What are the employment prospects for GIS graduates?
GIS and geospatial technologies underpin a rapidly growing, multi-billion dollar industry, and are becoming increasingly mainstream within both the public and private sectors, resulting in a need for a steady supply of graduates who have a combination of theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Graduates of the course have secured employment in a variety of roles worldwide, in GIS positions including technicians, analysts, scientists, surveyors, data specialists, mapping officers, consultants and project managers, development, sales and marketing, customer support, GIS training, lecturing and research (including funded PhD projects). The breadth of potential uses of GIS ensures a great diversity of job opportunities; for example, our graduates have found employment with mapping agencies, GIS, SatNav and technology companies, GIS and environmental consultancies, ecological and marine resource management and environmental agencies, renewable energy companies, forestry, fisheries, town planning departments, heritage agencies, health and emergency services, housing authorities, local government, aid agencies, countryside recreation, rural development, retail analysis, utilities and infrastructure, Further and Higher Education, mining and mineral exploitation and the oil industry, among others.
Knowledge and experience of geo-spatial data are also increasingly required in a variety of jobs outside of the GI profession, making a GIS qualification a valuable asset enhancing employability in a range of fields.
Our students come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some join the course soon after completing their undergraduate degree with a view to entering GIS employment, while others study with us in order to change career or gain promotion within a current role. Here are some profiles of our graduates, to give you a bit more detail about what our course can lead on to.
Lee Powell: GIS Consultant
As I had already been working in the GIS sector for 10 years when starting the course, I believed that the MSc in GIS at Ulster would have very little to teach me. I was wrong. Despite having already acquired some of the software knowledge (particularly of tool functionality) throughout my ten-year career I was astounded at how much the course had to offer. I learned an enormous amount about the application of GIS and it’s benefits to engineering, agriculture, local and national government, retail, the environment, ecology, politics, business, health and social care… the list goes on! The MSc in GIS has taught me the value of geographic information systems in a real-world context and has ignited a passion for me in GIS that I didn’t have prior to starting the course. I started the course with very little academic experience (which was a worry to me) but with the help and guidance of the university staff I have produced academic work to master’s level that I am incredibly proud of, as well as learning new techniques and practical application of GIS I had yet to see throughout my career. The course has been instrumental in me transitioning into my new role as a GIS consultant for a world leading GIS solutions company. It has given me the required knowledge and confidence in how best to apply technical GIS applications to the benefit of any organization. I would recommend this course to anybody with a passion for geography or computing, even if you already have years of employment in the world of GIS!
Lucy Arnold: Environmental Consultant (Nevis Environmental)
I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Biological Sciences in 1989 and started a career in conservation and ecology working for a variety of environmental organisations and ecology based charities. After moving to Ireland and setting up my own environmental consultancy, I decided I wanted to take a slightly different route and to further develop my GIS skills. I enrolled on the MSc GIS Distance Learning course at the University of Ulster in 2003 so I could continue working whilst studying and achieved a Pass with Distinction in 2006, as well as winning the Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland “Award for Outstanding Contribution to GIS” for my Masters dissertation. I continue to work in the ecological sphere, now as Head of GIS and Data Management for Nevis Environmental, an environmental consultancy based in Scotland with ecological expertise in both land-based and marine projects. My work is varied, which I love, and involves everything from building and maintaining our database, to providing training on GIS software, as well as undertaking GIS analyses for the ecologists in the organisation. My main role is to progress the business forward strategically regarding GIS and data management. This means that I am involved in the innovation, research and development side of things; finding solutions and looking at ways to commercialise them for our business. The Masters course at the University of Ulster course gave me an invaluable foundation on which I have built my career in GIS. The flexibility of the distance learning really worked for me; I could fit my studies around when I needed to work. I never felt as though I was missing out not being on campus, I had access to a vast library of information, and the discussion forum helped me stay in contact with other people. All the course materials were detailed and of high quality, and the feedback and support I got from staff was always clear and useful. The whole course structure and content really worked for me and I achieved a better result than I thought I was capable of!
Marcos Moreu: PhD researcher
The first time I used a GIS was while collaborating, during my last year of a BSc in Mechanical Engineering in Spain, with an NGO in El Salvador in WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) related projects. After that experience I decided to improve my skills in GIS and the MSc offered by Ulster University was the best option I found in the UK for studying online and part-time while working in the hospitality sector. I completed the PgDip between 2013 and 2015, and the MSc in 2018. It’s been an extremely valuable learning experience of which I would like to highlight and thank for the flexibility and support provided. Completing the PgDip at UU gave me the opportunity to find a job as a GIS technician in a UK based Geospatial company and later on in an international organisation working on Disaster Management related projects in East Africa. After the two above mentioned working experiences I enrolled to the MSc Project module, of which I would like to highlight the freedom and the encouragement received when developing the project proposal, both in terms of topics and tools. Completing the MSc Project has been key to gain a scholarship for a PhD project in Geography.
Nicolas Moity: Researcher in Marine Sciences & GIS (Charles Darwin Foundation, Galapagos)
I graduated in 2002 with a BSc in Biology. After a Postgraduate Diploma in Biodiversity with emphasis in conservation and management of species and their habitats, I started a career in conservation and ecology working in a variety of environmental organizations and as a university researcher. After some years I felt I needed to boost my career by widening my skills and knowledge in spatial analysis and modelling, which are the perfect complement to the ecologist tool-kit. I went on to complete a Postgraduate Diploma in Remote Sensing, followed by the Masters in GIS (with Distinction) at Ulster. The range of capacities increased immediately and right after graduating I got a placement in geospatial research in a highly prestigious European FP7 project. I was then offered a position in Australia but decided to move to the Galapagos Islands instead to live one of the biologists' dream jobs. I work as a marine scientist and geospatial expert at the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos. My research provides the knowledge to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of the ecosystems of the Galapagos Archipelago. Even though I went through several postgraduate studies, the MSc in GIS at Ulster was the game changer. I learned new skills in the geospatial fields, including spatial modelling, but most importantly I learned how to excel as a scientist. The Masters pushed my own limits far beyond what I was looking for when enrolling (i.e. learning GIS). The skills I learned in academic writing, critical thinking and problem solving are still impacting the work I do on a daily basis and... it was also a lot of fun!
Hadi Alsawad: Senior GIS Analyst (Saudi Aramco)
Before taking the GIS Masters, which I completed in 2013 by Distance Learning, I was employed as a cartographer in the Advisory Unit of Land Affairs Department, Saudi Aramco (Saudi's national oil company). I was promoted immediately after the course to a senior GIS analyst position, and I am currently the acting supervisor of the Advisory Unit in Saudi Aramco. The flexibility of the course allowed me not only to keep my job, but also to become a senior GIS analyst in my unit. Subsequently, top management nominated me for a scholarship to do a part-time MBA from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Natalie Cozzolino: GIS analyst (SSE Renewables)
I started the distance learning GIS PGDip in January 2013 as a second term start. Before the GIS PGDip I had tried to find a job in the environmental sector using my BSc Geography and also an MSc Ecotourism, but was unsuccessful, and it was at this point that I decided I needed to develop a specialised focus. I decided to concentrate on GIS and am very happy with my decision to do so. I found the course to be interesting, stimulating and challenging, and I enjoyed leaning the theory and participating in practical work. One of the more attractive elements of this course was that it catered for people from a wide variety of backgrounds. I don’t come from an IT background, but I didn’t find that it held me back at all. After graduating from the GIS PGDip I decided to continue to the MSc and wrote a thesis looking at the use of GIS in modelling woodland expansion. Whilst undertaking this project I began to look for jobs, and was overwhelmed by how easily I was getting interview invitations. Previously I hadn’t been successful in obtaining any invites to interview, but now with a PGDip in GIS, I was invited to three interviews within the space of a month, and was successfully appointed the position of GIS Analyst at SSE renewables. My experience of the PGDip/MSc GIS at the University of Ulster has been an excellent one and I cannot recommend choosing this course highly enough. I feel it has equipped me with the skills to now go on and develop a career in GIS.
Kate O’Loan: GIS Analyst (Jacobs, Sydney)
After completing a degree in Geography (and assuring friends and family that in fact I didn’t want to go on to do "my teaching") I enrolled for the Full time on campus GIS MSc at University of Ulster Coleraine in 2006/07. I was able to secure a job before graduation at a data management company within the land registry of Northern Ireland, I worked there for a short period of time before moving to Glasgow to work for Jacobs, a large engineering consultancy. This was great experience for a graduate- I worked full time on a large asset management project and was involved in all aspects of the project from GIS tasks to program management and on-site training in India. After 18 months at Jacobs I moved to Sydney and having some experience as well as a Masters Qualification I found it relatively easy to get a GIS role. I worked at a small company specialising in property and location data for 18 months. At this stage I wanted to get more experience in mapping and Spatial Analysis and went back to Engineering Consultancy in a GIS Analyst role. I have worked at SKM/Jacobs in Sydney now for nearly 5 years on a wide range of projects. This summer my employer is sponsoring me to do a 6 week course at the University of Twente in the Netherlands in Disaster Risk management and Environmental Assessment for Spatial Planning – contemporary issues and something I am really interested in. I am extremely excited to be going back to study again, not least as a result of the thoroughly positive experience I had at the University of Ulster Coleraine. I highly recommend the PGDip/MSc GIS at the University of Ulster, it provided me with an excellent grounding in GIS concepts and practical experience that I could take directly into the workplace.
Paul Fearon: GIS & Spatial Systems Analyst (AECOM, New Zealand)
I graduated with a BSc (Hons) Geography (2008) and an MSc in GIS (2009) from the University of Ulster. I now work for AECOM in New Zealand, where I am involved in all GIS aspects of a major Fortune 500 engineering consultancy firm operating on a global scale. My work is wide ranging. I have been involved in hydro dams construction throughout the Asia-Pacific region, major transport and rail projects from electrification to a new subway, flood hazard modelling and mapping, aviation projects and mining projects in Australia to name but a few. I would really recommend furthering your education and going on to do a postgraduate course. I thoroughly enjoyed my PG study in GIS. I learned much more about myself and what my strengths and weakness are than I ever could whilst studying as an undergraduate. The relationships you form with the lecturers are a great stepping stone to full time professional work as they get to know you and your abilities better. In the current climate with copious amounts of graduates flooding the already saturated job market each year the only way to ensure you get the job you want is to give yourself a leg up. Completing a PG degree gives you great life skills. Potential employers realise that you are willing to work hard for what you want and will be a benefit to their company. I left Ulster in 2009 and now I am in New Zealand. I honestly don’t think I’d be here on a regular degree.
Paul Brennan: GIS specialist (Mott MacDonald)
I took a degree in Geology at UCD and, following a student placement with the Geological Survey of Ireland which introduced me to GIS, I gained additional experience through ESRI and via voluntary work, which led to a 6 month contract. I undertook the GIS course at Ulster during 2009-10, and after graduating worked for Teck Resources in Wicklow in a GIS/Geologist industry research capacity. This was followed by a year working for the same company in the Yukon, working in the field (living in a camp!) as a GIS-Geologist. After this I worked for the ICON Group, contracted to the ROI Department of Agriculture, digitising and performing quality checks on field boundary data for EU single farm payments scheme, and am currently employed as an environmental scientist / GIS specialist with Mott MacDonald Ireland, working with the environmental section, doing spatial analysis, spatial data management and map production. Doing the GIS Masters course has definitely helped my career. It qualified me for several jobs which I would never have had the skills to perform with just an education in Geology. Geology is an inherently spatial discipline, so strong GIS skills are a definite plus in that industry. GIS is such a multidisciplinary tool that it has allowed me to get jobs in Environmental Science, Agricultural Monitoring and with an engineering company.
Alison McCabe: Senior Geographical Analyst (HERE Technologies)
I achieved a 2:1 in BSc Hons Geography in 2009 at the University of Ulster and the following year went on to complete the Post Graduate Diploma in GIS. I decided to undertake to Post Graduate course in GIS as I thoroughly enjoyed the GIS topic I had studied during my Geography degree. Additionally at that time the recession had started to take grip in Northern Ireland and there was a lack of Graduate jobs, therefore I took the decision to specialize in GIS to improve my chances of getting a job. After I completed my PG DIP in GIS in June 2010 I first started employment as a Geographical Analyst with Navteq in September 2010 in Newry, County Down. I was initially employed on a year-long temporary contract, this was extended numerous times until the temporary position expired in August 2012. During my time at Navteq I was responsible for the building, enhancement and maintenance of NAVTEQ’s digital maps database in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as part of the Newry field team. This involved the collection of data with GPS enabled field collection vehicles for road updates, along with coding in the live database utilizing other sourcing such as satellite imagery and addressing databases e.g. Pointer & Geodirectory. Following my departure from Navteq I started with Land and Property Services in the same month, where I worked as a Mapping and Charting Officer in the Pointer Team on a temporary contract. This involved updating and maintaining the Pointer database, an addressing database for Northern Ireland. At first I worked as part of a support team to work through numerous data backlogs and once these had been cleared I moved on to solving addressing queries sent in by surveyors, the Valuation teams and Local Councils. In March 2013 I was approached by my previous employers Navteq, now known as HERE Maps, a Nokia Business and was offered a permanent full time positon with the company where I have been working since. I found the GIS course essential in my career and helped me gain employment when I left University. Many positions required a Post Graduate level qualification as an essential criteria for job application.
Patricia Doran: Hydraulic Modeller (Mouchel)
I graduated from Ulster University with a 2:1 in Geography (2009) and a PgDip in GIS (2010). Following this I worked for Northern Ireland Water (NIW) as a GIS technician, using skills I had gained at university I applied them to different GIS software. This provided the groundwork for my current positon as a hydraulic modeller with civil engineering company, Mouchel, where I am responsible for the construction and calibration of hydraulic models based on NIW’s supply network across the whole of Northern Ireland. More recently I have been using these models to carry out analysis on the network to assist NIW with their Watermain Rehabilitation Framework (WMRF) by testing the impact their proposed rehab changes has on the downstream network. Alongside this I am also completing an online course with World Bank Group on ‘Designing and implementing successful water utility reform’ and working towards chartership with the Institute of Water.
Pamela McQuillan (née Livingstone): GIS Consultant (Sopra Steria)
I graduated in 2009 with a 2:2 BSc Hons in Geography before going on to complete a PGDip in GIS the following year. My undergraduate and postgraduate studies at University of Ulster greatly enhanced my knowledge and experience of GIS and gave me a strong foundation for taking my knowledge further into the workplace. After my time spent at UUC I took up the posts firstly of GIS Technician and later GIS Data Analyst within Northern Ireland Water over a period of 4 years from 2011 through 2015. Here I was responsible for digitising new and existing above and below ground water and sewer assets onto the company’s corporate GIS. I also had the task of responding to internal and external data requests through querying of the asset register. Since October 2015, I have been working for Sopra Steria as a GIS Consultant on a range of Public and Private sector client GIS projects.
Kathryn McNair: GI Consultant (Land and Property Services)
I graduated with a first class honours degree in Geography in 2009 and then completed a masters with distinction in GIS in 2011. Straight after the course I worked with Derry City Council for 6 months developing an online mapping viewer. I then spent 8 months working in South West College on an environmental research project using GIS. Since then I have been working for LPS as a GI Consultant out posted to South Eastern Regional College. Without having completed my MSc I would not have been shortlisted for my job in the council which ended up being invaluable experience and a kick-start to my career.
Andrew Boyd: Data Processor (Fugro Survey)
I graduated from Ulster in 2010 with a BSc (2.1) in Marine Science. I subsequently went on to complete an MSc in GIS at Ulster, with some travelling in between. During my undergraduate degree I found a passion for sea floor mapping and surveying. I am currently employed as a trainee data processor with Fugro Survey in Aberdeen. Working in the marine surveying industry was a natural progression for me with great opportunities to travel, meet new people and spend a lot of time at sea!
Katie McFarland: GIS Consultant (ESRI)
I graduated in 2011 with a first class honours degree in Geography, and continued my postgraduate studies at UU, completing an MSc in GIS. During my MSc I gained valuable work experience through a 6 week placement in Land and Property Services. I also became involved working on a Fuel Poverty project run by the University of Ulster in conjunction with the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). I switched to taking the MSc on a part time basis which allowed me time to work on this project and also complete my Masters dissertation, which was related to the project. I have since worked on several different GIS projects in Northern Ireland Water and Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Since June 2013 I have been working as a GIS Consultant with ESRI Ireland.
Hannah Orr: GIS Project Officer (Gaelectric)
I graduated from Ulster University in 2012 with a 2:1 BSc (Hons) Geography. I then took a 3 month role as a Mapping and Charting Officer with Land and Property Services (LPS) before completing an MSc in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at Ulster. After completing my MSc I returned to LPS as a Mapping and Charting Officer, mainly working on the Northern Ireland address gazetteer. During my time at LPS I also had the opportunity to work on a GIS Consultancy project with a Council. I subsequently worked for the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service as an Information Analyst which involved performance analysis and use of GIS to assist in performance monitoring and decision making. I am now working with Gaelectric as a GIS Project Officer and predominantly work on Onshore Wind Farm Projects.
Finbar Gillen: GIS Analyst (Northern Ireland Housing Executive)
I graduated in 2013 with a BSc degree in Environmental Planning from Queens University Belfast. I decided to take up the GIS MSc course at UU, to enhance my employability as there seemed to be few opportunities in planning at the time. Despite having no experience in GIS previous to starting the course I found the introductory modules extremely beneficial and helpful. I have gained a lot from the course in terms of learning new types of software and improving my knowledge of GIS in general. I graduated in the summer of 2014 with a post graduate diploma and had intended to do the dissertation in a full time basis over that summer. However, I decided to take up a 10 week internship with GIS company Compass Informatics in Dublin, working alongside the National Transportation Authority in assisting them with the development of the National Cycle Planner. After the 10 weeks were up, I took up a role with engineering firm Mouchel as a project support assistant on the A5 Western Transportation Corridor scheme which involved a lot of GIS work in relation to mapping and amending Vesting Order boundaries, and creating maps for engineers, land owners and Transport NI. I am now employed as a GIS Analyst for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.