PhD in GIS

A Doctor of Philosophy in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) degree program is designed to train graduates to analyze and process geographical data. Get information about what prerequisites are needed for acceptance into doctoral programs in geographic information systems. Learn about the classes offered in these programs as well as career options.

What Are the Prerequisites for a Ph.D. in GIS?

All schools require that you have at least an undergraduate degree to enroll in the program, preferably in the earth sciences or environmental sciences. Not all schools require that you have a full master's degree to apply for the Ph.D. program. Of those that don't, some may require that you've completed some graduate-level credits. You may also have to demonstrate that you have the ability to conduct solid research as the program is research-based.

Ph.D. GIS programs are very rare, and online programs are even more rare. Due to the rarity, not all schools offer a Ph.D. strictly in GIS. Instead, you can pursue a degree program in geomatics or earth and environmental science that offers a concentration in geographic information systems. Finding a Ph.D. in GIS is very difficult, though master's programs in the field are often available online.

Prerequisites Bachelor's degree is required, preferably in environmental or earth sciences; some schools may require a master's degree or previous graduate-level coursework
Common Courses Digital mapping, image processing, satellite positioning, global positioning, remote sensing
Possible Careers Urban planner, marine surveyor, cartographer, college professor
Median Salary (2018) $73,050 (for all urban and regional planners
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 13% growth (for all urban and regional planners

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

What Courses Will I Take?

Generally, a Ph.D. program focuses on a number of areas in GIS, including image processing, digital mapping, satellite positioning, remote sensing and global positioning systems. Through the program, you will research and study many theories in the field. You will also study the technical aspects of geographic information sciences and study the practical applications of each. Some topics of study may include:

  • Reading and designing maps
  • How people perceive, use and change their environments
  • Geographic traditions and their changes
  • Developing coordinates and creating their representations on maps
  • Analyzing terrain through the study of soil and landforms
  • Research and development of applications for GIS
  • Spatial patterns in cities
  • Effects of technology on geography and development
  • Spatial distribution of homes, education and transportation

How Can I Use This Degree?

With a Ph.D. in GIS, there are several career opportunities available to you. These include becoming a cartographer, collecting geographic information to create maps that include elevation, land features or population information. You could become a marine surveyor, examining and mapping shorelines, determining water depths and charting underwater land features. Another route is becoming an urban planner and helping decide where to put schools, roads and other infrastructures. You can also go into research, to find ways to use remote sensing and photogrammetry to create more accurate digital and paper maps. Doctoral degree holders may also have opportunities to work in academia as a professor at the university level.