Working as a Geographer

Geographers are trained to understand the complexity of interrelationships between people and the environment. They bring a vital geographic perspective to a surprising number of societal issues and problems, including, for example, urban planning, transportation, land use, water management, coastal erosion, market research, floodplain management, etc. Moreover, geographers continue to be trained in the making of maps, leading the way in the development of geographic information systems (GIS) that store, display, analyze, and map information using computer hardware and software systems. The advantage that geography enjoys over the other social sciences is this coupling of technical skills and a traditional liberal arts perspective. Several different emphases, each with associated employment opportunities, exist within the field.

Regional geographers emphasize the study of major regions of the world such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Some regional geographers become area specialists who can find work with the State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency. Others may become a representative of a firm specializing in international business. Regional geographers are important in the travel industry. Recent studies indicate that travel and tourism is the second largest sector in the U. S. economy, second only to wholesale and retail trade. Between 1985 and 1995, travel and tourism has created 343,000 new jobs each year in the United States.

Physical geographers are concerned with landforms, climate, and vegetation and the linkages between them. Environmental problems, including air and water pollution, result from human interaction with these natural systems. Environmental agencies and firms have employed CSUF geographers who carry job titles such as environmental consultant, flood zone determination specialist, waste management coordinator, and drought specialist.

Urban geographers study the social, economic, and environmental aspects of cities and have long found employment as urban and regional planners. They work to make cities pleasant and attractive places in which to live and work, taking into consideration traffic patterns, building density, recreational facilities, and the management of water supplies. Presently, CSUF geographers are working as planners in the cities of Los Angeles, Lancaster, Fullerton, Placentia and elsewhere. Private firms and local governments and agencies (such as CalTrans and the County of Orange) have also hired CSUF geographers to work as planners.

Technical geographers concentrate on the technical skills of geography including cartography and GIS as well as quantitative methods. Demand is currently especially high for individuals with strong GIS skills. At a recent annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, nearly 80% of the non-academic job openings listed were in the technical areas. A promising area is the development of applications and location-based services that utilize the Global Positioning System (GPS). CSUF geographers are presently employed as cartographers and GIS analysts for private firms and public agencies throughout Southern California.

Traditionally, many geographers have become teachers at the elementary, secondary, and collegiate level. The recent establishment of Geography Alliances composed of teachers dedicated to improving the teaching of geography and the development of the National Geography Standards are positive developments for the teaching of geography. A number of CSUF geographers hold teaching positions at the junior high and high school levels in Fullerton, Walnut, and La Puente, for example. At the university level, CSUF alumni are professors at Indiana University, Texas A & M University, Brigham Young University, Northwestern Missouri State University and elsewhere.