Geographers study the Earth and the distribution of its land, features, and inhabitants.
What they do
Geographers also examine political or cultural structures and study the physical and human geographic characteristics of regions ranging in scale from local to global.
They typically do the following:
- Gather geographic data through field observations, maps, photographs, satellite imagery, and censuses
- Conduct research via surveys, interviews, and focus groups
- Create and modify maps or other visual representations of geographic data
- Analyze the geographic distribution of physical and cultural characteristics and occurrences
- Collect, analyze, and display geographic data with Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
- Write reports and present research findings
- Assist, advise, or lead others in using GIS and geographic data
- Link geographic data with data pertaining to a particular specialty, such as economics, the environment, health, or politics
Geographers use several technologies in their work, such as GIS, remote sensing, and global positioning systems (GPS). Geographers use GIS to find relationships and trends in geographic data. These systems allow geographers to present data visually as maps, reports, and charts. For example, geographers can overlay aerial or satellite images with GIS data, such as population density in a given region, and create digital maps. They then use the maps to inform governments, businesses, and the general public on a variety of issues, such as developing marketing strategies; planning homes, roads, and landfills; and responding to disasters.
The following are examples of types of geographers:
Physical geographers examine the physical aspects of a region and how they relate to humans. They study features of the natural environment, such as landforms, climates, soils, natural hazards, water, and plants. For example, physical geographers may map where a natural resource occurs in a country or study the implications of proposed economic development on the surrounding natural environment.
Human geographers analyze the organization of human activity and its relationships with the physical environment. Human geographers often combine issues from other disciplines into their research, which may include economic, environmental, medical, cultural, social, or political topics. In their research, some human geographers rely primarily on statistical techniques or quantitative methods, and others rely on nonstatistical sources or qualitative methods, such as field observations and interviews.
Geographers often work on projects with people in related fields. For example, geographers may work with urban planners, civil engineers, legislators, or real estate professionals to determine the best location for new public transportation infrastructure.
Many geographers do fieldwork to gather information and data. For example, geographers often make site visits to observe geographic features, such as the landscape and environment. Some geographers travel to the region they are studying, and sometimes that means working in foreign countries and remote locations.
How to become a Geographer
Geographers need a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions and for positions within the federal government. Work experience and a master’s degree are typically required for more advanced positions.
Geographers with a bachelor’s degree qualify for most entry-level jobs and for positions with the federal government. Geographers outside of the federal government may need a master’s degree in geography or in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Some positions allow candidates to substitute work experience or GIS proficiency for an advanced degree. Top research positions usually require a Ph.D., or a master’s degree and several years of relevant work experience.
Most geography programs include courses in both physical and human geography, statistics or math, remote sensing, and GIS. In addition, courses in specialized areas of expertise are becoming increasingly important because the geography field is broad and interdisciplinary. For example, business, economics, or real estate courses are becoming increasingly important for geographers working in private industry.
Students and new graduates often gain experience through internships. This type of practical experience allows students to develop new skills, explore their interests, and become familiar with geography in practice. Internships can be useful for jobseekers because some employers prefer workers who have practical experience.
Although certification is not required, most positions require geographers to be proficient in GIS, and certification can demonstrate a level of professional expertise. The GIS Certification Institute offers the GIS Professional (GISP) certification for geographers. Candidates may qualify for certification through a combination of education, professional experience, and contributions to the profession, such as publications or participation in conferences. The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing also offers certification in GIS. Candidates may qualify for certification with 3 years of experience in GIS, four references, and the passing of a written exam.
The median annual wage for geographers was $81,540 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $113,140.
Employment of geographers is projected to decline 1 percent from 2019 to 2029.
Budget constraints are expected to reduce employment for geographers in federal government. However, governments and businesses will still need geographers to research topics such as natural hazards and the use of resources. For example, geographers’ analyses on population distribution and land use are important for infrastructure planning and development by both governments and businesses.
Similar Job Titles
Earth Observations Chief Scientist (NASA), Environmental Affairs Corporate Director, Geographic Information Systems Program Director (GIS Program Director), GIS Geographer (Geographic Information Systems Geographer), GIS Physical Scientist (Geographic Information Systems Physical Scientist), Research Coordinator, Scientist, Supervisory Geographer
Sociologist, Anthropologist, Political Scientist, Anthropology and Archeology Teacher-Postsecondary, Geography Teacher-Postsecondary
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Association of Geographers
- American Geographical Society
- American Geophysical Union
- American Meteorological Society
- American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
- Association of Pacific Coast Geographers
- International Geographical Union
- National Council for Geographic Education
- National Society of Professional Surveyors
Magazines and Publications
If you’ve made a mental map of your neighborhood, or learned how to use public transportation, you’ve practiced the observation and reasoning skills used by geographers. These scientists study Earth’s features and the relationship of human activity to the planet. Many geographers do fieldwork to gather data, and study maps, photographs, and census reports for their research. They also create maps and geographic images, which may be used to guide decision making related to land use and groups of people. Geographers usually focus on either Earth’s physical aspects… such as landforms, water, and natural resources… or on human geography… which explores the relationship of human activity to the physical environment. For example, using satellite imagery, a human geographer might research the impact of conflict on a region— its effects on water supply… farming practices… and emigration. Geographers rely on geographic information systems software —or GIS— and satellite imagery to collect data they need for their reports. Most geographers work standard, full-time business hours. Some geographers travel to the region they are studying, which can mean visiting foreign countries and remote locations. Geographers need a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions, including jobs in the federal government. GIS skills and geography knowledge are used in the work of surveyors, urban and regional planners, and geoscientists. A master’s degree and related work experience are typically required for more advanced positions.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOne Stop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org