In a nutshell, geospace refers to the area of outer space near the Earth. This field of work and study includes heliophysics, the Earth’s magnetosphere, geodesy, and the relationship between our planet and the sun. For those with a thirst for knowledge and discovery, geospace is a fascinating field. But what kind of long-term career aspects can this field provide?
In this short article, we’ll be taking a look at some of the principal ways people are putting their passion for geospace into practice and making a career out of their geospatial studies. Because the field of geospace is relatively new (compared to other scientific fields) and it, as well as its applications, are growing, we’ve broken down the geospace work opportunities into three main areas: research, engineering, and project management.
Whether it’s to gain a greater understanding of climate change, the effects of commercial and military products on the atmosphere, the migration of habitats in changing environments, or the deployment of satellites, the influence of geospatial research is far-reaching. Following recent disruptions in the supply chain, the observation of the Earth is now playing a major role in monitoring the global supply chain.
Much of the research in the field of geospace is carried out in universities. However, large many large companies whose products or services are directly dependent on the environment also conduct geospatial research. In most cases, this research is focused on surveying and mapping.
The two largest providers of geospatial research opportunities are:
- Energy companies
To get a research position with one of these institutions or companies, a strong academic track record is needed. However, you don’t need to have a degree in geospatial studies to end up working in the field. The fields of study that are most likely to lead to a job in geospatial research include:
- Environmental science
- Mathematics and statistics
- Computer science
What Geospatial Research Consists Of
When looking at research projects and perusing geospatial research positions on popular online job search engines like Lensa, we see a close correlation between research and big data collection. This means a large portion of geospatial research is conducted with the aid of advanced technologies such as software and computer modeling. This is why professionals involved in geospatial research are generally tech-savvy and have experience in computer science.
In addition to advanced technologies, geospatial research is conducted, in many cases, in collaboration with field surveyors and cartographers or data collectors. In simple terms, geospatial research consists of collecting data and analyzing it to identify patterns and aberrations and then eventually make projections or predictions based on this data.
Along with biotech and nanotech, The US Department of Labor has identified geospatial technologies as a “high-growth field.” The vast growth we’ve seen in the field of geospace is due, to a large extent, to the growing interest in finding alternative energy sources, expanding and optimizing our current energy sources, and preparing for or minimizing the effects of climate change.
Employment opportunities as a geospatial engineer are vast and continually growing. whether it’s as a civil engineer, with The US Army Corps of Engineers, working in construction, disaster relief, or with energy companies (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg), there is no shortage of job opportunities when it comes to geospatial engineering.
The picture above shows the more traditional image we might conjure when we think of a surveyor. And while this type of fieldwork is important and still carried out today, a lot has changed in the job description for a surveying engineer.
Today, surveying engineers use GIS technology (geographic information systems) to create, manage, and analyze a mapping of a large set of data points. Today’s surveying engineer needs a lot of knowledge and experience with this kind of software and virtual imaging.
Geospatial Software Engineer
The heavy reliance on sophisticated software and GIS in the field of geospatial engineering and/or research means that the field is also in need of qualified software engineers. In most cases, these positions involve creating or managing applications for 3D data and image processing
Salary Range and Career Path for Engineers in GIS and Geospatial Engineering
As the positions vary, so do the salaries. But a position in the field of geospatial engineering starts at no lower than $65,000 and can go up to more than twice that much – and that’s for entry-level positions. The typical salary for a geospatial engineer in the US is around $92,000. And there are good growth and promotional opportunities for geospatial engineers, as well. Entry-level positions can often lead to senior positions and opportunities in project management.
Unlike many positions in geospatial research, to get into the field of geospatial engineering, you don’t necessarily need a university degree in a specific scientific field of study. Instead, technological knowledge is preferred. And knowledge and/or experience with GIS is a must.
GIS (Geographical Information Systems)
While we touched on GIS in the section on research and engineering, it is so important to the field of geospace (and such a rich provider of job opportunities) that it deserves its own section.
GIS is a technological field that uses spatial mapping and virtual image processing to gather and interpret data. Its applications are widespread and continue to grow: from urban planning, space exploration, improved telecommunications, and tracking weather patterns to large-scale agriculture and energy.
One of the most popular or widely known GIS platforms is Google Maps. And though we may use it to get around in our day-to-day lives, Google Maps also plays a role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Requirements and Career Trajectory
People working in GIS have a strong academic background (though, in the vast majority of cases, no other degree beyond a bachelor’s is required). GIS professionals generally have a background in cartography, geology or earth sciences, computer science, or urban planning.
Regardless of what field of study your academic background is in, it should at least be complemented with some form of study of cartography and computer science.
A GIS job will be software specific, though once you learn how to use one software system, learning another should be quite easy. The GIS Lounge is a good place to find out about the different types of software packages on the market and how to go about learning them. For most positions in GIS analytics, some competence in computer programming is required, and Python is the most widely-used language in GIS.
Generally regarded as an upper-level position in the field of geospatial engineering, a position as project manager comes with a heavy responsibility – and an attractive compensation package to go with it. Though it takes many years in the field (generally at least 10) and the effort to develop a reputation as being responsible and trustworthy, for the right candidate with strong project management skills, the payoff can definitely be worth the trouble.
Profile of The Ideal Candidate
More often than not, a project manager in the field of geospatial engineering starts as a GIS analyst, researcher, analyst, or surveying engineer. He or she has technological expertise (notably with GIS and big-data systems).
He or she has the following skills and/or attributes:
- A creative problem solver with a keen sense to anticipate and prevent potential problems
- The ability to identify technical requirements as well as the necessary workforce and time it will take to complete a project
- Excellent communication skills (written and oral) to transmit goals and strategies to the team, upper management, and/or the client
- Excellent ability to prioritize tasks and allocate resources
- Drafting proposals and mapping out strategies, timetables, and budgets
- Knowledge of applicable safety and environmental protocols
- Knowledge transfer (creating fluid connections from process to process and team to team)
The salary of a geospatial engineering project manager will depend on the years of experience required and the applications of the project. But it is rare to find a position as a project manager that starts at under $90,000, and in most cases, the salary starts at upwards of $110,000.
For some dynamic and growing fields, the sky’s the limit. But in the field of geospace and GIS, we go even beyond that lofty (pun intended) projection. The added benefit of working in the field of geospatial engineering or research lies in the diversity of its applications. Geospatial engineering and research is integral to fields such as climate, energy, urban planning, agriculture, and even within the military.
James is the head of marketing at Tamoco