Back to School!

It is that time of year again GIS geeks!  Veteran grad students are awakening from their summer hibernation while new grad students are making their way to campus wondering how they are going to survive on their huge stipend.  School is back in session!

I always loved the beginning of the college school year (I did have ten of them).  I loved seeing people again that I hadn’t seen over the summer, meeting the new crop of grad students who had yet to become jaded with the system, and most of all I loved the energy of the beginning of the school year.

Now here are my unsolicitated tips to you, the GIS grad student, that will guarantee you success in the future (disclaimer, take these tips with a grain of salt and they only apply to students who are in on-campus programs.  Sorry online degree folks…).

  1. Take advantage of technical resources.  If your department has a dedicated grad student computer lab with big, bad machines with every piece of GIS and stats software know to man loaded on them, I recommend you use it.  I was fortunate to have a pretty sweet GIS grad lab where I was able to get a ton of work done.  I also saved a ton of money on not buying a big, bad machine.
  2. If you have an office, use it.  Yes, it may be hard to get any meaningful work done in an office full of other grad students, but it is those other grad students who you want to get to know.  These are the people who you will bounce ideas off of, go out and grab lunch with, and go to conferences with.  The connections you make with your fellow grad students will be the ones you will have throughout your professional career.
  3. Expand your mind and learn something new everyday. Read the abstracts from GIS related journals, check out journal articles that are in your area of research, and read GIS blogs (like mine!).  Stay on the cutting edge!
  4. Treat grad school like an awesome job.  Show up in the morning, work all day while meeting with professors and other students, mix in a two hour lunch break, and head home at the end of the day.  I really believe this is a recipe for success in grad school.  Many GIS based grad students are in grad school to develop a set of professional skills, so they should treat the experience professionally.  I’ve seen one too many students who treated grad school like an undergraduate experience. They would roll in ten minutes before their 11am class, hang around for a little bit after class, and then head back to their apartment or dorm room and take a nap or play some XBox.  Take school seriously and you’ll find success.
  5. Do extra.  Get involved with a real world internship, do some contract work, work on a paper with your advisor or a GIS savvy professor in another department, or get a part time job doing GIS work.  Your department head or advisor may not like that you are partaking in extra-curricular activities, but a degree alone will not get you a job in today’s market.  Experience counts, so grab any chance you can to get it.  But remember, you need to make sure that you keep your grades in check and that you are making progress towards your degree.
  6. Get technical. Take advantage of the resources you have.  Learn how to program, learn about databases, learn about spatial analysis, learn about visualization, and learn about spatial data and the web.  I think you get the idea. I believe there is a strong demand for very technical geographers and GIS professionals.  Use your time in grad school to learn those skills so you can get a job.
  7. Have fun.  Even though I make it sound like grad school is all about work and results it’s not.  Enjoy the campus, the town, the people and have a good time.