What Is a Geographer?

Job Description, Duties, Earnings, and Requirements

Geologists studying graphical display of oil and gas bearing rock on screens
••• Monty Rakusen / Getty Images

A geographer studies the land, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of a region or area of the earth. This social scientist may use what he or she learns through this research to help governments and businesses plan where to build homes and roads, how to respond to disasters, and what marketing strategies to use.

Sometimes called GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Specialists or Scientists, geographers can specialize in several different areas of study, but most people who work in this field are physical or human geographers. A physical geographer studies the physical aspects of a particular region while a human geographer's focus is on the effect human activities, including economic activities, social characteristics, and political organization, have on that area.

Quick Facts

  • Geographers' median annual salary is $76,860 (2017).
  • 1,500 people work in this occupation (2016)
  • A little over half of all geographers work for the Federal government. Architectural and engineering firms and state governments employ some.
  • They usually have full-time jobs and work during regular business hours.
  • The job outlook for this occupation is good with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting job growth that is as fast as the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. However, given how few people work in this field, this growth won't amount to many job openings.

Roles and Responsibilities

It is important to know what your job duties will be before you decide whether to pursue this career. We took a look at job announcements on Indeed.com and learned that geographers:

  • "Utilize GIS tools to perform data mining and research, and to assess, integrate, manipulate, exploit, extract, and analyze digital imagery, geospatial databases, and various sources"
  • "Use imagery, intelligence reports, and knowledge of the Agency’s research library holdings to complete various assignments"
  • "Collaborate with coworkers to exploit, analyze, report, and disseminate information for the benefit of decision makers"
  • "Maintain current knowledge of relevant technologies and subject areas"
  • "Perform quality reviews to ensure geospatial and content accuracy"

The Downside of This Career

Travel is a big part of geographers' lives as their research often takes them to the regions they are studying. If you don't like traveling, particularly internationally and sometimes to very remote places, this may not be the right career for you.

How to Become a Geographer

Entry-level, as well as most Federal government jobs in geography, require only a bachelor's degree. You will generally need a master's degree in geography or geographic information systems (GIS) for more advanced positions, especially those in the private sector. If you have your eye on a faculty position at a college or university, get ready to earn a doctoral degree.

Because there are few jobs in this occupation, not everyone who graduates with a degree in geography can find work as a geographer. Should you want to use your degree to pursue other options, there are other occupations that will make good use of your knowledge. Your bachelor's or master's degree will also prepare you to become a surveyor, urban or regional planner, geoscientist, or cartographer.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

  • Analytical Skills: As a geographer, you will have to analyze large quantities of data.
  • Critical Thinking: The ability to think critically will allow you to decide what data to collect and the methods to use to analyze it. You will then use the findings to solve problems.
  • Writing and Presentation Skills: Part of your job will involve writing and presenting your research to clients or colleagues.
  • Communication Skills: Since geographers often collaborate with colleagues, you must have excellent listening and speaking skills.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Be a self-starter, be able to work alone, yet be able to share information with team members and customers in a timely manner"
  • "Exceptional customer service orientation"
  • "Demonstrated experience in creating visual aids (graphs, charts, etc.) and drafting, editing, and proofreading documents for publishing"
  • "Highly accurate data entry skills "
  • "Able to translate technical concepts into layman’s terms"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Consider your interestspersonality type, and work-related values when choosing a career. Do a self assessment to learn about your traits. If you have the following ones, think about becoming a geographer:

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Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited November 12, 2018).