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Careers with Geography

A degree in geography from Ulster University opens many new doors in terms of your career choices. This section looks at some of the careers chosen by our geography graduates and presents short profiles of alumni outlining a variety of career paths.

Geographers specialise in understanding and trying to improve society’s problems. In the degree programme at Ulster you will develop a range of quantitative and qualitative research skills, and address a range of human and physical geography issues; such as climate change, coastal erosion, conflict, development, and poverty. Our graduates are employed across a wide range of fields. Many have forged careers in environmental agencies, GIS, education, consultancy, town and country planning, and public administration. A 2010 poll of over 200,000 graduates from UK universities found that those with geography degrees had the lowest rate of unemployment six months after graduation of any discipline polled (Higher Education Career Services Unit).

Where are they now?

Alumni case studies: find out what some of our geography alumni have to say about their time at Ulster and what they are doing now.

Hannah Orr: GIS Consultant - Renewables Industry

I graduated from Ulster University in 2012 and then took a 3 month role as a Mapping and Charting Officer with Land and Property Services (LPS) before completing an MSc in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at Ulster. After completing my MSc I returned to LPS as a Mapping and Charting Officer, mainly working on the Northern Ireland address gazetteer. During my time at LPS I also had the opportunity to work on a GIS Consultancy project with a Council. I subsequently worked for the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service as an Information Analyst which involved performance analysis and use of GIS to assist in performance monitoring and decision making. I am now working with Gaelectric as a GIS Project Officer and predominantly work on Onshore Wind Farm Projects.

Patricia Doran: Hydraulic Modeller

I graduated in 2009 and then completed a PgDip in GIS. Following this I worked for Northern Ireland Water (NIW) as a GIS technician, using skills I had gained at university I applied them to different GIS software. This provided the groundwork for my current position as a hydraulic modeller with civil engineering company, Mouchel, where I am responsible for the construction and calibration of hydraulic models based on NIW’s supply network across the whole of Northern Ireland. More recently I have been using these models to carry out analysis on the network to assist NIW with their Watermain Rehabilitation Framework (WMRF) by testing the impact their proposed rehab changes has on the downstream network.Alongside this I am also completing an online course with World Bank Group on ‘Designing and implementing successful water utility reform’ and working towards chartership with the Institute of Water.

Katie McFarland: GIS Consultant - Water Management

I graduated in 2011 and continued my postgraduate studies at UU, completing an MSc in GIS. During my MSc I gained valuable work experience through a 6 week placement in Land and Property Services. I also became involved working on a Fuel Poverty project run by Ulster University in conjunction with the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). I switched to taking the MSc on a part time basis which allowed me time to work on this project and also complete my dissertation, which was related to the project. I have since worked on several different GIS projects in Northern Ireland Water and Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Since June 2013 I have been working as a GIS Consultant with ESRI Ireland, based in the Water Management Unit within NIEA.

Matthew Strahan: Heritage Scientist

I graduated in 2010 and then completed a MSc Heritage Science in 2011 from Queen's University Belfast. After my postgraduate course I completed a Heritage Lottery Funded Bursary placement with Historic Environment Scotland in Edinburgh as part of their Digital Documentation team. This saw me carrying out 3D Laser Scan surveys and other digital documentation techniques on HES properties in care including Edinburgh Castle and The Forth Bridge, as well as smaller scale artefacts including a prayer book created by Elizabeth I. I then worked for CyArk - a non-profit company dedicated to digitally archiving the world's heritage sites for preservation, conservation, and education. As part of the organisation I was responsible for the collection and post processing of scan data, photography, and video recordings of heritage sites. Part of this saw me survey the Fountain of Peirene and the Temple of Apollo at Ancient Corinth, as well as processing survey data from various sites around the world. I currently work for Russel Geomatics, who specialise in as-built and condition surveys of heritage sites, including several of Britain's Cathedrals. These are carried out using 3D Laser scanners and other survey techniques I learned the fundamentals of during my undergraduate. I'd be lying if I said I didn't love it. I wouldn't have been able to get into any of these positions without my Geography degree. It instilled in me an understanding of many different systems and processes, from GIS to geology skills and understanding of how a place can be shaped by culture and the people using it. It changed the way I think for the better, and definitely for the more useful. University made me a much more mature and well rounded person and I don't regret going for an instant.

Pamela McQuillan: GIS Consultant - Public and Private Sectors

I graduated in 2009 before going on to complete a PGDip in GIS the following year. My undergraduate and postgraduate studies at Ulster University greatly enhanced my knowledge and experience of GIS and gave me a strong foundation for taking my knowledge further into the workplace.After my time spent at UUC I took up the posts firstly of GIS Technician and later GIS Data Analyst within Northern Ireland Water over a period of 4 years from 2011 through 2015. Here I was responsible for digitising new and existing above and below ground water and sewer assets onto the company’s corporate GIS. I also had the task of responding to internal and external data requests through querying of the asset register. Since October 2015, I have been working for Sopra Steria as a GIS Consultant on a range of Public and Private sector client GIS projects.

Richard Smyth: Geography Teacher

I graduated from the Ulster University in 2014 and began a PGCE (Secondary) with Geography at Liverpool Hope University that September. Before the completion of the course I had secured a job at West Kirby Grammar School, a high performing, selective state school.  During my time at WKGS I have had the opportunity to teach across the curriculum from Key Stage 3 to 5. I have availed of many opportunities including 2 fieldtrips to Iceland, 1 to Belgium and a 2 week geography trip to China in summer 2017. I have taught an array of topics at varying levels, including specialising in human geography at A Level and assisting in the planning of a new course and the implementation of a new fieldwork study at this level. I believe it was the experience and skills developed during my time at Ulster that assisted in me securing a place on my PGCE course and my current teaching post, especially my knowledge and understanding of GIS and ability to incorporate it into my teaching.

Ryan Johnston: GIS Engineer - Transport Industry

I graduated in 2012 and started my first job the day after graduation working for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) before returning to Ulster University to complete an MSc in GIS in 2014. The two thirds of the masters were completed in a full time setting while the dissertation was completed on a part time basis as I was working as a Mapping and Charting Officer for the Department of Finance and Personnel, developing the pointer mapping dataset, Northern Ireland’s authoritative addressing dataset. The modules taught at University within the environmental sciences help to develop a well-rounded set of skills highly sought after by industry, including the economic importance and impact of decisions. Lecturers are friendly and passionate about what they teach which helps to encourage students, but creates a positive learning experience in which to ask questions or seek support with difficult concepts. In terms of post graduate study, I looked at the job specs for jobs I wanted rather than the ones I could get straight out of my degree and realised that a number of doors would be limited without the Masters for my chosen route. Since my Masters, I have worked for Terra Quest (private mapping company), as a GIS consultant for Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland. I currently work in Milton Keynes for a company that helps bridge the gap between innovative research and wider industry adoption within the transport industry as a GIS Engineer for Transport Systems Catapult. Much of the work involves researching new emerging technologies such as Virtual Reality, CAV’s (connected and autonomous vehicles) and providing Geo-spatial expertise to projects and collaborative partners. I owe much of my success to the solid educational foundation I gained while studying at Ulster University, Geography too as a subject can add value to any industry that involves people or places.

Louise Brown: University Lecturer

I graduated in 1996 with a Geography degree and am now a Property Research Lecturer in the School of the Built Environment, Ulster University. My teaching and research are related to property market investment and planning. For example, one of the modules I teach is ’housing market dynamics’ which includes issues such as affordability and the number of first time buyers. This teaching links to a research project ‘The Northern Ireland Quarterly House Price Index’ that I have co-authored for over 10 years. I consider myself a geographer although I am now specialized in one particular aspect of social geography. Once I finished my degree, my first job was in a small private town planning practice as an assistant town planner completing multi-use planning applications and liaising with planning officers on behalf of developers. My background in geography including experience of GIS and mapping skills with an understanding of land use, geology and topography were valuable assets. In my School, it is no coincidence that many of the lecturers have a geographical background. A geography degree contains both knowledge and skills (such as understanding statistical evidence, measurement, interpreting scientific results) which provide an excellent basis for many jobs. As geographers, we have learnt to gather information, evaluate different sources and to identify problems, make connections and offer solutions. In our current world the challenge to consider global issues which have physical, social, economic and environmental consequences requires all these skills and as geographers we have a lot to offer.

Matthew McCready: GIS Officer - Public Sector

I graduated in 2012 and then took time out of education to travel Australia, Asia and the South Pacific, returning to the UK three years later to take my MSc in GIS at the University of Portsmouth. Through undergraduate study at Ulster I was awarded the Diploma in International Academic Studies (DIAS) with Commendation for an ERASMUS study placement year abroad, where I lived in Gießen, Germany, studying geographical modules in German, such as Spatial Planning, Crime Mapping and Urban Geography, at Justus-Liebig Universität. I would strongly recommend taking a year out in the third year of undergraduate study, as the experiences I had were beyond any of my expectations, from travelling around Europe to meeting like-minded students from all over the world, it is something I will never forget! The degree at Ulster provided me with strong foundations for personal development and key technical skills in GIS and remote sensing that are essential in the commercial environment. Postgraduate study offered a deeper understanding of more advanced concepts of database design/maintenance, modelling and analysis and definitely promoted me in terms of employability. Last year, my MSc dissertation in wildfire research using GIS and remote sensing was sponsored through the Ordnance Survey Dissertation Programme Award, which involved a conference presentation of my work at OS Headquarters in Southampton. I was offered a job as a GIS Analyst at Savills in Dorset almost two months before finishing my MSc and of course jumped at the opportunity. I have had the chance to get involved in some pioneering projects using bespoke methodologies and multiple GIS and database software programmes within a highly competitive environment. In April 2017 I start a new position as GIS Officer for East Kent Services, providing GIS support and to three local authorities in Kent County. I am very much looking forward to the challenge.

Scott McFarland: Geography Teacher

I graduated from Ulster University in 2011. Heavily involved in youth work, coupled with a love for my subject led me to the realisation that I wanted to be a teacher. I spent the next 3 years working as an SEN Classroom Assistant. In 2014-15 I was successful on getting onto the PGCE course in Ulster University and completed a Post Graduate Certificate in Education - Post Primary. I now work as a Geography teacher in a secondary school in Belfast and absolutely love it. I believe Geography is an eye opening subject that leads people to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the world around them. I think particularly of my GCSE class, who when learning about climate change and its impacts, gained a greater appreciation for what they have, and devised ways we could mitigate and adapt to this growing issue. Becoming a teacher did not come easily; I got onto the PGCE course on my third attempt, but I am glad I persevered. My undergraduate degree set me up for one of the best careers on the planet (I may be slightly biased). Every day, I get to play a small part in shaping the lives of the next generation and all the while, teaching them to be sustainable stewards of the world around them - what a privilege. Interestingly as a side note, my dissertation at Undergrad focused on the redevelopment of the Maze site. On my first date with a girl who I liked, we found common ground on this as this was what her PhD was on. Fast forward a few years and we are now happily married. You never know what your Geography degree will help you achieve in life!

Paul Fearon: GIS Consultant - Engineering Industry

I graduated with a BSc (Hons) Geography (2008) and an MSc in GIS (2009) from Ulster University. I now work for AECOM in New Zealand, where I am involved in all GIS aspects of a major Fortune 500 engineering consultancy firm operating on a global scale. My work is wide ranging. I have been involved in hydro dams construction throughout the Asia-Pacific region, major transport and rail projects from electrification to a new subway, flood hazard modelling and mapping, aviation projects and mining projects in Australia to name but a few. I would really recommend furthering your education and going on to do a postgraduate course. I thoroughly enjoyed my PG study in GIS. I learned much more about myself and what my strengths and weakness are than I ever could whilst studying as an undergraduate. The relationships you form with the lecturers are a great stepping stone to full time professional work as they get to know you and your abilities better. In the current climate with copious amounts of graduates flooding the already saturated job market each year the only way to ensure you get the job you want is to give yourself a leg up. Completing a PG degree gives you great life skills. Potential employers realise that you are willing to work hard for what you want and will be a benefit to their company. I left Ulster in 2009 and now I am in New Zealand. I honestly don’t think I’d be here on a regular degree.

Siobhan Murtagh: Geography Teacher

I graduated from Ulster University in July 2014 after spending a year during my degree gaining some work experience and teaching practice at Dominican College, Fortwilliam. I was fortunate enough to be accepted onto the PGCE Post-Primary Geography at Ulster University and graduated from this in July 2015. After completing my PGCE, I took the plunge and moved to England in August 2015. I now work as Assistant Director of Humanities with responsibility for Geography at Lealands High School, Luton.

Martine Scott: GIS Consultant - Public Sector

I graduated in 2016 and immediately took a temporary role for 6 months as a Mapping and Charting Officer with Land and Property Services (LPS) as a GIS Consultant. Before completing my temporary role I was taken in as a full time permanent staff member at LPS as an GIS Consultant, mainly working with the ICT Services team as part of the Department for Communities (DfC). At Ulster, through varied lessons and modules and my fast-paced, high pressure placement with the Green Party in Northern Ireland, I learned to be flexible and adaptable; two skills that are in demand for the dynamic role of a GIS consultant. My role primarily involves the development, administration and management of the Spatial Database Infrastructure through system hierarchies, SQL database management and general ArcGIS server management; utilising Python, SQL and Javascript computer languages to complete tasks quickly and effectively. My secondary role involves consultancy, where the skills gained through GIS modules and Tutoring in Schools at Ulster have helped me to articulate complex and specialised information clearly and simply to stakeholders and senior management teams. A few projects I have worked on since joining LPS have included a concentric circle model developed for the Working Age Services of DfC, a data analysis assessment on service modernisation and delivery and the methodology and development of a back- end, public facing web mapping application based on ‘Poverty Stoplight’. Without the numerous skills developed at Ulster, I feel I wouldn’t be as versatile a consultant as is necessary for my job role and I owe a lot of my successes to the teaching and staff of the School of Geography and Environmental Sciences.

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