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Mentoring Recent GIS Grads: Their Questions

  • 04/11/2017 10:41 AM
    Message # 4746505

    I am again participating in a GIS panel discussion at MSU this Thursday (April 13). Apologies for the late request--the questions below just came in from GIS students. Replies from professionals in different disciplines would be really valuable.  If you can carve out time now, new GISers will benefit! I will bring your replies with me to the discussion two days from now and they will remain on this forum.


    -What are the GIS positions that allow field work?

    -How useful is a GIS portfolio?

    -What are the best ways to display data?

    -What are other programs used in the GIS industry that are good to know?

    -How important is it to have a GISP?

  • 04/11/2017 11:46 AM
    Reply # 4746616 on 4746505

    I have worked in several different industries and fields as a GIS analyst or technician over the past 10 years.  Below are my thoughts based on my experiences.


    -What are the GIS positions that allow field work?

    In my experience most GIS positions have some field work required, however, the field work can be spotty and most of your time is spent at a computer.  Biological and ecological jobs tend to have more field work than civic jobs, but it really just depends.  I would think most jobs have about an 80:20 to 95:5 office to field work ratio.

    -How useful is a GIS portfolio?

    Some employers will request copies of previous work, so it is always a good idea to keep projects you are proud of in a portfolio.  But generally speaking it is not standard so I wouldn't worry too much about having a big portfolio, just a few examples showing your best previous work.

    -What are the best ways to display data?

    I prefer maps to tables, but this question is really project dependent and it is important to ask clients how they would like their data displayed.

    -What are other programs used in the GIS industry that are good to know?

    I recommend being very, very familiar with ESRI software.  Also, depending on the field you are working in, it is beneficial to be familiar with statistical modeling software such as R or MatLab.  I also recommend knowing the ins and outs of Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Fusion Tables as clients are usually familiar with and comfortable using Google products. 

    -How important is it to have a GISP?

    In my experience, not very.  I started working in GIS before GISP was really popular so I have experience for credentials.  I think if I was graduating now, I would pursue it as it shows you are capable of using GIS if you don't have any prior work experience.

  • 04/11/2017 12:44 PM
    Reply # 4746702 on 4746505

    My comments are based on my experience working as a GIS Specialist, GIS Technician, and GIS intern over roughly 5-7 years and in three different states.

    -What are the GIS positions that allow field work?

    As Steven Jay mentioned, many GIS positions are heavily office-based positions because a lot of time is spent 1) cleaning up, analyzing, and presenting field-collected data in the office. However, my perspective is that the percentage of fieldwork is based on 1) what type of data your organization collects/maintains and 2) what kind of people you support with GIS operations. 

    Example #1 I worked as a contractor for an Oil & Gas company in Kansas City, Missouri and had zero field experience, because all of the required data was in paper, Excel, or PDF format.

    Example #2 In Illinois, I worked for a county-level government agency that maintained parks, trails, and conservation resource area. At least 15% of my time was spent either 1) collecting or verifying field data related to trail geometry and attributes (e.g. grade, slope, width, etc.), park and amenity infrastructure (signs, shelters, etc.) for use in planning and maintenance programs, and 2) training natural resource management staff on using GPS units to collect field data related to resource management, invasive species control, etc.

    -How useful is a GIS portfolio?

    I have been through both sides of the hiring process. As a member of the hiring team, I find a small portfolio can be helpful to review because it helps provide context to your resume and the interview conversation - telling more of your story, and can sometimes provide the deciding factor between two candidates who are equally qualified on paper.

    As a job seeker, I once applied for a job where I never met the hiring team and all they had to review my qualications was my portfolio and resume. In that case, the portfolio gained more importance in the hiring process.

    Either way, I have found both as a job seeker and hiring team member that the resume and cover letter still carry a lot more weight in the hiring process unless the job announcement or hiring manager explictly requests a portfolio.

    -What are the best ways to display data?

    I believe that map-based ways of visualizing data are still the most popular and powerful method for displaying data. In that statement, I include both static map methods (paper, PDF, images, etc.) and interactive methods (web GIS, GeoPDF, etc.) Each has their pros and cons depending on the project and audience. Tables and charts are also quite valid and popular for brochures, posters, and handouts. As Jay put it, each project is different and it depends on what the requester needs or wants, and what is feasible with your available resources.

    -What are other programs used in the GIS industry that are good to know?

    Surprisingly, I would say that you really need to know Excel or any equivalent spreadsheet software. GIS Source data often needs a little (or lot of) cleanup before it is ready to use in GIS and Excel is very versatile for that. Know at least one or two programs for manipulating GPS data (e.g. DNRGarmin, ArcPad, ArcToolbox, Trimble, etc.) if you work with field data. SPSS or R are handy for doing statistics alongside ArcGIS. And always explore open-source GIS tools, from QGIS\Grass to GDAL, etc. as ArcGIS doesn't do everything well, and is so expensive for individual license.

    -How important is it to have a GISP?

    I think that the GISP is gaining more importance as the GIS industry tries to increase its visibility and credibility in society and I intend to pursue the GISP myself as a benchmark of my experience and knowledge. You may also see an increase in the number of job announcements where a GISP is required or preferred.

    Andrew Stickney

  • 04/11/2017 2:01 PM
    Reply # 4746872 on 4746505

    From Jennifer Frazer, USNFS, Helena National Forest (via email):

    I have been a federal GIS specialist for 10+years. This is my perspective:

    -What are the GIS positions that allow field work?

    As a federal GIS specialist, my field work is tied to the demands of my workload and the needs of the specialists I help.  If I spend more time working on specialist’s data standards, data collection workflows, and training, I could get out every week realistically during field season.  If my workload is more NEPA or database entry driven, I am more office bound.  I enjoy my variable work schedule and learning/working with all the resource departments (Timber, Botany, Recreation, Fuels, Fire, Minerals, etc).

    -How useful is a GIS portfolio?

    I intend to stay with the federal government my whole career.  I keep a loose portfolio, but it is more like a laundry list of projects.  I refer to these in my resume/interviews when applying for other jobs.

    -What are the best ways to display data?

    In the federal world, it depends on network speed, national requirements/direction, program reporting requirements, and what is allowed by IT.  I have tried to test as many options as I can, but haven’t found a magic formula yet for everyone.  Final answer: it depends.

    -What are other programs used in the GIS industry that are good to know?

    If you are a GIS only career path as an understudy, I would look to getting a minor and/or experience in another discipline of your field of interest.  Being a total GIS tech head in a land management agency or state department will make you and your co-workers batty.  You need to be able to understand and cross that resource/tech communication gap.  You need to understand your customers (fellow staff) in whatever industry you go into.  So if you want to be GIS supporting law enforcement, get some of that knowledge.  If State or Federal, just a basic natural resource management would really help.

    Disclaimer: I have a background as a Bird-Nerd Biologist.  This has helped me immensely as a federal GIS specialist.

    -How important is it to have a GISP?

    In the federal GIS specialist application process, I know of no benefit for having a GISP.  Just your standard experience/education qualifies you for the job (if applicable).  Even at higher position levels, having a GISP is not in the selection criteria.

  • 04/11/2017 2:26 PM
    Reply # 4746905 on 4746505

    Most of my work has been in local government (19+/- yrs) to put my spin on things.

    What are the GIS positions that allow field work? 

    My early year of GIS analyst, I did extensive field work throughout the state of South Carolina.  From collecting point location for historic road signs, to 4-wheeling on new trails in the mountain parks...and the beach parks.

    Later, in Cascade County, my field work was for rural addressing and road collecting.  Currently; in 12 years I have not gone out in the field once. 

    As in most jobs, the further up the GIS hierarchy...the less field time I think?

     How useful is a GIS portfolio?

    I had one job interview that wanted to see examples of my work.  And yes, I still have hard copies of some of my better maps and such from other jobs. 

    Not wanting to push one product or another, but with online storage, keeping a  portfolio up to date and relevant is fairly easy.  Story maps, Google drive....

    What are the best ways to display data?

    This has been mentioned, but I believe it comes down to the project needs/requirements.  Simple paper maps or a PDF ... all the way to the design and publishing on-line (story map...) 

    When you look at the Esri map atlas each year, many of those products take their Esri map and further refine with Adobe products or Photoshop tools.

    What are other programs used in the GIS industry that are good to know?

    I agree, Excel is good to know.  I'm partial to SQL Server Manager- primarily for some advance queries in our Enterprise GDB.  We also use Trimble products - Pathfinder Office for data collections purposes.  If you are into coding obviously Python might be of use.

    I would take a look at the various open source GIS tools, just to be aware.

    If you are partial to Esri - ArcGIS online and associated map app templates.

    How important is it to have a GISP?

    I do have my GISP, and recently renewed it. 

    Currently not a requirement to be hired here.  That being said, I have seen some job announcements that note a GISP would be preferred.

     In a previous job my supervisor stated it this way..."we will pay for your GISP, but it won't change your pay here.  BUT, it may affect pay for you at some other job."


    Diane - hope this helps.


  • 04/12/2017 10:24 AM
    Reply # 4748395 on 4746505

    Posting on behalf of Elaina Graham GIS Specialist Helena - Lewis and Clark

    -What are the GIS positions that allow field work?

    In the Forest Service, the best way to have field work in your job is to A) have a resource management education ( with GIS as an integral part) and some experience.  This can be Forestry, Wildlife Bio/Management, Recreation, Hydrology, Geology, Civil Engineering,  Landscape Architecture – I am probably missing some.  Work a few years after graduation as a technician in your chosen field.  Understand that in our world, we value the resource management knowledge as much as the GIS expertise – those that have both are much more hireable.  PLUS B) get a position located on a District, rather than a Supervisor’s Office (Forest Headquarters) or a Regional Office.  Or PLUS C) earn at least a master’s degree in your chosen field and aim for the Forest Service Research branch instead of the National Forest System branch (which is where I am).  Work a few years as a tech in Research, collecting field data for studies.  Researchers have more freedom to make their own job description, and can get out into the field to collect their own data (with help from techs, usually).

    -How useful is a GIS portfolio?

    In the Forest Service, we like to see experience in the resume, particularly in ArcGIS and in relational database.  I have yet to request a portfolio of candidates myself, and had it requested of me only once, as a tie-breaker.

    -What are the best ways to display data?

    AGOL.  We are utilizing story maps, crowdsourcing public comments, and providing map services (inside and outside the agency) and feature services (only inside currently)

    -What are other programs used in the GIS industry that are good to know?

    Oracle database (especially understand how normalized and relational databases work) MS Access, MS Excel, Informix database, Adobe professional (to spiff up cartography for interpretive signs), DNRGPS, Trimble download and conversion software.

    -How important is it to have a GISP?

    I don’t see it as an important certificate in the Forest Service.  Experience and a demonstrated ability to organize and innovate is more important.  Being a (wildlife, forestry, etc.) society member in good standing is probably more important, but even that is just decoration, really.

  • 04/17/2017 10:11 AM
    Reply # 4756756 on 4746505

    On behalf of Joseph Kerski: 

    https://sway.com/hfIcxJiDaUKB2l9E   is my most recent careers in GIS presentation.  I hope it is useful.

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