How to map out a new role for yourself as a cartographer

If you like geography, are good on detail and have ace computer skills, you should consider a career as a cartographer

You might be forgiven for thinking that most of the world has been mapped by now. But, because of the constantly changing landscape and the growing amount of information about the earth available through technological advances, there's still a need for skilled cartographers to sift the data and turn it into something meaningful for the rest of us.

"Cartography involves assessing and amalgamating bits of geographic information and presenting them in a map form that's relevant for a particular user," says Mick Ashworth, a former editor of The Times Atlas Of The World who now runs his own company, Ashworth Maps and Interpretation. This can mean producing anything from maps to keep ramblers on track to surveys for oil and gas exploration.

It's a diverse field. There are opportunities in mapping agencies such as the Ordnance Survey, national and local government departments, and in industries such as utilities, and commercial map publishers. Britain also has some important map collections, and cartographers can choose to specialise in historical maps.

Map production involves a mixture of art, science and technology, with the latter becoming more important in recent years. The job now often involves the use of geographic information systems (GIS), which store data digitally and, as well as outputting maps, allow it to be analysed in different ways. The varied nature of the industry means cartographers come from a range of backgrounds including IT and graphic design. But Ashworth says it's important to have an interest in geography and some background in the subject. Attention to detail and good research skills are essential.

Most people's image of the Ordnance Survey stems from school geography lessons spent poring over trig points and gradients, but Ed Mainwaring's job in a cartographic design team involves creating maps in varied styles. He'll be designing spectator maps for the London stage of the cycling Tour of Britain one day and charts showing land levels for newspaper articles on the risk of flooding the next.

"I source the data and do the design work in graphics packages, drawing freehand on a computer," he says. Mainwaring came to the job via a degree in robotics and intelligent machines, and his interest in mapping was sparked when he designed a robot that used a GPS receiver to navigate. He now uses his IT expertise to programme GIS systems to output data for other cartographers. Imagination is important, he says, as you need to be able to visualise how the data can be translated on to paper.

"You have to create symbols that work with each other. There's a hierarchy of information for each map and you have to make sure the important things stand out," he adds. This involves communicating well with clients.

Above all, he enjoys the job's technical and creative challenges. "The Tour of Britain wanted little graphics rather than just symbols to represent major sites," he says. "I had to work out how to draw St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey so they're recognisable at one inch across."

But will internet mapping sites such as Google Earth lessen the need for cartographers? No, says Ashworth, adding: "Those things have raised people's awareness of maps, and made them question what a good map is. There will always be a need for cartographers to show them."

Cartography facts

* A degree in geography is a good starting point but other relevant subjects include art and design, IT, sciences, surveying and GIS. There are also opportunities to work overseas, so knowledge of a foreign language can be useful.

* For more information, visit the British Cartographic Society at www.cartography.org.uk where you can find a list of undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

* See the Association for Geographic Information, www.agi.org.uk, for a list of GIS degrees.

* Starting salaries for graduates are in the region of £20,000. A senior cartographer can earn £35,000 to £40,000.

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballLive blog: Follow the action from the Capital One Cup semi-final
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century