What to do with an environmental / geography degree? Data Analyst

Gelsomina Montana graduated in 2017 with a specialized B.A. in geography and a certificate in GIS and Remote Sensing.

Where do you work and what do you do?

I work for Environics Analytics as a Data Analyst.  I work on projects for a variety of clients to help them meet their unique business goals. The majority of my work involves segmentation analysis (our segmentation system-PRIZM-is the bread and butter of Environics Analytics), trade area analysis, mapping/reporting, and general data work, utilizing many database management techniques.

Tell us your work journey after the degree: what went well? What was challenging?

Only three months after graduating from York University, I continued my education with the Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) at Ryerson University. It was interesting because everyone in the MSA program came from very different educational backgrounds. This allowed me to build on my education and training at York by exploring different perspectives and experiences from my peers. I found the technical aspects of the program quite challenging and overwhelming at first, but I soon caught on.

While I was finishing up my masters, I started a summer internship at Environics Analytics, which soon led to a full-time position. It was really cool to be around so many geographers in one place with a passion for what they do. The work I was doing was like nothing I had ever done before in school. I had a lot to learn and at times I was super confused. It was challenging but I asked a lot of questions and looking back, I am very happy that I annoyed my colleagues daily.

How did you use what you learned? When did you feel like “I wish that they had taught me about this in university!”

Most of the work I do at Environics is logic and process based. During my undergraduate degree, I learned a lot about geospatial database concepts and theories – however actually working with the data is super different. My “I wish they taught me that in university” moment would be when I got my first project with minimal supervision, involving a large dataset that had to be cleaned and prepared for project work. It is completely different - knowing the theories of something versus actually doing the thing. However, I feel lucky to know these geospatial theories – I imagine there are definitely some people out there who are ‘doing the thing’ but don’t know the conceptual theories behind it.

Thinking back to when you were in high school, what made you want to get into this? How does what you are doing match, and differ, from what you thought?

I always loved geography in high school, but I didn’t know that there were jobs in geography at the time. In my last year of high school, I was taking a travel and tourism class and we looked at and made a lot of maps. I always had fun with it and my teacher mentioned that York University had some really cool geography and mapping classes. Never looked back!

What I am currently doing does not match what I thought I would be doing at all. When I was a student at York, most of my peers were environmental geographers. I imagined I would probably do something conservation related, maybe work for a municipality. I originally wanted my masters research to be in remote sensing – I was ambitiously going to study if certain bacteria related to increased effects of global warming in the Arctic could be isolated using remote sensing techniques.

That’s the thing with a geography degree though. It is so versatile. There are hundreds of thousands of different jobs all related to or using skill sets learned from a geography degree. With so many branches of a single subject (environmental, economic, historical, technical, human, political, GIS) you never know what you will end up doing with a geography degree, which is pretty cool.

Any other advice for people thinking of an undergrad geography degree?

Take as many different courses as you can. York’s Faculty of Urban and Environmental Change, which includes the environmental studies and geography programs, has so many different courses and streams. You are not going to come out of your undergrad an expert in anything anyway. Just learn as much as you can about as many different things as you can, and eventually you will have a good idea of what you like to do.