What is a Geographer?

Geographers study the earth and its land, features, and inhabitants. They also examine phenomena such as political or cultural structures as they relate to geography. They study the physical or human geographic characteristics or both of a region, ranging in scale from local to global. Most geographers work for the federal government. Many geographers work full time during regular business hours. Some do fieldwork, which may include travel to foreign countries or remote locations.

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What does a Geographer do?

Geographers typically do the following:

  • Gather geographic data through field observations, maps, photographs, satellite imagery, and censuses
  • Use surveys, interviews, focus groups, and other qualitative methods in their research
  • Use quantitative methods, such as statistical analysis, in their research
  • Create and modify maps, graphs, diagrams, or other visual representations of geographic data
  • Analyze the geographic distribution of physical and cultural characteristics and occurrences
  • Use geographic information system (GIS) technology to collect, analyze, and display data
  • Write reports and present research findings
  • Assist, advise, or lead others in using GIS and geographic data
  • Combine geographic data with data about a particular specialty, such as economics, the environment, health, or politics.

Geographers use several technologies in their work, such as GIS, remote sensing, and global positioning systems (GPS). Geographers use GIS to find relationships and trends in geographic data. GIS allows them to present data visually as maps, reports, and charts. For example, a geographer can overlay aerial or satellite images with GIS data, such as population density in a given region, and create computerized maps. They then use the results to advise governments, businesses, and the general public on a variety of issues, such as marketing strategies; planning homes, roads, and landfills; or disaster responses.

What does it take to be a Geographer?

Geographers need a master’s degree for most positions. Those with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for some entry-level jobs, but these often require previous geography experience or training in using geographic information system (GIS) technology.

Students usually choose to concentrate their courses in physical, human, or regional geography. Most programs include courses in both physical and human geography, statistics or mathematics, remote sensing, and GIS. In addition, courses in business, economics, or real estate are increasingly important as more geographers are employed in private industry.

Those with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for some jobs in government, businesses, or nonprofits; some mid-level positions allow candidates to substitute experience or GIS proficiency for an advanced degree. Top research positions usually require a Ph.D. or a master’s degree and several years of relevant work experience.

Positions for geography professors require a Ph.D. Most positions require geographers to be proficient in GIS technology.

What is the workplace of a Geographer like?

Geographers held about 1,600 jobs in 2010, the majority of which were in the federal government. Most others were employed in professional, scientific, and technical services; colleges, universities, and professional schools; and state and local government.

Many geographers work full time during regular business hours, and some must travel to do fieldwork. They often travel to the region they are studying, which sometimes includes foreign countries and remote locations, to gather information and data.

How much does a Geographer earn?

The median annual wage of geographers was $72,800 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $42,450, and the top 10% earned more than $102,440.

Learn more about being a Geographer