On top of the world: You could be a globetrotter with geomatics

A postgraduate qualification in geomatics could take you all over the world, from working in the Thames estuary to the furthest reaches of the Arctic. The subject is concerned with gathering and interpreting spatial information, and with the geographic makeup of the natural and built environments; more informally, it's "an unholy alliance of maths and geography", as James Kavanagh, director of land at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), puts it.

This merging of disciplines gives the subject a broad appeal and opens it up to applicants from a wide range of backgrounds, not solely those with a first degree in engineering or surveying. Prospective students often come to the subject with undergraduate qualifications in maths, geography, or environmental or marine sciences, drawn to what Kavanagh describes as geomatics' "great combination of hands-on skills and deep intellectual knowledge".

Many courses aim to get students used to this combination right from the start. While the subject is grounded in measurements and data, there's still a substantial element of practical work, according to Jonathan Iliffe, senior lecturer at UCL's department of civil, environmental and geomatic engineering (www.cege.ucl.ac.uk). "There are a lot of opportunities to get hands-on experience. We move rapidly from the classroom to getting students' feet wet, or dirty, carrying out something practical."

The academic cohort is varied, says Iliffe; it includes students fresh from their undergraduate studies but also an increasing number of mature students who have worked in related areas for some time. There are even career changers looking for something new – "We get people who say, 'I drifted into my IT job and it's not what I thought I'd get from life,' and I think this field appeals to them as it's exciting, challenging and intellectually interesting."

Courses are available at institutions all over the world, from UCL, Cranfield, Glasgow and Newcastle in the UK, to the University of Melbourne in Australia, so you can see the international relevance of the subject. Depending on their focus, courses are accredited by either the RICS or the Chartered Institute of Civil Engineering Surveyors, the professional bodies associated with the industry. For a complete list, visit www.rics.org/courses or www.cices.org.

The makeup of geomatics programmes varies between departments. Students can choose to follow taught programmes (MSc or MEng qualifications) or move further into research (MRes, MPhil and PhD), depending on their interests. Often those interests change during the course of study, says Iliffe, with some students arriving "interested in one thing, and leaving interested in surveying museum artefacts". Research topics vary too, he says, with PhD students working on everything from GPS systems for shipping to studying silent earthquakes.

Outside the campus there is a growing demand for skilled geomatics postgraduates, so employment prospects are encouraging in fields such as Ordnance Survey mapping, the offshore oil and gas industries, and hydrographics, where senior employees require high-level qualifications in the geomatics subjects.

"A postgraduate qualification really does open up another world to people," says Kavanagh. "I've noticed that the Masters qualification is particularly recognised internationally." He believes that the maths and geography foundations underpinning geomatics qualifications contributes to their high standing in the international jobs market, as well as demonstrating a high level of skill in the people who have them.

"It's a very exportable qualification," he says. "There's been a lot more exploration going on, and companies are already telling us that they're expecting a shortage of marine surveyors in the next few years, for example. You really will work anywhere – not just the North Sea."

As technology improves and methods of gathering spatial information become increasingly sophisticated, the demand for geomatics postgraduates will only rise. Both Iliffe and Kavanagh are quick to point out that the work being done in the field can have a profound impact on the world around us.

"Once you're into the Masters end of things, you're going beyond just capturing the data – you're making decisions based on that data," says Kavanagh. He cites the positioning of offshore windfarms as a real-world example: "A large part of that process will be done by people with these qualifications."

The diversity of the subjects and advances in IT mean that geomatics is about much more than being out in a field with a theodolite, says Iliffe in conclusion: there are opportunities for both practical and more research-intensive roles. And for those who long for the outdoors? "There's still adventures in this world," says Kavanagh. "The exploration work going on the Arctic: the first people in there will be the surveyors. They'll be first in, and stay there right through to the clean-up operation."

election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'