I currently have a B.S. in biology, and am interested in a career change (I am currently a high school science teacher.) I am trying to decide which route will provide the best education and return on investment: doing a post-bacc in GIS, getting a GIS certificate, or getting a master's in GIS since I already have a bachelor's degree. I'd love to hear any and all opinions!

Edit: To be honest, I wasn't more specific because I'm not really sure what my options are. My background would point me more in the direction of something environmentally/conservation related, but as I don't know much about the field, I would hesitate to pigeon-hole myself. I am trying to figure out the best way to find out as much as I can to not only know where my best fit would be, but to also make myself marketable.

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    This question is a little too broad and opinion based for GIS.SE. Also, you don't indicate what you want to do in GIS, which could have significant impact on any answer. My own experience went the certificate route and what I've seen so far in terms of jobs frequently wants a geography or 'highly' related degree, or a significant amount of experience. However there are also quite a few specialist jobs (such as biologist) seeking that background with GIS, in which case a cert might be sufficient. I believe masters has been discussed at other questions if you search. – Chris W Dec 14 '14 at 17:41
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    Welcome to GIS SE! There has been a recent discussion on career questions at meta.gis.stackexchange.com/questions/3746/… and I think there is general agreement that they can be difficult to accommodate within our focussed Q&A format. Alternatively, perhaps ask in the GIS Chat Room. – PolyGeo Dec 14 '14 at 21:53

Judging from the overall sentiment of most articles on the future of the GIS sector and the associated careers, your best bet is to learn programming. (Why Geographers Should Learn to Code, Learning GIS Programming) Without programming skills, you have to compete with a much bigger crowd of recent graduates of GIS programs. Learn Python, it's useful in both the commercial and the open source world.

Considering ROI, there are some only sources to give you a general idea, e.g. GIS Programmer Analyst Salary (United States): $ 53,000; GIS Analyst Salary (United States): $ 49,000. (People from the U.S. will be more qualified to judge if these numbers are anywhere near realistic.)

If you enjoy programming, you can expand your skillset, e.g. towards web GIS or towards handling big spatial datasets.

If you want to avoid the programming route, check the extensive answers to https://gis.stackexchange.com/questions/17259/advice-for-someone-considering-careers-in-gis?rq=1

The usefulness of a Masters degree has been discussed in Is a master's degree needed for a GIS career?

  • @Nicole It would be good if you could narrow down your questions as Chris suggested, otherwise it might soon be closed. – underdark Dec 14 '14 at 17:59

The ubiquity of GPS-enabled mobile phones and applications such as Google Maps have made location based services mainstream, whereas not so long ago, GIS was mostly carried out on very specialized software in a desktop environment. At the same time, there has been an explosion in data collection and analysis (so-called Big Data), a large part of which could be considered geographical in nature.

So, while I totally agree with @underdark, I would add a couple of other areas which I think would/could be useful for someone setting out on a GIS career.

1). Databases. The Postgres/Postgis combination provides an extremely powerful combination of a very stable and mature RDBMS, with hundreds of functions, allowing for the analysis of vectors, rasters and topologies. Dealing with data where it is stored, is often much more performant and scalable than doing it in desktop GIS.

2). R (or some other statistical language). There are a lot of very good spatial statistics libraries for R and a lot of GIS work involves spatial statistics (this also fits well with the growing area of Data Science/Big Data). Python is growing in popularity for statistics also, but R is probably still the leader.

3). Javascript. If you are more interested in the web and visualization side of things, Javascript. Google Maps, OpenLayers, Leaflet, etc are all entirely written in Javascript. D3.js is powerful library for visualization, often combined with other libraries. With HTML5 the trend towards Javascript libs will continue and there are even Javascript servers now (nodejs).

4). Very popular in the GIS world and a scripting language for both ArcGIS and QGIS. There is also a very nice web framework, Django, and it's extension, GeoDjango.

While I have an MSc in GIS (also done for a career change), which gave me a really good grounding, I really wish I had done some introductory algorithms and data structures classes, as these really helped me to see GIS problems in a different way. You can, of course, pursue a GIS career without programming, but it will definitely help a lot, if you have some. Good luck, whatever you decide.

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  • Thanks for taking the time to respond! I really appreciate it! – Nicole Dec 14 '14 at 17:58

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