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Currently I'm on the 5th year of education at the university (Dept. of geography, specialisation - "GIS"). In my country (Belarus) we have a system of education that differs from the majority of the other states. So after these five years "bachelor degree" is not written in a diploma (but it is implied). And there is a possibility to have a master's degree (one year more) that is (as far as I know) treated in other countries.

I have an intention to leave the country as there isn't any possibility to find a GIS-related job here. Is the point of view, that in this case, it's much better to be a master than a bachelor?

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9 Answers 9

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Getting a master degree might be a good thing for several reasons:

  • You can position yourself as a person with higher qualifications (yet I have seen many organizations asking for diploma papers in Europe and many organizations who did not ask for any papers at all).

  • You will learn a lot during your studies. Check carefully the curriculum - not all masters are the same. Look for the one that has courses you enjoy most.

Being a European, I can suggest something for Europe if this is applicable in your case. Consider obtaining a MSc on a remote basis, there is a good one in Lund (LUMA GIS), Sweden. It used to be free, but since introduction of tuition fees in Sweden, it costs quite some money to study (even distantly) nowadays. Check the prices at their website here. There should be also some other MSc programs in GIS/geomatics available in Europe. Some of them are not that expensive and I believe there were some that are 1year (most of others will be 2years which will have the impact on the total price for tuition fees and accommodation).

Speaking in terms of competence, you definitely don't need a MSc to get a decent job in GIS or related field. But imho if you will get a chance to spend a year studying, it is worth earning a master degree which will make you more attractive for certain employers. However, from what I've seen there was somewhat a preference for folks with a bachelor degree but at least some work experience comparing to those who have just got masters.

If you won't have a chance to study for a master, consider developing your skills yourself by looking at the Geospatial Management Competency Model which imho gives a good overview of the skills you need to succeed in the GIS/geospatial career. Michalis Avraam has a great blog post for skills you might want to have, too.

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Ironically the suggested paper is exactly what a masters graduate would write as the author has a masters which ties in to @Chad Cooper's point below about writing. –  danagerous Jan 16 at 17:51
    
True :) the source is at careeronestop.org/competencymodel/pyramid_download.aspx?GEO=Y - the full pdf version is here. –  Alex Tereshenkov Jan 16 at 20:38

The answers that you are going to get for this question are going to be primarily based on personal experience and are also going to vary based on location and as such this question in its current form is not a good format for this site. That being said, in my country (United States) GIS full-time job requirements are normally (I'm generalizing based upon postings I peruse over at the GIS jobs clearinghouse) as follows:

  • GIS Technician: No degree or associates degree, sometimes bachelor's

  • GIS Analyst, GIS Developer, GIS Manager, GIS Specialist: Bachelor's degree

  • GIS Lecturer, GIS Researcher: Master's

So (again this is a sweeping generalization) the only real career that usually asks for a Master's degree is academia in the U.S. If you would like to have the option to serve as an adjunct professor at a University in the U.S. I would pursue a masters, otherwise it is not usually a requirement.

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Thanks and Sorry for being offtopic but I've already seen here some job-related topics so I've decided that it's allowed to post it. Now I have a more complete picture –  laechoppe Jan 16 at 13:28

Most employers are looking for experience and not certificates on the wall. But a master's degree gives you experience and confidence to take the job. here is Six Things You Should be Doing to Enhance Your GIS Career. Good Luck !

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it's good as, frankly speaking, all really needed experience I've gained by myself but not in the university as our curriculum is a bit strange. So vice versa i'm confident that I will not find an appropriate job in Belarus with master :) –  laechoppe Jan 16 at 13:24

Pursuing a MS is dependent upon your goals. If you are interested in conducting scientific research, a MS (or PhD) is for you. Having a MS opens doors in academia that would not normally exist with a BS. For example, these are the education requirements for a mid-level research position in academia:

Master’s degree (or higher) in remote sensing, GIS, oceanography, or related degree including a strong background in statistics, mathematics, computer science, and/or engineering, and 2 years of experience.

OR

Bachelor’s degree in remote sensing, GIS, or related science degree including a strong background in statistics, mathematics, computer science, and/or engineering, and 5 years of experience.

Looking at the government sector, a MS is virtually required these days unless you have significant experience already. The following are typical qualifications for a mid-level GIS job with the feds:

FOR THE GS-09 LEVEL, in addition to the educational requirements listed above, applicants must have at least one year or twelve (12) months of specialized experience equivalent to grade level GS-07 that demonstrates: work performing duties such as providing geographic information systems (GIS) training and support with guidance for resource conservation planning and the integration of GIS and planning tools into daily operations; this would include business tools for a variety of disciplines such as engineering, ecological, etc., and other software applications as assigned; provide support with assistance to state, field, and soil survey offices regarding ArcGIS, soil data viewer, and other GIS software; OR applicants must have two (2) years of progressively higher level graduate education leading to a master's degree or master's or equivalent graduate degree directly related to cartography. Equivalent combinations of education and experience are qualifying for this grade level.

For a mid-level private sector job (ESRI Support Analyst), the following requirements are nearly industry-wide:

Requirements:

  • Bachelor’s in GIS, a related field, or equivalent work experience while using GIS as a primary tool

Recommended Qualifications:

  • Master’s in GIS, environmental science, geography, or other relevant field

The bottom line is a MS will jump start your career, provide increased opportunities and almost certainly yield a higher salary.

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Here's a perspective from the U.S. and a non-GIS master's degree. I have a B.S. and M.S., both in Geology. I took no GIS courses in college at all. I've been in the GIS field for 12 years now, ever since grad school. What did I get out of grad school that has served me well? Two things:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving skills. I was fortunate enough to have some pretty challenging courses and professors that made us work. You just had to "figure it out". Problem solving skills are crucial in our field.
  2. I learned how to write. I'll never forget getting my first draft of my thesis back from my advisor, it was covered in red ink. My advisor made me write, rewrite, then rewrite some more. I consider writing skills to be the best thing I got out of grad school.

I had a boss tell me once that if have two candidates for a job and they are both qualified, but one can write, go with the one that can write.

It's not really all about the diploma, but what you get out of it, and sometimes it takes a while to realize what you actually did get out of it.

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+1 for writing. Even if the field you choose is very technical (i.e. GIS), the ability write gives you a huge advantage. You might start your career digitizing roads, but nobody wants to do that for 30 years. –  Nick Ochoski Jan 16 at 17:53

I want to expound some on @Chad Cooper's response. Much of where your BS/MS degree will benefit you is the industry where you want to work. If you want to be a GIS Analyst in Geology, Environmental Management or any targeted market segment then your education should reflect the skills and knowledge required for that area.

Now if you just want to a career in implementing spatial technologies and practices for anyone and don't need to really have subject matter experience then the extended education just becomes fluff and a burden financially.

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I'll echo the responses above. It completely depends on what you want to do. My experience of 12 years in GIS in British Columbia, Canada is this.

If you want to work in government or academia and climb the ladder to make more money then I would say yes. If you choose this route, having a high level understanding of GIS systems and theory will help in a management role and you'll use the skills of your team wisely.

If you want to have the hands on fun of being an analyst and developer you are wasting your time and money and I would say no. If you choose this route I would suggest getting more coding experience under your belt.

To be completely well rounded having a bachelors in Geography/GIS and a college diploma in GIS would be more beneficial than a masters alone.

Again, it depends on your career goals and objectives.

Best of luck.

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I should add that I have a diploma in Natural Resource Management and a diploma in Computer Information Systems. I only have 2 formal academic GIS courses; vector and raster. Everything else I learned on the job and through professional development and self-directed learning. –  danagerous Jan 16 at 22:27

If it helps you make a decision to do a master or not, economy-wise I would recommend Norway. As far as I know all universities and most college universities have free tuition on all bachelor and master programs, even for foreigners, no matter where you come from. I think it is the only country left that offer this to foreign students. Also the demand and salary after graduating is generally very good if you want to stick around.

I hope this answer gave you at least some useful information.

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I think there are a few factors to consider. What would the cost of an additional year be for you? I am not familiar with the situation for Belarus, but if financial aid is friendly over there, it might be best to get that extra year. However, if you are paying a considerable tuition out of pocket, there may be virtue in working first.

I was effectively working in GIS with a Bachelor's degree. I worked along side folks with masters degrees, and we did the exact same thing. Granted, they made about $10,000 more than myself. But, along the way, they acquired debt and lost 2 years.

If you were an American student, and paying out of pocket for that masters, I'd say it isn't worth it.

Obviously, if you want to go into Academia or deeper research, none of this applies, I did more commercial things involving computers than research.

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