Even in a Slow Economy, Good Jobs Await UB Graduates with Advanced Degrees In Geography

Grads landing jobs in economic analysis, planning and transportation

Release Date: May 28, 2003 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When the economy turns sluggish, where are the job opportunities? All over the map, if you've got a graduate degree in geography.

That's been the experience of graduate students who completed their master's or doctoral degrees in the University at Buffalo's Department of Geography this month, all of whom have found good jobs that take full advantage of their degrees.

Graduates have this year, for example, landed jobs at engineering and technology firms, the Buffalo branch of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank and the New York State Department of Transportation, most of them starting in the $40,000-$50,000 salary range.

"Geography isn't just about maps anymore," said Alan MacPherson, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department, "it's about industry, economics and solving societal problems."

Ranked among the top dozen geography departments in the U.S. by the National Research Council, the UB Department of Geography also is a national leader in the use of GIS (geographic information systems).

MacPherson attributes the success of the department's graduates in a poor job market to the department's strong orientation toward applications.

"We do teach theory, of course, but our emphasis is on how you apply theory to practical problems," he said. "It gives our students an edge in the marketplace."

Graduate-student research projects in the UB Department of Geography have involved the use of geographic tools to analyze problems ranging from rush-hour congestion and high-crime patterns to trends in foreign direct investment, children's perceptions about geography and how strategic shifts by corporations affect regional labor markets.

Many of the problems students work on while pursuing their studies involve urban and regional issues related to Buffalo and the surrounding areas, as well as international issues involving the region's border with Canada, through the department's Canada-U.S. Trade Center.

"What's unusual about UB's Department of Geography is that about half or more of our graduate students go into private industry or government jobs, while at many other institutions, geography graduates pursue careers primarily in academia," he said.

Of the eight doctoral students MacPherson has advised while at UB, he said that only two have gone into academia, while the others, as he put it, "are making piles of money in industry or government."

The applications orientation of the department, he said, stems from the incredible variety of research backgrounds followed by UB's geography faculty.

"Many of the research programs followed by our faculty are not geography per se," he said. "Most of them publish outside of the discipline of geography in the areas of business, transportation, sociology, management, geology, information-systems management and others."

Because of its powerful capabilities in homeland security and counter-terrorism applications, the GIS sector, which even before Sept. 11, 2001, was experiencing double-digit growth, is now a $4.2 billion per year industry in the U.S., expanding at an estimated annual rate of 20 percent.

Geographic information systems also address other important social problems ranging from the handling of medical emergencies, to fighting crime, to monitoring agricultural crops.

In 1998, UB's National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, one of three national sites of the center, originally funded by the National Science Foundation, that conducts research in geographic information science, was selected by the NSF to establish the nation's first multidisciplinary, doctoral-level concentration in geographic information science. The first fellows to enter that program soon will be graduating with doctoral degrees.

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