Talking ’bout the next generation of spatial analysts

As part of World GIS Day Spatial Vision took great pleasure hosting a panel discussion ‘Developing the Next Generation of Spatial Analysts’.

The panel featured Geography Victoria‘s Libby Hillman, Monash University”s Dr James Driscoll, our Women in Geospatial scholarship winner Alexandra Wong and Spatial Vision Strategic Advisory Principal Consultant Georgina Race.

The audience, comprising geospatial students, educators and sector professionals, enjoyed a most productive hour where the panel provided their unique perspectives on how the education system (from primary to tertiary), industry and other representative bodies can work together to foster a passion for geography and create awareness of and encourage students to pursue related careers, including how to achieve greater gender balance and diversity.

Libby Hillman, who heads up Geography Victoria (an organisation she helped resurrect from a 100-year hiatus!), advocates for the importance of GIS in everyday life and inspiring a passion for geography across all generations.  Last year the organisation, in conjunction with City of Melbourne and with some assistance from Spatial Vision, ran popular treasure hunts adapted for children and adults as part of the Christmas Festival (an event that will occur again on Sunday 10 December).

In terms of encouraging younger students to pursue spatial careers, she lamented that 40% of geography teachers aren’t geographers. Therefore content needs to be more accessible for teachers with less knowledge. In that respect the work of social enterprise She Maps warrants a mention.  As part of Geography Victoria’s mission to educate the broader community about geospatial science, Libby hopes that parents, who she cited as influencing 65% of children’s career choices, become more aware of the possibilities.

RMIT geospatial science student Alex Wong credited her geography teacher for her love of the subject and career guidance.  Whilst grateful to follow her passion (rather than her sister who became a lawyer), she noted her school careers counsellor was not aware of the options in GIS. In a similar vein, Dr James Driscoll is frustrated that university course information days are mostly aimed at VCE level. At this stage it’s too late for students who’ve already determined which pathways they can travel.

An outdated perception of geography also appears to be an issue. Geography Victoria is attempting to address geography’s absence from STEM (or STEAM) in the school curriculum.  Meanwhile, at the tertiary level, geospatial science oddly sits in the humanities department.

A common theme was collaboration and the need for schools, universities, industry and relevant peak bodies to work together to remove these kinds of roadblocks.

More real-world scenarios backed with current datasets, in addition to field work that excites students are seen as key to a more progressive approach by Dr Driscoll.  On the plus side, universities are embedding more data analysis into the curriculum. This includes students utilising GPS to collect data and using the Monash drone platform for research work. Still, more effort is needed by universities and other collectives to further modify the curriculum for a 21st Century audience. As an interesting side note, Dr Driscoll reported the most popular subject at the moment in medicine at Monash is medical geography.

When experienced industry professional Georgina Race was asked what sort of people were suited to the vocation, she volunteered a number of skills. These included working collaboratively, a multi-disciplinary capacity to use spatial data, thinking through unstructured, sometimes undocumented problems and respectfully communicating technical information to non-technical people.  Georgina also mentioned several inherent traits, including being a visual thinker, a thirst for learning new things, a flexible work style and most of all a passion, interest and excitement in geospatial, maps and the industry. She noted it was also important there be avenues for someone such as herself, from a more general science background, to find their way in.

An important focus of discussion was how to promote diversity in the geospatial ranks. Coming from an all-girls school, Alex found the impediment was more so a lack of awareness for where geography could lead in a practical sense. It was recognised that young people not necessarily seeing someone like them as teachers, students or professionals is a major hurdle to overcome.  Georgina’s advice was ‘if you notice a disparity in an area that interests you, you are what’s needed’.  She also contended that just being there serves a purpose and can be enough heavy lifting for one person.

In wrapping up the discussion, Spatial Vision’s HR Manager Katie Whitta went further to say a ‘why not me’ attitude is required and peak bodies and professionals should endeavour to convey a ‘you are welcome, you are valued and you are needed in the industry’ sentiment. She also recommended that students and young professionals be active promoting what they do on platforms such as LinkedIn and join the likes of Geospatial Council of Australia.

Spatial Vision thanks all our panel members and attendees for their contributions. We look forward to ongoing conversations with various stakeholders in our endeavors to champion the ever evolving and expanding geospatial industry.

For more information, please get in touch.