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."

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Primary Teacher

£90 - £150 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Upper Key ...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £115 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary NQ...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £115 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary NQ...

PE Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup