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SunWukong

GIS/Modeling/Conservation Biology/Environmental Science

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Hey all,

I am about to embark on a masters in Conservation Biology at Antioch University New England. I am interested in raptor conservation, R, GIS, and bigger ES issues like global change. I was wondering if anyone is in these fields and has any thoughts on the job market as it stands. I am very adaptable and have done a wide range of work, from science to communications to writing to the arts, so I can teach myself what I need to gain almost any skills.

GIS, Python, and R are all particularly interesting. I know there's always teaching science, but I was wondering if anyone had experience with environmental science/biology/modeling stuff or had advice on fields, skills, or even organizations to focus on.

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Let me start this off by saying I worked for a federal land management agency.

The good thing about GIS is that its still a relatively new field. I have been talking to my old boss about this and he seems to think more jobs will require a GIS aspect. I am also trying to pursue at least a masters where GIS, modeling, and using external applications will play a big role in the development of my research topics more so so I know those aspects.

Besides working for the feds, you can always work for private industry. I know of a couple of contractors who specialize in creating GIS applications for land managers. I'm not sure about the job market on that end, but I'm still assuming its either going to stay steady or increase.

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Do you have any idea what kind of jobs specifically I would be looking for? Would it be as narrow as 'GIS technician' or would it be useful if I wanted to try to get a federal job as a biologist?

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For the refuge I worked at, everyone used GIS to a certain extent: the biologist, forester, fire management officer, natural resource planner, and the two managers. The biologist and the forester would be the ones where you would be using models (both of them were relatively new at GIS so they weren't using them). There are also positions within the Inventory and Monitoring section of the USFS, USFWS, USNPS and (I believe) USBLM who travel throughout their region, collecting data, and presenting that information in various forms (including models) to land managers to give them other options.

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I hope I am not hijacking this thread, if I am I do apologize! I am actually also interested in GIS, but from a humanitarian / disaster management point of view. My school has some GIS courses on offer, but purely for the purpose of skill-building.

My question is if GIS would be a useful skill to have on the side? Or, when push comes to shove, would they simply hire a 'real' GIS technician to do the job instead?

I guess my worry is that it would just end up being a gimmick on my resume, and I would never actually get to use it. And in that case, wouldn't it be better to choose another skill-building course?

Again, sorry for hijacking the thread. Would be grateful for some insights!

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Here's something I tell people who want to pursue non-academic careers such as me. Just as in ecology, it is best to be a generalist rather than a specialist. As a generalist, you have the potential to fill many different roles, whereas the specialist can fill maybe one or two. Pursue your career as a generalist for several years. Only then should you consider making yourself into a specialist.

So by that advice, I would suggest taking a GIS class or two. Like I was telling SunWukong, GIS is a new field so there aren't a whole terrible lot of pure GIS technicians. From what I've noticed, those who do specialize in GIS end up working on the application/extension development side. Besides why hire a pure GIS technician when you can hire someone to do two jobs (unless there's a lot of GIS that has to be done).

Another thing to keep in mind is that the problem with bona fide GIS technicians are that they may not be able to connect the GIS to the job, that is where you would have an advantage. You would know the material and you can make those connections. That's going to be the same for every field. Just to give you a quick story, for the national wildlife refuge I used to work at, we were having a hard time with an external application that connected to ArcGIS via a Microsoft Access personal database. We were on the phone with the developer for many weeks trying to tell him what we were wanting from this application. I believe we were wanting to include more informational fields for different landcover types (for both practical and theoretical purposes) so we can analyze that with the rest of the information. He didn't have the background knowledge of the field to understand what we were talking about even though he worked for an environmental consulting firm. While we were able to correct it in the end (I think), if he had some basic knowledge about the field, the problem would be resolved faster (and they could be making more money by working on a different contract instead of working with us).

That being said, I'm all for learning new skills, especially when you're trying to find a job in the first place.

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@otherss Thanks! I hadn't even thought of being able to connect the GIS to the job, that's a really good point. I guess I will choose GIS then :)

Edited by reddog

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Otherss, that is very interesting and insightful, thank you! I would love to hear more about what it was like working on a wildlife refuge, if you don't mind sharing. Also, where are you in school right now? It sounds like we have some common interests.

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Working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service was a great experience for me. It also helped me to develop the skills that I couldn't pick up in most schools that could be useful when applying to permanent positions: car/atv/utv/heavy equipment maintenance, vocational-type skills, fire fighting, bird banding, etc. It also allowed me to become certified in some of these skills through the government. I was hired to work on the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) recovery project at the refuge. This meant using all of those skills previously mentioned to make sure all of the equipment was in working condition (and that I could fix it in the field when something happened), to modify the equipment used to better suit our needs, to assist in prescribed burns around our clusters, and to plan future actions using GIS. This last part was where I played a big. When I first arrived, the forester had just retired. Unfortunately, he was the only one using GIS on the refuge. Since I was just a temporary hire, the staff had to learn how to do GIS from me before I left. When I got there, my skills were average at best (but that was still more than they knew). I had to do a lot of experiments just to know how to work certain applications and what shapefiles represented what. It helped a lot that I knew the field-level specifics about all of the data (I even found some places that were previously recorded on GIS that the rest of the staff didn't know about such as archaeological sites). Towards the end of my time there, I was running models on the landcover types, ages, and understory to determine where future cluster placements should be, where immediate forestry actions needed to take place in order to remain complaint with the endangered species act, and where unknown clusters might be at. I was also fortunate enough to be around when the refuge had to update their comprehensive conservation plan, which meant that I did all of the maps for the plan. I consider it to be a quasi-published paper but I don't include it on my resume besides a line under job descriptions (it was accepted by the service and you can find it online).

I am not in school right now, but I want to get a MS in landscape ecology and hopefully a PhD in landscape genetics. Both of those work with models looking at habitat-matrices and landscape genetics adds an animal component to landscape ecology. Ultimately I want to be able to manage land based on ecologically-sound theories and principles. Right now, I'm hoping to get into the University of Idaho, dept of Forest, Range, and Fire Sciences. I applied late (as in past the priority deadline), but there are a lot of professors working on landscape ecology.

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I am a social worker. I help run the after-school activities at the college and I teach life skills (relationships, empathy, safe sex practices, etc.) during the day. I also help out with community English classes and just pretty much do whatever. I really wanted to do environmental work but it hasn't worked out.

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