A geographer sitting at a desk next to a map of the United States

A geographer could...

Define the terrain of another planet, so that engineers can design an exploration vehicle. Digital rendering of the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars Determine how and why the boundaries of a neighborhood are changing. A wall covered in graffiti in front of several apartment buildings
Create up-to-the-minute fire maps to help firefighters combat a wildfire. A firefighter approaches a brush fire Create topographical maps to show how the coastline has changed over time. A small ridge shown on a section of a topographical map
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Key Facts & Information

Overview When you hear the word geography, you might think of maps and names of state capitals, but the work of geographers is much more than creating maps and identifying places. Geographers look at how people, places, and Earth are connected. They study the economy, social conditions, climate, and topography of a region to help answer questions in urban and regional planning, business, agriculture, and medicine.
Key Requirements Logical, methodical, observant, with excellent oral and written skills, and curiosity about how the lives of people and the places they live in are connected
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Chemistry, physics, computer science, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus; if available, statistics, environmental science, applied technology
Median Salary
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
  • Read about teenage health geographer Megan Blewett who did geostatistical research from a computer in her living room. She used software to map the distributions of diseases like multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, and Lyme disease, and then presented her surprising results to a congressional research caucus.
  • Read this interview with a leading geographer, Dr. Joseph Kerski, who works as an education manager at the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), a company that designs and develops the world's leading geographic information system (GIS) technology.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

To obtain a job as a geographer, students must have a college education.

Education and Training

Federal jobs require a bachelor's degree, but graduate study or experience is an advantage. Requirements for high school geography teachers vary by state. Be sure to check the certification requirements by state. Candidates interested in teaching positions in two-year colleges and specialized and managerial posts in government and private industry must obtain a master's degree. Top positions in government and industry go to those who have a doctoral degree. A doctoral degree is also generally required for teaching positions in four-year colleges and universities.

Cartographers must have a bachelor's degree in geography with course work in drawing, design, and mathematics. Some colleges offer special courses in cartography, and nearly all cartographers expand their skills on the job. Specialists in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) need a college degree in geography or engineering and familiarity with computers. Many colleges offer courses in GIS systems and methods.

Other Qualifications

Geographers, like other social scientists, need excellent written and oral communication skills to report research findings and to collaborate on research. Successful geographers also need intellectual curiosity and creativity because they constantly seek new information about people, things, and ideas. The ability to think logically and methodically is also essential to analyze complicated issues, such as the relative merits of various forms of government. Objectivity, an open mind, and systematic work habits are important in all kinds of social science research. Perseverance, too, is often necessary.

Nature of the Work

Geographers are social scientists who study countries, regions, and cities through their economy, social conditions, climate, and topography. Geographers use their findings to solve problems in urban and regional planning, business, and agriculture. While many geographers are involved in environmental planning, most teach and do research in colleges and universities. Geographers also teach in high schools or work for federal and state agencies, private companies, or as self-employed consultants.

Watch this video to see what Wesley Catanzaro does as a geographer working in the area of public health.

Geographers analyze distributions of physical and cultural phenomena on local, regional, continental, and global scales. Most geographers specialize in a particular aspect or method of geographic study. Economic geographers study the distribution of resources and economic activities. Political geographers are concerned with the relationship of geography to political phenomena, and cultural geographers study the geography of cultural phenomena. Physical geographers examine variations in climate, vegetation, soil, and landforms and their implications for human activity. Urban and transportation geographers study cities and metropolitan areas. Climatologists study weather patterns. Regional geographers or area specialists do research on a particular geographic region, ranging in size from a congressional district to entire continents. They use research methods from many aspects of geography to study all facets of an area, including its climate, economy, physical features, and culture. Medical geographers investigate health-care delivery systems, epidemiology (the study of the causes and control of epidemics), and the effect of the environment on health. Cartographers collect information and develop maps from aerial photographs, surveys, and other sources. They usually work for companies that publish maps and for the defense and intelligence departments of the government. Geographical information systems specialists use computer-aided technology to compile and analyze large amounts of data for environmental planning and natural resource management.

Most geographers use GIS technology to assist with their work. For example, they may use GIS to create computerized maps that can track information such as population growth, traffic patterns, environmental hazards, natural resources, and weather patterns, after which they use the information to advise governments on the development of houses, roads, or landfills.

In business, geographers help decide where to locate production facilities, find markets for goods and services, and do market analysis. Their advice is valued because they are trained to study physical features, such as natural resources, in tandem with cultural conditions, such as the availability of labor and transportation.

Work Environment

Geographers who teach work eight or ten months per year. However, college-level teachers may spend their summers working on research projects. Area specialists may travel to remote parts of the world. Graduate students often help professors with their research.

Geographers in government and business work in clean, comfortable offices. Those in top positions must often travel to attend meetings and to gather information for research.

On the Job

  • Write and present reports of research findings.
  • Create and modify maps, graphs, or diagrams, using geographical information software and related equipment, and principles of cartography such as coordinate systems, longitude, latitude, elevation, topography, and map scales.
  • Gather and compile geographic data from sources, including censuses, field observations, satellite imagery, aerial photographs, and existing maps.
  • Analyze geographic distributions of physical and cultural phenomena on local, regional, continental, or global scales.
  • Develop, operate, and maintain geographical information (GIS) computer systems, including hardware, software, plotters, digitizers, printers, and video cameras.
  • Provide consulting services in fields including resource development and management, business location and market area analysis, environmental hazards, regional cultural history, and urban social planning.
  • Teach geography.
  • Provide geographical information systems support to the private and public sectors.
  • Study the economic, political, and cultural characteristics of a specific region's population.
  • Locate and obtain existing geographic information databases.
  • Conduct fieldwork at outdoor sites.
  • Collect data on physical characteristics of specified areas, such as geological formations, climates, and vegetation, using surveying or meteorological equipment.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Geographers

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