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Map your career in GIS

Alasdair Rae  

Geographic Information Systems or GIS has emerged as a discipline in its own right. Geographical Information (GI) provides solutions to challenging and real-world problems using one of the world’s most advanced technologies. GIS is making a huge difference by helping people take key decisions about health, renewable energy, climate change, agriculture, forestry, utilities, transportation, and much more.

In this interview, Alasdair Rae, senior lecturer in urban planning, University of Sheffield, talks about the applications of GIS and the academic route one can take to enter this field.

What is GIS?

GIS refers to data analysis and mapping software, but it can also refer to the academic discipline of geographic information science.

What are its applications in the real world?

One example would be in logistics, when you have a set of destinations to deliver goods to and want to know the optimal route for getting them delivered as quickly as possible so that you can reduce fuel use and maximise efficiency. A GIS can help identify the shortest route. Another example would be in retail. Let’s say you want to open a new coffee shop but you’re not sure what the best location might be. A GIS can help identify the location of potential customers and then suggest a location that is most central.

What will students study in the MSc in Applied Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course?

Students learn data analysis, mapping, statistics and cartographic concepts. They learn how to use open source and proprietary GIS software. But more importantly, they learn about all this in the context of the bigger question: “What can it be used for?” This is the key aspect of our course. We are focused on end-use and real-world applications, and this is why we run one module where students do a project for an external company.

What skills and qualities do students need in order to become GIS professionals?

People who love maps, data and analysis are the ones that do best and make great GIS professionals. Being enthusiastic, driven and conscientious is what it’s all about.

What projects have your students worked on?

So far, our students have worked with private and public sector companies on the links between transport infrastructure and house prices, where to build new housing, advising on new web mapping platforms and looking at city-regional infrastructure in Sheffield. These group projects with external organisations have been really successful and are a great way of bringing the skills they learn to life.

What are the career opportunities available in this field?

This is a great time to get into GIS as there are plenty of career opportunities. Recent graduates have gone into GIS jobs in housing, transport, planning and logistics with private and public sector firms. Some students have also gone on to pursue PhD and several of our international students have returned to their home countries to take on high profile GIS jobs.

What GIS facilities does the University of Sheffield have?

We have our own dedicated GIS lab with high-end computers (all with dual monitors) and all our computers across the campus allow students to use the GIS software they need, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What are some of the most imaginative or innovative uses of GIS?

Sometimes it can be very simple, and sometimes there is a lot of complexity involved. On the simple side of things, I recently mapped the footprints of cities in England and Wales, in relation to their commuting patterns. This was published in a national newspaper and widely shared online because it resonated with people — they were both shocked and surprised to see these patterns on the map: http://bit.ly/25LBAie. A more complex example would be a recent study in which scientists mapped the world to show the areas where light pollution were greatest — and where you simply cannot see the stars at night. The results are beautiful as well as informative: http://bit.ly/1Urg5I2.

I understand you work with ESRI, which is also involved in India’s National GIS initiative. What is your view on India using GIS to tackle some of its challenges, for example, in terms of urban planning, water management, pollution control and so on?

We have an excellent relationship with ESRI, U.K. One of their key education specialists is a University of Sheffield graduate and their higher education manager is also a close contact. A large, highly populated, dynamic, growing nation such as India has already demonstrated that it can do great things with GIS. We hope that our Indian students can continue this good work in the future and also learn from the best practices in Europe.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 5:22:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/Map-your-career-in-GIS/article14504770.ece

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