December 1, 2017

Why every student and recent graduate should be volunteering or doing an internship!

 "Cartography Stages a comebackis the title for an interesting article that appeared on Wired, where it describes the expected higher demand for individuals with map-making skills. Although this really isn’t news for geographers, it is still worth mentioning as our skill-set is finally receiving more attention and recognition in mainstream organizations. It is therefore worth emphasizing that future and recent graduates from our program face good prospects as they enter the job market. However, this also means that recent graduates will face more competition, as more individuals seek training in this high growth area. They key for recent graduates therefore is to stand-out from the competition, and nothing will give you more leverage over a candidate than experience. But I know what you are thinking, how am I supposed to get "experience" if all this time I have been going to school, working to sustain a household, and dealing with family matters? The reality is that experience can come in many forms, and one of the best ways to add that experience line on your resume is by doing some free work or low remunerated job. We are talking about volunteer opportunities and internships. Although the idea of working for free or getting paid peanuts is not attractive, volunteering or doing an internship in your field will pay dividends as you try to enter the job market. Here is how these opportunities benefit you:

1)      Experience is experience.  Meaning that you do not necessarily have to get paid to classify something as experience. After all, when you volunteer or do an internship at a place, you will be working under a supervisor, dealing with colleagues, managing project and task deadlines, and of-course having to show-up to "work". These are all functions in which you will be evaluated while you volunteer or do an internship. A potential employer would like to know what kind of employee are you? Your volunteer or internship supervisor will be able to speak of these abilities after having worked with you (even if you were not getting an actual pay-check).

2)      You will need references. Again, if you did a good job during your volunteer or internship experience, this should be a very easy thing to get. After having worked for free, or for very little money, the least your supervisor can do is to put in a good word for you.

3)      Build a network! Although getting your supervisor to write a letter for you is great, there is a whole lot more you can get from a volunteer or internship. Your colleagues are a great source of knowledge, work practices, software and data tricks, trends in the industry, and more importantly, they know people who knows people, who know other peoples. Therefore, your colleagues can be consultants when you have questions or are stuck with a task, can pass along information or job opportunities that might be of interest to you, and they can also put in a good word for you.

4)      Learn the company’s culture. Not every work place is the same, and the earlier you learn the kind of work environment in which you are the right "fit", the better you can leverage yourself to a potential employer. As you volunteer or do an internship, be observant and ask your colleagues and supervisor what is it like dealing with upper management, other departments? What kind of employees do they tend to hire? What kind culture is there in the unit? Do they mingle after work? Are you expected to participate in specific activities or get together? Socialization can be a big deal at some companies, or absolutely mean nothing at all in others. Every company have their own work and hiring culture, and you should be aware of these.

5)      Find a mentor. If you hit it off well with a colleague that has much more experience than you, this person might be a good candidate for a mentor. As you try to get your "foot in the door" in the job market, you will have your ups and downs, and having someone to talk to or to guide through these peaks and valleys is priceless. Not to mention that they can really help you work through hard career decisions. Mentors are great at every stage of your career, so find them and cultivate these relationships starting with your volunteer or internship opportunities.

These are some of the key benefits of volunteering or doing an internship as you transition from student to professional. Note that you should not do one of these opportunities and expect to be offered a job at the end of your time with them. Not at all! I know there are stories where this has been the case, but these are more the exception than the norm. So do not fall in love with mirrors-they break easily. Getting your career started after graduation takes time and it can be frustrating, but your career really starts the moment you chose your major. This is really when you start focusing on the industry you would like to go in, and start building your experience through volunteer and internship opportunities. If you do this, by the time you graduate not only will you have your degree in hands, but you will have enough experience, professional references that can speak on your behalf, and support network of former colleagues that will be there to support you along the way. You do not have to wait for your first professional job to be considered a "professional", you become one the moment you start behaving and doing the things that professionals in your field do. Start on the road to professionalization as early as possible so that you can hit the ground running when you graduate.

Academic Opportunities

1)      The Geography Department at Marshall University has more than a few openings for funded graduate teaching assistantships starting in fall 2018. Students interested in pursuing a master’s degree should contact Dr. James Leonard. Preference will be given to students who submit their complete applications by the April 1stdeadline.

2)      Graduate fellowships are available through the Center for Earth System Sciences and Remote Sensing Technologies (CREST, sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  CREST provides funding for graduate students to pursue their degrees and to develop potential careers at NOAA.  NOAA-CREST fellows receive funding for summers and/or the academic year, and work on-site with NOAA counterparts.  Students from underrepresented communities are especially encouraged to apply.  Partner institutions include the Departments of Ecology, Geography, and Mathematics and Statistics at San Diego State University, which are actively seeking applicants to MS and PhD programs.  To apply for remote sensing applications in water resources, please visit the Geography Department website at and contact Dr. Trent Biggs ( for more information.  For remote sensing applications in ecosystem services contact Dr. Doug Stow (Geography,, Dr. Walt Oechel (Ecology, or Dr. Sam Shen (Mathematics and Statistics, for more information.

Job Opportunities

Here are the most recent job opportunities for our recent and soon to be graduates:

Geospatial Analyst, Novel Applications, Charlottesville, VA

GIS Technician, Adecco RCE, Greensburg, PA

Senior Lead GIS Analyst, City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA

GIS Coordinator, Peters Township, Canonsburg, PA

GIS Analyst, NextGen Federal Systems, Dayton, OH

GIS Specialist, Kforce, Inc., Columbus, OH

Should you have any questions about any of these opportunities, do not hesitate to get in contact.


The Geography Department