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Geo … What? Opportunities in Geomatics

First, let me quiz you on what the word "geomatics" means. So? OK, no worries, it was unlikely you would know what to say. In fact there was a good chance you had never heard the word before! That said, you may have come across the Global Positioning System (GPS) and its use in monitoring volcanoes, the mapping of global deforestation with satellite imagery, or the creation of a geographic information system (GIS) to model demographics, and so the list goes on. It's possible you're not only familiar with these technologies, but that you've used them in your own work, although you never realised they come under the umbrella of geomatics.

The G-word in a Nutshell

Technically speaking, geomatics is the science and technology of collecting, manipulating, presenting, and using spatial and geographic data (notably data pertaining to Earth) in digital form. In other words, geomatics has its roots in traditional land surveying with instruments such as a theodolite and spirit level, and extends into more contemporary methods including GPS and 3D laser scanning. The qualitative and quantitative analysis of satellite and aerial imagery is also included, as is data management and manipulation with GIS and cartography. Yes, it's all geomatics!

The Wider View

The fact that so few people have heard of geomatics has its advantages: Graduates, whatever their level of qualification, will usually find a job as soon as they start looking. So, what sort of jobs can you expect to find?

The geomatics industry is diverse and crying out for recruits--it is in the unusual position of having more jobs than graduates. Geomaticians are equally likely to be found working for offshore companies positioning oil rigs and monitoring pipelines across oceans as they are to be found mapping utilities for your local council. Local authorities are always looking for people with GIS experience, as are utility and transport companies, supermarkets, and numerous other industries which you may not immediately associate with geomatics.

Experience and expertise in remote sensing (processing and analysing satellite images) or photogrammetry (making spatial measurements from photographs) may lead to rewarding jobs in environmental and national heritage organisations, or a career in the oil and minerals industry. Geomatics graduates certainly have extensive opportunities to travel, and usually with someone else paying the bills!

And then, there are research and academic opportunities too, if a career in this area appeals.

Study Opportunities in Geomatics

At undergraduate level there are just a few geomatics courses available in the UK--the University of Newcastle, University College London, and the University of East London are the only institutions that offer dedicated single honours geomatics courses. GIS is more widely taught and can often be studied as part of joint honours courses with geography. Many of the courses on offer are accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors ( RICS) as well as the Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors ( ICES), so on top of getting an academic degree you also get part way towards a full professional qualification.

Many more opportunities exist at the taught postgraduate level. Some institutions, whilst not offering undergraduate courses, run dedicated master's degree programmes in geomatics. The Institute of Engineering Surveying and Space Geodesy ( IESSG) at Nottingham University and Plymouth University's Institute of Marine Studies are only two examples. The Department of Geomatic Engineering at UCL also offers a range of five MSc courses, each specialised in various aspects of geomatics: GIS, remote sensing, photogrammetry with remote sensing, hydrographic surveying, and surveying. Finally, there are two taught postgraduate programmes available at the University of Newcastle--an MRes in Geomatics and an MRes in Spatial Network Management. These last two courses offer training in research methods and are more suited to graduates who would like to stay in a research environment. In common with undergraduate degree programmes, many of these courses are also accredited by the professional institutions.

A range of research degrees (for example, PhD and MPhil) may also be offered by institutions to suit students from a variety of academic backgrounds. Geomatics draws heavily from the sciences of mathematics, physics, and computing. Those with a maths or physics background may be suited to studies in geodesy, e.g., satellite orbit determination and gravity field modelling. Others may opt for projects in the fields of archaeology, agriculture, or geology, amongst many others.

What Makes a Geomatician?

Geomatics attracts a huge variety of people. Academically, a background in mathematics is helpful--although this may come from studying other subjects such as physics or civil engineering, not just pure mathematics. There are also prospects for archaeologists, geologists, environmental scientists, and geographers who are more scientifically inclined. Generally speaking, geomaticians like detail--our work is very precise and we want to know where something is, how big it is, and whether it has changed over time. Geomatics is a very practical subject--a lot of time is spent out in the field collecting the all-important raw data. Geomaticians enjoy being outdoors and own waterproof jackets and "sensible" walking boots! We're also by and large a very friendly crowd.

Finding Out More

If you want to find out more about geomatics, then is a good place to start. You'll find case studies of projects and profiles of people working in geomatics as well as more information on what the subject encompasses. You'll also find links to the institutions that offer the courses in geomatics mentioned above. If you want to go a step further then visit the RICS careers Web site.