Geography and its connections to diverse disciplines.

I hope you have been having some fun with the various connections I have been sharing with you between geography and a lot of other things. This is all well and good. But what do geographers do? Is studying geography only about making such fun connections and then going off to wash the dog or eat a spring-roll-dosai (eeew!) or play marbles? (Admit it, you don’t play marbles, do you? J )

Saying, “H’mmmmm… how FASSScinating!” is good. But can you make a career out of studying geography. After all, parents and students alike have this concern of what kind of job will one get if one studies geography? And where can I study geography that will fetch me a good job?

So here is a Q&A thingie that could help you.

1.  Remind me again, what IS geography?

That textbook definition they teach you in class “geo means Earth, graphy means description, therefore geography means description of Earth”? Forget it! Ditch it, erase it, expunge it, eradicate it!

Geography is a LOT more than that.

Geography is the study of places. It studies where things happen, why they happen there, how, and the consequences of that. It also studies what may happen if things were changed in any way at a place.  Because of its perspective, it connects the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.), the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, etc.), and the humanities (fine and performing arts, literature, poetry, etc.).

Now geography is a very rich and diverse discipline. It brings together the most amazing variety of tools, skills, methods, subjects, and ideas together like no other discipline can. As a geographer, you can create a career that best suits you.

2.  Well, okay. Who’s a geographer?

A geographer is someone who studies Earth comprehensively. They study the land, its features and processes, how life is organized on the planet, how life-forms interact with the planet. This includes study of humans and their interaction with the planet and the other species with whom we share this amazing blue ball floating in space.

3.  What do geographers do?

Geographers look at how place influences phenomena – life, climate, water, etc. Because of this perspective, a geographer can help find ways of better organizing human occupancy of the planet, among other things.

There are two main branches of geography: human geography and physical geography. Human geographers are concerned with the spatial (SPAY-shial, adjective form of ‘space’) aspects of human existence. Physical geographers study patterns of climates, land forms, vegetation, soils, and water.

4.  What kind of jobs can a geographer get?

Geographers fit into a variety of jobs. With the right combination of skills, you can get jobs that deal with education, planning, resource management, market analysis, aviation, defence, writing, political analysis, economic analysis, epidemiology, insurance, map-making, disaster management, emergency services delivery, etc. The list is limited only by your skills and imagination.

A list of the kinds of jobs that geographers do is found on this excellent page at the Association of American Geographers we site. Many of these also apply to India.

5.     Oh, wow! Where can I study geography?

In India, you can choose from a variety of colleges and universities that offer degrees in geography. There is a list of some of the institutions  offering geography degrees (and links to their web sites) at the end of this blog post.

6.     Will getting a geography degree be enough for me to get a good job?

No matter what discipline you get your degree in, it will not be enough. You have to add knowledge, skills, and experiences beyond the curriculum you study. Some of the important basic skills you need to add: using computers, ability to learn new technologies and techniques quickly, make connections in unusual ways to solve problems (geography is particularly strong in this respect), communications skills, etc. Many of these are called ‘soft skills’ – that is incorrect! These are as vital as your competence in geography.

No degree program in India will offer you all the skills you need. Unfortunately, you cannot mix and match subjects in India. This need not stop you from pursuing alternatives. For example, you can take additional courses from IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University), attend geography workshops at TIIGS (The Indian Institute of Geographical Studies), study specialized modules that many reputable institutions offer in statistics, computer programming, etc.

Do not depend only on college degree programs – they are not fine-tuned to every individual’s aims. Supplement your degree program with specific skills and knowledge you need for your interests.

6.     My parents say that I should focus on science and mathematics or I won’t be able to get a job, I won’t be successful. Just the other day, they told me to study hard or I can’t become an engineer or doctor. I want some more options, but how do I convince them?

This can be quite a challenge. Most Indian parents still believe that if you get X degree, you will have job Y waiting for you and you can get that job. This is no longer true. As the job market is getting more internationally connected, and India is increasingly participating in global political, commercial, political, economic, and cultural affairs, you are in a great position to innovate. You can, and must, create your own job profile and design your own career path. These are exciting times but they are also tricky if you don’t get out of the X degree – Y job model.

You can build a financially, intellectually, and emotionally good career with any degree only if you use your imagination and wisely build your knowledge and skill base. This is also true of a degree and career in geography.

Talk with your parents, guidance counselors, seniors, etc. about these issues. Talk to geographers at your local university and see if they can help. Read about geography as a career online (the blog version of this article provides a few links that can help).

7.     Is geography a ‘scoring subject’?

ANY subject is a ‘scoring subject’ if you have the interest in it and if you are taught well. If not, any subject can be a ‘not scoring’ subject. While you must get good marks to progress in the current education system, remember that good marks in a subject are not enough. Your curiosity, interest, and hard work to learn the subject beyond the textbook and syllabus are vital. If you can see geography all around you, you can learn it more easily. This has been the aim of this column – to get you to see geography in all sorts of things around you.

8.     Look, I am a new generation of kid. I care about the social and natural environment around me. There are things that really disturb me. Social injustices, environmental degradation, and such things. How will a geography education help me do something to benefit my little world around me?

Spatial (or geographical) justice is an integral part of human rights. Remember, more often than not, when people are marginalized in society, their geography also becomes marginalized. The poor, dispossessed, and neglected occupy locations that keep them trapped. Part of their empowerment is geographical empowerment. For example, consider physically disabled people. Their geographical rights are frequently denied because they don’t have access to certain places and facilities that most of us take for granted. Understanding the geographic dimensions of human rights is a vital part of understanding how to make a difference for the better.

Whatever we study, if we don’t use it in some way to help others also, what is the point of such study?

9.     Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just injustice and harm that I see. There are also nice things that I see around me. Suggest some things I can do to make these better, as a geographer.

Certainly! I like your attitude. There are many things that can be made better for people. For example, there are many cell-phone-based tools that people can use for their benefit. As a geographer, you can help improve the delivery of many services to people. You can develop tools to help people better enjoy their travel to interesting places. A geographer’s perspective can add great value to these kinds of things.

The possibilities are vast and limited only by your own passion and imagination!

10.  How do I get to meet geographers? I have never met one.

Ha ha ha. I often meet people who say, “You are a geographer?? I have never met a geographer before!”

Look in the mirror!

A geographer is not only someone who has a degree in geography. Everyone is a geographer, but many don’t realize it! If we weren’t geographers, we wouldn’t be able to live!

A professional geographer is probably not so easy to spot. How do you spot a doctor or engineer in normal life? Likewise, you will have to connect with a professional environment where geographers are likely to be working. University geography departments, planning offices, environmental agencies, and census office are some places where you are likely to meet geographers.

Or, you could attend the National Geography Youth Summit – 2014 (NGYS – 2014), 9-11 June 2014 in Bangalore and meet geographers and students interested in geography.

11.  So, I get this vague feeling that you, yourself, like geography. Do you? Come on, it’s okay. You can tell me.

Whatever gave you that idea?

I am kidding.

I love geography. I live, breathe, drink, eat, sleep geography! It is my passion. I can understand anything if I can understand the geography related to it. You should discover it, too. You will find great joy in it, because geography is about life!

Careers in geography

You can make many careers in geography, such as:

  • Regional / urban planning (how to organize a space in the optimal way to provide the best services, amenities, and resources for people)
  • Diplomacy (understanding the geographic aspects of international relations is key to intelligent foreign policy formulation and practice)
  • Defence (this connection is obvious!)
  • Real estate (market analysis and transactions for land)
  • Resource management (forests, water, petroleum)
  • Meteorology (devising computer models of climate patterns, predicting weather, seasonal forecast, etc.)
  • Agricultural policy
  • Geography and the law (applying geographical analyses to the rule of law)
  • Marketing (surveying, analysis, location)
  • Politics (voting patterns, political issues among places, etc.)
  • Emergency response services
  • Cartography (map-making, perhaps this offers the best job-security in the world; this rapidly-changing world requires new maps all the time!)
  • Trade (from local to international levels, trade requires a sound understanding of geography)
  • Travel and tourism
  • Teaching (how else can we provide a good geographic education to our students?)
  • Civil administrative services (IAS/IFS/IPS)

Where to study geography? Geography education programs

— Dr Chandra Shekhar Balachandran
Founder and Director, The Indian Institute of Geographical Studies.

(A version of this article appeared in two parts on 28 October 2013, and 4 November 2013 in the student edition of Deccan Herald.)

Geography and its connections to diverse disciplines.

Geography and its connections to diverse disciplines.




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