Ethan studied MSc Geographic Information Science and now works as a transport strategy officer at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM).
On choosing Manchester
I had good insight as to the general feel, teaching approach and research interests of The University of Manchester's School of Environment, Education and Development (SEED) staff through my friends and partner studying undergraduate geography.
I was weighing up a few other options, but having researched the course material, and the current research focuses of the department, the MSc Geographic Information Science (GIS) at Manchester seemed like a logical choice.
The course offered a good range of topics, from theoretically based cartography lectures through to practical 'lab' GIS sessions.
Most importantly, it included an opportunity to conduct a short work placement, along with opportunities to develop new skills such as web-GIS and coding.
It seemed like the perfect mix of interest, practical skills, and somewhere I’d fit in nicely.
On my career development since graduation
Upon leaving university, I was fortunate enough to have a job offer with a large global consultancy firm, as a GIS technician.
Thanks to my placement during my MSc, I specialised in transport and started working within a transport-focused team.
Given my interest and knowledge of transport tropics, I rapidly developed my career and became a transport consultant.
I applied my specialism in GIS alongside more general analytical, technical-based transport projects, acting as lead consultant and project manager on several major projects aiming to influence travelling customers' travel choices to more sustainable alternatives.
I joined TfGM as a Transport Strategy Officer mid-way through 2019, working within a sub-team focusing upon strategic planning, policy and research.
My current role ranges from working with the Greater Manchester combined authority on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, which is Greater Manchester's plan for homes, jobs, and the environment (where I am acting as lead contact for the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham), through to more data analytical, modelling and GIS-based research work aiming to inform future policy.
On choosing my career
I had no idea what I wanted to do career-wise!
Before starting my MSc I was largely focused on continuing with academic study, either PhD or research of some kind.
I was aware of the 'transport sector', but had very little insight into just how large and diverse it was.
The MSc course without a doubt shaped my career path.
I had a general interest in transport, and a little academic-based experience of transport topics – however my placement during my MSc with TfGM proved pivotal.
The work placement gave me a first-hand opportunity to see how diverse the sector is, and how many different backgrounds and skillsets are required within large transport organisations/projects.
It offered the chance to apply my interests and technical GIS knowledge to a completely new environment and real-world way of working.
More generally, the MSc GIS course offered the opportunity to think about GIS within a new context; especially as a set of tools and skills which can be applied to most if not all analytical problems.
This was through focusing course project work on unusual topics, rather than rigid exam-type questions which had been the bulk of my previous GIS exposure – for example, I chose to focus a Remote Sensing project on coffee cultivation and the Colombian civil war.
Applying the techniques, I had learnt within lessons made me connect the dots, and realise the data analysis and analytical skills learnt within GIS can be applied to a wide range of issues.
On how the course supported my career development
The course proved valuable in terms of teaching GIS itself, rather than teaching students to press the correct buttons to answer specific assignment questions.
There was always an emphasis on designing projects with a methodological plan, and design GIS solutions around that problem.
These analytical skills have proven invaluable in day-to-day work.
The brief introduction lessons we had covering data licencing and copyright have proven very useful.
GIS data licencing is a minefield, even this very high-level overview meant I could join an organisation with a good understanding of these complicated topics.
The non-GIS skills have proven as valuable as the in-depth understanding of GIS I developed.
Skills such as methodology development, database management, report writing – these topics have all come up time and time again in my career as part of business-as-usual work.
Developing an understanding at university meant I could hit the ground running career-wise.
My MSc also transformed my personal skills, confidence and my ability to apply previous lessons learnt to completely new contexts.
The contacts I made during my MSc placement have been the most important factor in shaping my career.
I still regularly work with the TfGM contact who looked after me during my placement.
I actually met my first line manager, who also studied MSc GIS at The University of Manchester, during my placement.
She was consulting for TfGM at the time which meant she not only had a good understanding of my qualifications but an understanding of the sort of exposure I have had to transport projects and my personal interests.
This allowed me to integrate very quickly within my first post-graduation job, and rapidly develop my career going forward.
On my advice for aspiring students
Try new things.
Don’t be afraid to apply the skills and techniques learnt within lectures/practical sessions to topics entirely out of your comfort zone.
The course has an environmental focus, but there is plenty of scope to work more widely.
Learning to approach analytical problems with a logical methodology has proven the most practically valuable skill I took away from my MSc.
I now have the skills and confidence to pick up just about any data-intensive task, regardless of topic.
Work placements, however short, are great for developing personal confidence skills, understanding what you do and do not have an interest in - not to mention an opportunity to develop contacts within the industry.
Decide whether you want to specialise in GIS itself, or whether you want to specialise in something else, for example, transport, and use GIS as a tool within a wider set of skills.
I think this is increasingly important in the GIS job market, especially with a GIS market shifting towards tools designed for un-skilled users.