Geographic Information Science Career Facts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in geographic information science. Read on to learn more about career options along with education and salary information. Schools offering Culture & Media Studies degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Geographic Information Scientist?

Geographic information scientists are professionals who use computational and data analysis to understand the geography of an area. Geographic information science careers include mapping technology and cartography, both of which are involved in creating maps for a multitude of uses. Mapping technicians collect geographic data on the Earth's surface in order to create maps, assisting scientists update their records by providing updated data from multiple sources. Cartographers use special computer programs to create maps based on geographic data compiled, as well as make visual representations of various natural phenomena, such as precipitation or humidity levels.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering these professions.

Mapping Technician Cartographer
Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study GIS, geomatics Cartography, geography, civil engineering, surveying
Key Skills Determine relevant geographic data, use GIS & other technology to help cartographers produce & update maps Use GIS & other technology to compile and analyze geographic data, prepare maps that portray specific information, update maps
Licensure Required None required; certification in photogrammetry & GIS data management available Some states require surveyor license; voluntary certification in photogrammetry & remote sensing available
Job Growth (2014-2024) -8% (for all surveying and mapping technicians)* 29% (for all cartographers and photogrammetrists)*
Average Salary (2015) $44,800 (for all surveying and mapping technicians)* $65,410 (for all cartographers and photogrammetrists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Jobs Incorporate Geographic Information Systems?

Geographic information systems (GIS) are tools used in a variety of careers, from surveying to mapmaking. Common job titles include geographic information systems technician, cartographer, mapping specialist, map technician, and GIS specialist. Mapping technicians use GIS tools to help scientists and other professionals design and update GIS databases and collect and analyze data from multiple sources in order to build accurate maps. These maps may be used in surveying, construction, education, and advertising.

Cartographers collect data and create maps that represent specific information, such as population, terrain, national security information, or weather. They get information using equipment like aerial cameras, satellites, light-imaging detection, and ranging (LIDAR) systems and GIS. They create sophisticated maps that can be used for environmental studies, land-use, or engineering projects and geological surveys.

What Degrees Are Available?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the most common degree for GIS-related careers is a bachelor's degree. As you work toward completion of this degree, commonly offered as a Bachelor of Science, you can expect to study the geography of many different locations as well as exploring the fundamentals of cartography, or mapmaking. You may be required to complete courses in cultural geography as well, exploring the way that geography affects economics, politics, and even populations. Other common courses include computer programming, architectural drafting, and surveying.

How Much Can I Earn?

According to the BLS, surveying and mapping technicians earned an average salary of $44,800 in May 2015, with 53,620 individuals working in the profession within the U.S. The BLS notes that industries hiring the most mapping technicians were architectural engineering services and local governments.

Cartography is a much smaller field, with an estimated 11,970 professionals in the U.S. in 2015. Their average annual salary was about $65,410 and, like mapping technicians, most were employed by architectural engineering services and local governments.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Geographers study our planet and the natural features of Earth, including rocks, the land, and the people and animals that live there. Surveyors examine plots of land to determine legal boundaries of property, presenting their data to other professionals to use in construction, map making, engineering, and other industries. Environmental scientists protect the planet by offering education to the public, advising policymakers, cleaning up pollution, and using their knowledge and experience with natural sciences. These careers will all require employees to have a bachelor's degree to be hired.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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