Monday, December 20, 2010

So What Can I Do With Geography?

Back to blogging after focusing on teaching this term. A question that seems to arise more and more through Open Days and discussion with both students and parents is what can I do with Geography? With fees in the UK about to go up to between £6,000 and £9,000 pounds, there is an understandable concern that both students and parents don’t want to waste their money on degrees that are in their view ‘worthless’. Ideally you would want a degree that places you in the right hand box of Figure 1 (taken from the website of the University of the West Indies). This box is a good place to be in a job market which is relatively static and in which you can be relaxed about the future but if you specialise too much is there a risk that if the economic or technology change then you could swiftly move into the left box or even bottom right box? Selecting a degree is as much about retaining flexibility in employability and in employable skills into the future as it is about choosing the right degree for your immediate career ambitions.

Figure 1 Employability matrix

Most geography departments in most universities will have a policy on employability and will either incorporate transferable and employability skills into their curriculum or provide separate units that tackle employability. The problem for a subject like geography is that, unlike something like Pharmacy or Engineering, there are few individuals who call themselves Geographers that you can point to and say ‘look see that is what you can do’. Like a lot of degrees geography provides essential transferable skills that employers seek as several websites note and as outlined in Table 1.

Table 1 General Employability Skills in a Degree

In addition, Geography offers a set of skills that are subject specific and which can help students gain jobs in different sectors such as those discussed on the GEES (Geography, Earth and Environmental Science) website. The skills are outlined below and divided into knowledge, skills and competencies. On some degree courses particular practical skills will be emphasised more than on other courses so if you want a particular skill for a particular career then it is important to select a course with this in mind.

Knowledge, Skills and Competencies

• Cultural, political, economic and environmental issues incorporating local, regional and international perspectives.
• Moral and ethical issues arising from an understanding of diversity in people and places.
• Issues of globalisation, environmental sustainability, multiculturalism and citizenship.

Thinking Skills
• Expertise in integrating, analysing and synthesising information from a range of sources, gained by working with complex environments and issues.

Practical Skills
• By routinely working in teams on laboratory, desk and field-based research, geographers are versed in project management including planning, execution and evaluation; this involves skills such as time-management, risk-assessment, problem solving and analysis.
• Geography requires the generation and use of a diversity of data types (text, numbers, images and maps). They therefore have well-developed literacy, numeracy and graphicacy skills and are accustomed to manipulating and presenting these various data using a range of ICT formats, including geographical information systems (GIS).
• The complex ‘real-world’ nature of geographical research requires geographers to be flexible and adaptable – they must have the confidence and initiative to be able to deal with the unexpected.

To access a word document produced by my colleagues at Portsmouth, Dr Brian Baily,please click HERE. This document provides prospective and current undergraduates with advice and links to a range of website dealing with employability for Geography. I hope you find this a useful resource.