MS in Geographic Information Science

Become a leader in a field experiencing explosive growth with applications across industries using advanced technology to assemble, integrate, analyze and present spatial information in a digital format. 

The Department of Geography will customize your education with high-impact experiential learning and extracurricular activities to develop the skills that employers demand. We will introduce you to new professional networks in the industries and organizations that interest you the most.

Infographic that says, 10 Skills Employers Want 1. Data Collection and Analytics 2. Critical Thinking 3. Techology and Database Management 4. Research 5. Leadership 6. Professional Conduct 7. Oral and Written Communication 8. Project Management 9. Global Perspective 10 Teamwork

Be Career Ready

  • Collect, process and interpret geospatial information
  • Become a super user of state-of-the-art software and emerging technology
  • Provide key information for data-driven decisions involving environmental studies, geology, engineering, economics, politics, the social sciences, marketing and more

Employers often cite the skills profile of applicants as the most important factor in their recruitment and job offer decisions.

Here is how we help you develop 10 critical skills:

1. Data Collection and Analytics

Review data in detail, observe patterns, perform advanced calculations and draw logical conclusions; compile, analyze, and report data. Graduate students have the opportunity to participate in independent projects, or work with interdisciplinary scholars on projects, for example:

  • A team of scientists including Adam Wilson, Assistant Professor of Geography, has won a United Nations’ data prize for creating a digital tool for monitoring threats to South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region, a “biological jewel,” one of the richest repositories of plant life in the world.  The digital tool the team created is a system that maps and analyzes vegetation in the fynbos, a belt of shrubland in the Cape Floristic Region. 

Understand how data collection and analysis skills are critical for success through networking opportunities with alumni. For example: 

  • Alumnus Will Schulmeister (BA ’14, MA ’15) and RIT alumnus Patrick Walsh founded Eagle Hawk, a company that provides a variety of drone-based data collection services, including mapping and detailed inspections. Eagle Hawk specializes in thermal data analysis and geo-referencing of data to help solve real world problems. 
  • Karyn Tareen (BA ’98) is CEO of Geocove, a GIS software and professional services firm established in 2006 for the sole purpose of providing the appropriate GIS support and technology to local government.

2. Critical Thinking

Use logic and reasoning to solve complex problems by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems. Showcase your ability to design, manage, operate and report on topics typically required for professional employment, highlighting your competence across several areas for your Competency Portfolio/Research Project .

Examples of recent competency portfolios and research projects include:

  • “Relationships between the locations of lead pipes and demographic factors in the Flint water crisis,” by Ian Liebentritt (MS '17)
  • “Predictive models of gun violence with environmental and social-media-derive covariates,” by Boyang Liu (MS ‘17)
  • “The investigator networks in the University at Buffalo (UB) Between Fiscal Year 2011 and 2015,” by Yujia Pan (MS '17)
  • “Expanding the conservation focal area for the Golden-Winged Warbler in New York,” by Jesse Rubenstein (MS '18)

3. Technology and Database Management

Acquire and apply skills in using state-of-the-art geospatial software and technologies employed in research, industry, and government agencies. Become proficient in leading GIS and remote sensing software packages and scripting languages, including ArcGIS, ERDAS, IDRISI, MapInfo, Python, R, PostgreSQL, JavaScript, as well as other open source programs for web mapping. Develop skills in database management to create, edit, update, join, append and query data from spatial and non-spatial relational databases including MS SQL Server.

GIS students have access to the Geographic Information and Analysis Laboratory (GIAL), a multipurpose computing facility shared by the Department of Geography and the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA). This laboratory supports the teaching and research needs of student and faculty with site licenses of various GIS, remote sensing and modeling software packages. There are also a limited number of computers with environmental software for natural resources management and conservation, assessment of processes in earth systems, landscape ecology, soils, geomorphology, and hydrology.

Below are a few examples of UB GIS alumni who regularly apply technology and database management skills in their work:

  • Brittany O’Brien (MS GIS ’18) uses GIS, remote sensing, and geospatial analysis tools as an Engineering Geologist within the Environmental Remediation division of New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Renjie Liu (MS GIS ’15) currently works as a software engineer for Google
  • Rich Quodomine (BA ’96, MA ’03) is the Lead GIS Analyst for the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Property. He oversees the geodatabase that maintains all 11 million square feet of public property, along with integrating this data with applications that govern their work order systems, lease and space management software and energy efficiency programs

4. Research

Work independently or with faculty members on major research projects, helping them identify issues and produce groundbreaking and publication worthy scholarly and applied research. Below are a few examples of faculty research projects and engagement opportunities:

  • Ling Bian, Professor of Geography and Director of National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA), and her team conducted a smartphone initiative to track influenza in WNY. Participants use their phones to answer a few questions about whether they experienced flu symptoms and whether they went to the doctor, as well as which public places they visited. They also keep their phone’s location services activated, enabling the research team at the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis at UB to analyze how people come into contact with one another. The information will be used to create a computerized model of how communicable diseases spread in a region and help public health officials respond.
  • An interdisciplinary team led by Le Wang, Professor of Geography, is developing computer models that project how humans and climate change will affect the Upper Mississippi River Basin, an area that is home to 30 million people and major producers of corn, soybean and other cash crops. Results from the research will provide critical information for scientific understanding of sustainability, vulnerability, and resilience of land systems and their uses. The project, “Integrated Modeling of Climate Change and Human Influence on Land Use and Hydrology With Remote Sensing,” will assist farmers, as well as watershed and forest managers, in managing complex natural ecosystems.
  • Adam Wilson, Assistant Professor of Geography, is working with the Map of Life, an online resource led by Yale University and the University of Florida, which enables everyone from schoolchildren to researchers to see where different species are located in the world—where plants and animals have been observed on every continent, and how far their habitats extend. Wilson is developing models that will enable the Map of Life team to integrate weather observations, such as rainfall, temperature and cloud cover patterns, into the platform, making this data mappable and searchable.

5. Leadership

Rise to the challenge by gaining experience and leadership skills in some of the hundreds of University at Buffalo extracurricular and governance organizations, civic groups and volunteer activities.

Prove your abilities and make powerful industry connections through leadership positions in regional and national professional organizations. GIS graduate students are active in the following university and professional organizations:

Participate in UB's REALM Program (Real Experience and Leadership Mentoring), a full-day career shadowing experience for students who are interested in learning about leadership in the context of a professional setting. Students shadow a professional in their chosen field for a day and learn what skills have made them successful, followed by a networking reception.

6. Professional Conduct

Gain insight into the demands and expectations of employers through credit-bearing and, in some cases, paid internships. Students displaying knowledge, professionalism and a solid work ethic are oftentimes offered full-time positions.

Below are just a few of the organizations that have sought GIS student interns and graduates:

  • American Express
  • Cannon Design
  • Ecology & Environment Inc.
  • EU Chamber of Commerce (China)
  • HSBC
  • New Era Cap
  • NYS Department of Transportation
  • Maya Traditions Foundation
  • Moog
  • Praxair
  • Town of Amherst
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Army Topographic Engineering Center
  • U.S. Bureau of the Census
  • U.S. Bureau of Land Management
  • U.S. Census Bureau
  • U.S. Defense Mapping Agency
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • U.S. Department of Commerce
  • U.S. Economic Development Administration
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey

7. Oral and Written Communication

Enhance your ability to author effective critical communication pieces through required class projects, research papers, poster presentations and articles submitted for review and publication by professional organizations. Practice professional presentation skills in seminar classes before you take the stage at regional and national conferences. Learn to communicate project objectives or outcomes and the results of spatial or statistical analyses to executives, non-technical staff and the public.

Connect with peers, faculty members, alumni and potential employers through the Department of Geography’s active Facebook page.

Showcase your research, fieldwork, projects and internships at department-sponsored activities such as:

  • Geography Awareness Week
  • Photo and Map Contests
  • Student Research Symposium

Attend professional conferences like the NYS Geospatial Summit at low student rates ($35) and engage with regional and national professionals and scholars.

The department provides partial financial support for graduate students to attend national conferences in which they present papers.  Typically, about 20 students per year are supported to attend the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers.  Moreover, graduate students in GIS are encouraged to publish their research results in peer-reviewed journals.  Some recent examples include the following (all first-authored by GIS graduate students):

  • C. Diao (PhD ’17), and L. Wang, 2018, Landsat time series-based multiyear spectral angle clustering (MSAC) model to monitor the inter-annual leaf senescence of exotic saltcedar, Remote Sensing of Environment, 209, 581-593
  • X. Jiang (MS ’13) and E.-H. Yoo, 2018, The importance of spatial resolutions of Community Multiscale Air Quality (CMAQ) models on health impact assessment, Science of the Total Environment, 627(15), 1528-1543
  • J.R. Pleban (PhD ’18), D.S. Mackay, B.E. Ewers, T.L. Aston, and C. Weinig, 2018, Phenotypic trait identification using a multimodel Bayesian method: A case study using photosynthesis in Brassica rapa genotypes, Frontiers in Plant Science, 8, 448, doi:10.3389/fpls.2018.00448
  • F. Rios (PhD ’15), and C.S. Renschler, 2017, A new combined assessment of mixed uncertainty in spatial models: Conceptualization and implementation, Transactions in GIS, 21(4), 661-682

8. Project Management

Acquire the knowledge and skills to initiate, plan, execute, control and close the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at the specified time. Negotiate reasonable and achievable deadlines and milestones across teams and stakeholders. In short, deliver projects that meet the organization’s goals on time and on budget.

Below are examples of UB GIS alumni who use their project management skills on a daily basis in their work:

  • Benjamin Bidell (MA GIS ’13) is a Senior Planner at Niagara County Department of Economic Development where he provides information and technical assistance on economic development incentives, available buildings and sites, and development regulations to local businesses, municipalities, and developers.
  • Michael Habberfield (PhD ’16) is a Biologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Buffalo District, providing leadership and project management in the area of ecosystem restoration.
  • Martin Minkwoski (MA GIS ’06, PhD ’12) is a Project Engineer for Esri (Environmental Systems Research Institute) in Redlands, CA.  Esri is the world’s leading supplier of geographic information system (GIS) software, web GIS, and geodatabase management applications.
  • Fernando Rios (PhD ’15) is a Research Data Management Specialist in the Office of Digital Innovation and Stewardship at the University of Arizona, focusing on supporting academic research in the areas of data management planning, workflows, reproducibility, data and software curation, archiving and sharing, and open science.

9. Global Perspective

Expand your world view and prepare to work in our interconnected global systems. Students often participate in international field schools and study abroad experiences to further their understanding of how GIS is applied in different contexts.

In addition, national and international scholars are invited to campus through the interdisciplinary Colloquium Series to present and interact one-on-one with to students to expose them to a multitude of world views.

Recent guest scholars include:

  • Dr. Sarah Elwood, University of Washington, “OutsideIn: Visualizing Poverty Politics & Homelessness”
  • Dr. Chris Justice, University of Maryland, “Global Agricultural Monitoring Using Earth Observations”
  • Dr. Hui Lin, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, “From Maps to GIS and VGE, The Evolution of Geographic Language”
  • Dr. Daniel Sui, Ohio State University and the National Science Foundation, “Mapping the New Terra Incognita: On Geographic Research in The Age of Convergence”
  • Dr. Paul Torrens, New York University, “Geosimulation for Small Geographies”

10. Teamwork

Collaborate with classmates on applied group projects, research papers, academic competitions, in student organizations and volunteer opportunities in the community.

You can help create a sustainable world while gaining valuable hands-on experience and applying teamwork skills by assisting faculty members with interdisciplinary research projects like these:

  • UB’s RENEW Institute promotes interdisciplinary research that positions the university as a global leader in select areas of energy, environment and water sustainability. Its overarching goal is to advance these areas and lay the groundwork for a regenerative economy. RENEW supports research and education in five areas: next-generation materials and technologies for energy, environment and water; sustainable urban environments; freshwater coastal ecosystems and the blue economy; environmental exposures, genomes and health; and climate change and socio-economic impacts. Learn more.
  • Sara Metcalf, Associate Professor of Geography, is an active member of an interdisciplinary working group modeling human risk perception and associated behavior in response to global climate change.  Her research on the sustainability of urban ecosystems has benefitted from a civic engagement with the Massachusetts Avenue Project to model urban agriculture and the local food movement.

How much can you earn?

Bar graph, Salary: $105,000 high, $77,000 median average salary, $48,000 low

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for geographers was $76,780 in May 2017. The highest 10% earned more than $104,710.

What career is in your future?


* Computer Analyst
* Ecologist
* Environmental Scientist
* Geomorphologist
* GIS Specialist
* Business Analyst
* Geoscientist
* Research Analyst
* Researcher
* Transportation Planner
* Image Analyst
* Project Manager
* Triangulation Tech
* Data Scientist

GIS Alumni

In addition to those mentioned in the examples above, here are a few more GIS alumni who are making a difference in their profession and their communities. They're looking forward to helping you expand your professional network.

  • Jason Tempera MS ‘08, Senior Manager, Transportation, Canon Solutions America
  • Chris Olney (Minor ’95, MA ’97) has worked at the Finger Lakes Land Trust for the past nine years, a non-profit land conservation organization serving 12 counties of Central and Western New York
Infographic with a map icon and text that says, Where will you go from here?