What Is a Geographer?

Definition and Examples of a Geographer

A geographer taking notes in the field.
Christopher Kimmel / Getty Images

A geographer studies the land, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of a region or area. They may use this information to help governments and businesses plan where to build homes and roads, how to respond to disasters, and what marketing strategies to use.

Learn more about geographers and the work they do.

What Is a Geographer?

Geographers can specialize in several different areas, but most people who work in this field are physical or human geographers. A physical geographer studies the physical aspects of a particular region while a human geographer focuses on the effect human activities, including economic activities, social characteristics, and political organizations, have on an area.

  • Alternate name: Geographic information system (GIS) specialist/scientist

How Geographers Work

More than half of all geographers work for the federal government. The rest are employed by other organizations like architectural and engineering firms and state governments. They typically work full time during regular business hours.

Typical job duties might include:

  • Conducting research using focus groups and surveys
  • Gathering data through field observations, satellite imagery, and census documents
  • Creating maps
  • Analyzing data using GIS systems
  • Analyzing and integrating useful data from other fields, including economics, the environment, health, and politics
  • Writing reports about findings

Travel is a significant part of geographers' lives as their research often takes them to the regions they're studying.

Geographers' median annual salary is $81,540, and 1,600 people work in this field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs in this field to decline by 1% by 2029 due to budget restraints. Due to the small size of the occupation, there's significant competition for jobs. Those who have master's degrees and experience working with GIS systems may have the best chance of finding employment in the field.

How to Become a Geographer

Entry-level and federal government jobs typically require only a bachelor's degree in geography. You'll generally need a master's degree in geography or geographic information systems (GIS) for more advanced positions and those in the private sector. Teaching positions at a college or university require a doctoral degree.

An internship can help you gain skills and become a better job candidate when you enter the field. Interdisciplinary coursework in economics, business, real estate, and other fields can also be beneficial.

Because there are few jobs in this occupation, not everyone who graduates with a degree in geography can find work as a geographer. If you earn a geography degree, other professions will also make good use of your knowledge. A bachelor's or master's degree will also prepare you to become a surveyor, urban or regional planner, geoscientist, or cartographer.

While a license isn't required to be a geographer, certification in GIS can show your proficiency. The GIS Certification Institute and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) both offer certification options.

Essential Skills

To succeed in geography, you'll need to develop a variety of skills, including:

  • Analytical skills: As a geographer, you'll have to analyze large quantities of data.
  • Critical thinking: The ability to think critically allows you to decide what data to collect and methods to use to analyze it.
  • Writing and presentation skills: You'll need to convey your research and findings to clients and colleagues effectively.
  • Collaboration skills: Geographers often work closely with colleagues within their field and from related disciplines like urban planning and civil engineering.
  • Communication skills: Since geographers often collaborate with colleagues, you must have excellent listening and speaking skills and the ability to express and defend your ideas.
  • Computer skills: Geographers need advanced computer skills to create data visualizations and create and maintain databases.

Key Takeaways

  • A geographer studies the land, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of a region or area. 
  • Physical geographers focus on the natural environment, while human geographers look at the relationships between people and their environments. 
  • Geographers typically work full time doing a range of duties, including gathering data and using geographic information systems to interpret that data. 
  • Entry-level government jobs typically require a bachelor's degree. Private sector jobs and advanced government positions require a master's degree or higher.