical engineering and recently have been thinking about a mid-career change into GIS. I was wondering if anyone had any recommendations on a master's program in GIS and more importantly a job that might help pay for it? My local cc has GIS classes. Should I start there or try and jump straight into a masters program? (I figure a few here probably work in the GIS Field).
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Jul 11, 2020 5:58 AM # 
undy:
Completely off topic, but the short term ultimate frisbee team I'm playing on has just named itself after you (or at least the same name).

Slightly on-topic - the course at Keele Uni in the UK was good in about 1991 (and their ultimate team was Zebedee at the time).

I think that if you are computer literate you should be able to go straight to a Masters if it has a substantial course work element. My wife works in the field professionally and is pretty much self-taught.

Depending on where you are on the planet, local government seems to have GIS users with fairly general GIS skills, then there are areas where you may need a side helping of specialist knowledge (hydrology, geology etc).

HTH thanks for making me crack a smile about the name
Jul 11, 2020 9:29 AM # 
JLaughlin:
If you're looking for a mid career change into GIS with a ME background, I recommend looking at GIS cert instead of a masters degree unless you know what research you want to do that is GIS related. A GIS cert will teach you all the skills necessary to do your job.
Jul 11, 2020 4:05 PM # 
acjospe:
Agree with Jordan here. The GIS professional certification is probably more useful to work toward than a masters, but it isn't hugely applicable if you don't have professional experience using GIS because I think there is a "years of experience" component. For most people, GIS is a powerful tool, useful across a huge range of applications/careers, but if you want to get a masters in it you're likely delving deep into either cartography, computer science, database science, remote sensing, etc... Unless you've got a thesis question burning in your mind at the moment, I would start with the CC GIS classes, which should give you the broad overview.

You can use GIS in pretty much any field, and most companies will want to see some work experience (the typical catch-22) or at least a portfolio. If you're going the masters route, definitely work with an advisor who'll have you doing side projects to pay your way.
Jul 11, 2020 4:22 PM # 
Cristina:
Northeastern University has a College of Professional Studies with Masters degrees available online that are more like a longer certificate program. There's often a capstone project but it's not a research-based program. (It's also not cheap but maybe there are other similar programs at public universities?)

The GIS one is currently called Geospatial Services. I did about half of the courses several years ago but ended up bailing when I decided I was not going to go into GIS work. I found the courses light on the technical side, which you may also find coming from an ME background. But I imagine something like that would give you enough background to get started.
Jul 11, 2020 9:29 PM # 
jjcote:
It ought to be yurets mentioning this, but I think a Masters is not a good move. That degree will probably be phased out soon because it's culturally insensitive.
Jul 12, 2020 2:18 PM # 
gudeso:
I am a lecturer in the GIS field at UNSW, have a look at the City Analytics master program.
Jul 12, 2020 7:28 PM # 
johncrowther:
I also agree with others that a certificate is as useful (and takes less time and money) as a masters. I switched career from geophysics (oil and gas) to GIS recently with a GIS Certificate from Denver University: https://universitycollege.du.edu/gis/. The course was entirely on-line (which was the first half of the Masters certificate) and gave me enough to further develop on my own, and also to get a GIS position in the environmental field.
Other advice is to join some local professional GIS organizations, attend meetings, and network as much as possible.
Jul 13, 2020 4:53 AM # 
Vector:
I have a Master's in Geography (w/ Remote Sensing and GIS emphasis), taught GIS labs, and really enjoyed the program and it certainly has opened some doors. Whether to do GIS certificate or a full Masters degree depends on your end goals.

If you want to do research, if you love the field of geography / spatial science in general, and/or you want to pursue a career in academia, teaching in higher ed, professor, etc, then go for the Master's degree and PhD. If you only want some add-on skills to augment a primary profession or other field like engineering, GIS certificate makes more sense.

I would caution that I've found most GIS jobs to be pretty low salary for those coming out of GIS programs into their first jobs even with a Master's degree which is one reason why despite having a Master's in it I haven't made a career change from my original professions. Even the academia positions are pretty low pay until you've been tenured somewhere. I say this because I see you are 1) in engineering already, and 2) talking about a career change. As an engineer combining something like an MBA w/ your undergrad engineering credentials may be far more lucrative than something like GIS. So I would just say if you do GIS do it because of interest and not because of the money, and if earning potential is a priority might be better combining a GIS cert with something like an MBA or Master's in Engineering, PMP, etc etc. That said there are some who've managed to do really well in GIS and of course that could be you too, ultimately you're largely the author of your fate.

As far as where to study I recommend first deciding between Master's or Certificate option, then deciding what discipline within Geography/GIS you want to pursue, and then all the other life considerations only you can answer for yourself like where you want to live. Different universities have different strengths...for example CU Boulder is great for Human/Regional Geography, UCSB is great for the technical/spatial sci side, I like Wisconsin's cartography, etc, etc etc. Then drill down to specific research and projects...look at the topics you're most interested in and then let that inform your decision on which schools to choose since different schools and professors are doing different research. But if you're only interested in the basics like GIS software, almost any GIS graduate certificate program from an accredited institution will do.

I had a great experience in my Geography Master's program at Western Michigan University. They had a China scholar there that I wanted to study under for my thesis research, it was close to University of Michigan where I was studying a different Masters degree, and they have more money for funding graduate students than most geography graduate programs due to a very generous endowment...when I was teaching GIS labs my tuition was covered 100%, I had a pretty decent stipend, there were many good research and teaching assistantships and scholarships, and even things like travel and registration for conference presenting was funded. The faculty and facilities were excellent too and it wasn't too large or too small. They have an M.S. in Geography as well as certificates in GIS and also Geospatial Applications in UAVs. Here are some links to WMU's programs:
- Master's: https://wmich.edu/geography/academics/masters
- GIS Cert: https://wmich.edu/geography/academics/certificate-...
Jul 15, 2020 6:17 PM # 
FrankTheTank:
Thanks for the advice. I'm leaning towards a certificate program at my local CC, which I can complete while keeping my day job. I may eventually want to get into teaching (in my 3rd career) and the masters would be very useful for that (probably the HS level). I think remote sensing would be very interesting to pursue in a masters program.

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