Geographer

What you need to know

Overview

Geographers study the Earth and the distribution of its land, features, and inhabitants. They also examine political or cultural structures and study the physical and human geographic characteristics of regions ranging in scale from local to global.

What is this career like?

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.

Some of the things geographers might do:

  • 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
What skills are needed?
  • Analytical skills. Geographers analyze information and spatial data from a variety of sources, such as maps, photographs, and censuses. They must then be able to draw conclusions from their analyses of different sets of data.
  • Computer skills. Geographers must be proficient in GIS programming and database management and should be comfortable creating and manipulating digital images with the GIS software.
  • Critical-thinking skills. Geographers need critical-thinking skills when doing research because they must choose the appropriate data, methods, and scale of analysis for projects. For example, after reviewing a set of population data, they may determine the implications of a particular development plan.
  • Speaking skills. Geographers must be able to communicate with coworkers; present, explain, and defend their research; and be a contributing member of teams.
  • Writing skills. Geographers often write reports or articles detailing their research findings. They also may need to write proposals so that they can receive funding for their research or projects.
What is the pay?

The average pay for geographers in the United States ranges from $48,020 to $104,710.

The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.

What is the career outlook?

Employment of geographers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Governments and businesses rely on geographers to research topics such as natural hazards, the use of resources, and climate change. For example, geographers’ analyses on population distribution and land use are important for infrastructure planning and development used by both governments and businesses.

What education is required?

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.

Discover some of the courses you will take pursuing a degree in Geography.