Any geography majors here?

After a few false starts, a couple jobs that looked like they were going to be careers, and several would-be college majors, I decided that what I really like is education, and I want to be a college professor. At first I just wanted to get a masters degree and teach community college, but after horror-stories of 10+ years as an adjunct, and several of my professors telling me not to even bother with a masters-- to go straight into a PhD program instead-- I now think I might go ahead and try for the PhD.

Now I have 70-some-odd credits and it’s past time for me to pick a major. The problem is, I like everything. Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but I’ve had 2 different professors tell me, unsolicited, that I’m a polymath/“renaissance man” :o. Ideally I’d like to teach 3 or 4 subjects, but I’m told that’s not really realistic. So I had chosen communications, just because it’s so broad, and I’m really interested in world cultures. I figured I’d love teaching intercultural communications. Several people have now told me, though, that there are too many communications professors and not enough communication professor jobs. So my next choice is geography. It’s broad; literally the study of the earth. I’m interested in the physical and political stuff as well, but I think cultural geography would fit me very well.

Has anyone walked before me, and care to offer advice?


Well, as someone who is currently teaching in three different departments (one in the Humanities, one in the Social Sciences, and one in the Arts), it is indeed possible to teach a bunch of different things. Of course, that is the subject of a long and bitter rant. Suffice it to say, the academy pays lip service to both diversity and interdisciplinarity, but its heart is not in it. And the adjunct horror stories are mostly true. The model is so good for the administration, though, that the two-tiered system is here to stay.

Piece of advice #1: Don’t get a Ph.D. unless you really want a career that requires it.
#2: Focus on that career the entire time you are in school: publish and network and get grants. Maybe teach a little, but frankly most schools want you to say that teaching is your first and only love, but they don’t mean that, either.
#3: Your interest in all sorts of stuff is commendable. Do not forget it, it will make you a great teacher. But you might not want to let on to everyone, as it will bizarrely threaten some people.

Thank you, Dr. Drake.

May I ask why? The way one of my professors explained it to me is that if I get a masters, I’ll pay out the ass, have trouble finding a job, get paid less, and probably end up going back for a PhD anyway. Whereas, with the PhD program, he seems to think I can find schools that will pay me to go there.

For urban planning education in the US, on the undergraduate level planning programs are usually paired with geography, while at the grad level they’re paired with architecture. I tell people that planning is 1/4 geography, 1/4 architecture, 1/4 political science, and 1/4 economics.

My undergraduate degree was in Urban Planning/Geography. There’s a lot of planners with BS degrees in geography, and many made their way to grad school with geography degrees without a planning specialty.

Hey, elmwood, do graduates of planning programs paired with architecture (such as Ohio State, I think) more desirable? My M.S. program was in Geoscience and most of the resources, curicullum and students were dedicated to geology and the planning program has declined since I graduated. They said it was a decline in interest, but I suspect a bias towards the geology track. I just went to a mid-level state school though.

Sure. The sacrifices of time and money involved in earning a Ph.D. are not worth it unless the Ph.D. itself is something you truly need. An M.A. should give you the skills you need to pursue your own education. The degree is (essentially) a credential. I don’t mean to knock it at all: I have a Ph.D., and I’m glad I got it. It’s just that I think a lot of people who give academic career advice don’t know much about other fields of endeavor, and tend to think M.A.s are for people who can’t handle a Ph.D. Nonsense.

On the other hand, I’d also advice starting out in a Ph.D. program, at least. Most of them will give you a master’s degree on the way, and if you decide to stop there, well, you’re no worse off. You can also transfer from one program (or indeed one field) to another once you have the M.A.

Oh, more advice: always ask about money, up front. It’s no shame to ask for it, and even if they say there is none they often mean “nothing significant to me, a tenured professor earning lots and lots.” I did not know this at the time and am deeply in debt, perhaps unnecessarily. Oh well! (For the record, I had a fantastic education from a deeply flawed program which is no longer in existence. The scholarship was first-rate, the practical training was dismal.)

I have a Geography degree, but so far have stopped at the BSc Level. I’d love to go on to get a master’s but - I’m far too interested in every single thing under the sun to even think think about narrowing it down one thing for further study! So, I feel your pain.

I’m sorry that I don’t have much to offer in the way of advice, I just never get to answer the question “Any geography majors here?”:smiley:

If you do get a geography degree, though, be prepared for these two scenarios that will live again and again “Groundhog Day” style…

  1. “You got a degree to tell you that the capital of Brazil is Rio de Janiero? That’s pretty useless, don’t you think? Snerk!” They will always pick Brazil as the random country. They will always get the capital wrong. Ironically, the actual capital, Brasilia is a perfect example all of the things that geographers think about, but that’s a whole 'nother subject.

  2. They will say
    “Oh, so you’re gonna work for an oil company, then?”
    “No, you’re thinking of geology”
    “That’s what you said”

::take a moment to explain difference between geography and geology::
“so you’ll work for an oil company, finding oil and stuff then?”
:smack: yeah,something like that…

But seriously, geography is an AWESOME degree - as you have already noted, the scope of the subject is almost limitless. Go for it!

I can’t say they’re any more or less desirable, because different programs have different levels of cross-over. During my undergrad program, there was a LOT of crossover with planning and geography. In grad school, even though it was the “School of Architecture and Planning” (a SUNY school), there was little crossover. Some planning programs that are more design-oriented will have more crossover; those that are more community development, economic development, typical practice (land use, zoning, comprehensive planning, etc) or technical-oriented have little crossover.

There’s very few planning programs on the graduate level that are not paired with architecture; those that aren’t are usually paired with political science or public policy departments.

I want to Echo Jimmy Flair and say HEY! I’M A GEOGRAPHER! I did a double major in Communications and Geography as well for my B.A. I got my M.A. in geography in a department that teamed up with planning. There was significant crossover there and now I’m a Planner. And no one understands what I do, either as a planner or a geographer.

Planning is one of the traditional career tracks of the geography major. With the advent of internet tools like mapquest and google Earth, there seems to be sort of a geographic awakening. So whatever field you go for, LEARN ABOUT GEOGRAPHIC TECHNOLOGY! Not just what buttons to push on an application, but how to set up projects and perform spatial analyses. And for gods sake, learn how to make a proper map. Nothing undercuts someones competance in my eyes than poorly mapped results.

I’m also a Geographer (I work in the GIS field).
Amazingly, when I first joined the Dope, I chose the username “Hypnotoad”. I was politely asked to choose a different name so as not to confuse people.

a) A masters is short and sweet, while a PhD takes much much much longer and suddenly you’re not in your 20s. A masters is like going to college, a PhD is like joining the priesthood for life.
b) A pessimist’s view for a moment: Having a PhD increasingly may very well not save you from the adjuncting for 10+ years issue. Look into the real stats on how many graduates are picking up tenure track jobs. Can you bear the idea of being 37 and still not having a permanent job? It is a distinct possibility. You may not be one of the lucky ones. It may not even matter that you are good. This might even become worse, as more people may jump into grad school as the economy tanks a bit, and the market will be even more bloated.
c) everything Dr Drake said, too.
d) Make sure you REALLY want to do this. Sign up for a program that offers both the masters and Phd, tell them you’re PhD track so you can get fellowships and assistantships and whatnot, and then jump ship with the masters if it turns out that it’s not your bag.

That’ll happen about a month after I receieve my bachelors so my 20s can kiss my ass anyway.

Yeah, I actually can. I’ve had good jobs so I don’t have an itch to experience it or anything. I think one I’ll like is worth waiting for.

I thought about doing exactly that. One of my professors did that at Stanford and later went back and got his PhD at ASU. Would I not be on the hook for all the free money at that point though?

JimmyFlair what do you do now?

Thanks everyone so far.

Hi Cisco!
Well, at the moment I’m not using my degree directly for my job. When I graduated, A REALLY good job came up in the field that I originally left (Construction Administration, more or less). Go figure, I left the field that I was originally trained in, because the market sucked. I get an unrelated, degree - then ta da! The job I first tried to get!

However, for the last 2 years, I’ve been temping. My husband’s job is taking us all over the place, and I’m just enjoying the trip right now.

I love mapping and cartography, and I’m leaning towards that area if I’m going to further my studies. Of course, I was also fascinated by soil science, geomorphology, economic geography, population geography, transportation studies…The classic geographer’s dilemma - EVERYTHING is really interesting!

I don’t want to get too off-topic but how in-demand is cartography these days? Isn’t the world pretty well mapped?

Cisco, GIS is a thriving slice of the industry.

Check out: for a sampling of jobs and locations.

There is a lot more to a map than pure physical geography! You can map culture, language, literature… I’ve made maps of medieval epics, ancient peoples [based on linguistic data in ancient sources], and other stuff. Of course, I’m neither geographer nor cartographer, and I couldn’t have done it if it weren’t for GIS & ArcView and the geographers that made them.

Not as much as you might think. We know what the world looks like on a large scale, but there are lots of areas where the maps don’t go into much detail. And that’s not even considering all the different types of maps, and the skill that goes into figuring out how to display geographic information–surely by now you’ve seen the 2004 election cartograms? Similar issues arise in many domains.

If you’re absolutely certain that you want to be a professor, then yes, the PhD is pretty much your only choice. But you need to go into this with open eyes: know what your career options are with a bachelor’s or a master’s, know what the PhD program involves, and know what you have to give up in order to get it. IIRC, you’re in your late twenties or early thirties, so you need to consider whether you can start a family on a doctoral stipend or an assistant professor’s salary (and then you have to worry about the tenure clock!). If after you’ve gone through all of that, you still believe the PhD is for you, then go for it.

I always enjoyed geography courses, even majored for a semester before being lured away to music. I couldn’t stay away and took geog courses here and there all throughout college. The thing is, while I loved studying it (geography seems to touch on a lot of discliplines in a jack of all trades master of none kind of way), the post-college career paths were never terribly inspiring to me. Of course, if you’re inspired to become a college professor then at least that part’s taken care of.

I found courses on water resources - especially water resources (what there is of them) in the American west and the tangle of projects to wring every drop out of the Colorado river - to be particularly fascinating.

At 47 I toy with the idea of going back to school for GIS but I have a pretty good thing going now, a family to support, etc. I briefly looked into online GIS certificate programs around the time I got laid off (the first time, a couple of years ago) but never took the plunge. I don’t know how they’re regarded in the industry, if at all.

Yes, that is probably my biggest concern. I’m 27 and actually the family thing is already a done deal; I’m holding my 2-month old son right now. Offsetting it is that my wife is already pretty well settled into a career, and very supportive of me.

How geographically mobile is she? Can you two handle being separated for a long time? I can’t say anything specific about geography, but in most fields, if you want a decent shot at a tenure track job, you need to attend the most prestigious program you can, and that may not be anywhere where there’s a job for your wife. And even then, as an assistant professor you’ll have to go where the jobs are, even if they’re out in East Jesusville.

I don’t mean to discourage you, but like I said, you need to go in understanding what you’re signing up for. I know I definitely could not have come back to school if I were married.