Our December 9th podcast
exploring PhDs in geography and GIS included a request to listeners to
share their experiences and thoughts on these advanced degrees. Many
shared their personal stories and experiences, while others involved in
education offered their insights. This roundup may prove valuable to
those considering these advanced degrees.
Mirjam Maughan, of EPA Townsville, Australia, is exploring
how a PhD might be viewed in state government in that country. The
goal of such a degree? "My goal is to move away from being seen as a
GIS technician who pushes buttons, to a spatial analyst who can suggest
new ideas or methods in someone's project, or lead my own projects:
doing something that is 100% my interest."
Adam Spark at Kansas State is mixing
and matching his degrees. "I'm a PhD candidate, but not in GIS.
Rather I have a graduate certificate of GIS that I've completed along
with my PhD; that's a nice complement to my PhD work in Plant
David DiBiase, from Penn State University, thinks it will be some
time before PhDs really take off. "I think that the emphasis on the
vertical differentiation among credentials (e.g. PhD, MS, BS, AS) is
less important at this time than the horizontal distinction between
academic and professional degrees.
"The fact is that although more than 80% of graduate degrees are
professional (practice-oriented) master's degrees, very few
professional graduate programs focused on geographic information
science and technology are offered. I believe that PhD degrees in
GIS&T will remain rare until professional master's degrees in
GIS&T take root and prosper within colleges and universities."
Lucia Barbato, from Texas Tech University, shares the
story of gaining respect without a PhD. "With a master's degree I'm
considered 'non-tenured staff'. ... A lot of people think I have a
doctorate, but I quickly correct them. But if I did have a PhD, I
believe I would have a lot more respect from other faculty. It has
taken a while for my colleagues to recognize that they need to bring us
in to help them write the GIS component 'before' they submit a
proposal. In the early years some of our colleagues thought of our work
as an add-on to their grants and treated us more as add-on
'contractors' and not as 'co-principal investigators' (an important
distinction in recognition at a university)."
Independent consultant Grady B. Meehan, Ph.D. has done
some work to integrate GIS and business education and thinks a PhD in
GIS is a good idea. "I developed a proposal to integrate master's
level GIS education with management education. The goal was to produce
'geo-aware' managers who could formulate clear business questions that
included a geographic component. ... Furthermore, I also ran this idea
by an academic dean (who is a friend) who said if his school tried to
teach something called GIS in management, the business school dean
would tell him that business management is in his domain. From this, I
realized that many integrative, cross-disciplinary programs, (including
a business-GIS program), no matter how valuable, would run into
university political resistance, requiring much deliberation before
"...So, is a PhD in GIS a good idea? Yes, but its time is yet to come
in the business world. Some issues must be resolved as GIS develops in
the direction that the business world will understand. The business
world must see geography/GIS as it does applied statistics, a
discipline that offers value to business organizations. Advanced GIS
solutions require knowledge of business processes, (spatial)
statistics, geographic principles and theory, and how the technology
can be applied to provide valued business solutions."
Diana Sinton, director, Spatial Curriculum and Research, University of
Redlands, shares her take on current
geography PhDs and spatial analysis. "I think you'll find that
there are MANY people graduating every year with a geography PhD
focusing on 'GIS and GIScience.' The types of institutions that are
members of UCGIS - http://ucgis.org/ - would have GIS concentrations
within their geography programs for sure.