As location-specific information opens up a world of insights to drive how we plan our cities, manage our environment and navigate our way around, geospatial science is becoming ever-more critical.
RMIT News spoke to Professor Matt Duckham, Associate Dean Geospatial Science, to find out more about this burgeoning area and how a postgraduate geospatial science degree can take your career to new places.
What is geospatial science?
You could say that geospatial science is all about where? questions.
Location is important to many decisions – big or small. That might mean finding the quickest route into work in the morning or predicting the spread of an epidemic outbreak. It can involve mapping the health of trees in your suburb or informing government policy on transport and infrastructure, natural disasters and climate change.
To do this, geospatial scientists work with data from every imaginable source, including satellite imagery, photos on your phone, national demographic data sets, social media tweets, data captured by sensors from precision laser range-finders, and simple smart card readers.
So geospatial scientists create, manage, analyse and map data about where things are on the Earth, and how they are related.
Who needs geospatial scientists or spatial analysts?
Anyone who needs to answer a where? question relies on the expertise of geospatial scientists.
Questions about location underpin activities across every conceivable area of society: agriculture, banking, climate change adaptation, emergency response, environmental monitoring, insurance, transportation, natural resource management, planning… I could go on!
In any industry you can think of, location matters – and where location matters, geospatial scientists and analysts are involved.
Our graduates have excellent employability in the spatial sector – an area of work that is rapidly expanding and where graduates are in short supply. They work in industry, government and research organisations at all levels from spatial analysts to planning and policy makers, and senior managers.
Recent graduates have taken up opportunities with state, federal and local government agencies in the areas of defence, environment, water resources and planning.
In private industry, many of our graduates work in small and medium enterprises and larger engineering/geotechnical consultancies in Victoria, nationally, and internationally.
Who is suited to the field? What kind of background and skills-set do you need?
Most people who study geospatial science already have an interest in where? questions.
Often, we find that people are attracted to this field because of a previous job or degree that required them to answer a lot of questions about location.
The Master of Geospatial Science particularly suits people who have already worked or completed an undergraduate degree in architecture, environmental science, civil engineering, computing, planning, geography, and so on.
Most students have a diverse range of backgrounds and expertise but share a common goal - to consolidate and improve their geospatial knowledge.
Others simply have a real passion for location – this could be an interest in mapping and cartography, remote sensing or satellite positioning, navigation systems, or surveying and measurement.
I think once people get the geospatial bug, it never leaves them!
What can students expect from the master degree at RMIT?
Our students focus on the three Cs of geospatial science:
- capturing geospatial data – such as positioning, surveying, GPS (Global Positioning System), remotely sensed imagery;
- computing with geospatial data – using spatial analytics, a spatial database and GIS (geographic information system); and
- communicating geospatial data to humans and decision-makers – as in designing maps, graphics and user interfaces, as well as understanding the policies that are important in geospatial decision-making.
Subjects offered at RMIT include Satellite Positioning and Remote Sensing (capture), GIS Fundamentals and GIS Analytics (computing), and Cartography and Visualisation (communication).
In their second year, all master students complete a major project on a topic of their choice. This is a chance to specialise in particular areas of interest and gain more in-depth expertise.
These projects are frequently a highlight of the course for both staff and students, as they involve one-on-one supervision from academic staff and potentially, industry contacts.
Our geospatial science academics are all world-leaders in their fields, so it’s a great chance for students to work with international experts, and for staff to work with fresh, bright minds.
What are some of the organisations connected with RMIT in this area?
We are active members of the Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA) and the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI), the main bodies that represent the spatial industry in Australia, and often host joint events on campus.
In addition to SIBA and SSSI, we have a wealth of connections to other external organisations.
Nationally and internationally, some of our recent research partnerships have included the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia, NASA, JAXA (the Japanese space agency), IBM Research, Google and the United Nations.
Of course, we also have many Victorian collaborations including with the Country Fire Authority, Emergency Management Victoria, Victorian Government and City of Melbourne to name but a few.
What makes this degree unique?
The unique feature of this master degree is its breadth.
We are one of just a handful of schools in the world, and one of a few in Australia, with expertise in every area of geospatial science - from positioning and measurement sciences, to remote sensing and photogrammetry, through to GIS and spatial databases, mapping and cartography, and land use policy.
The Master of Geospatial Science reflects this, giving students the opportunity to build expertise across all of those areas.
Evidently, this breadth is vital in the workplace as new spatial technologies (from navigation systems to the Internet of Things) are leading to a strong demand for people who have the skills to understand and combine knowledge from all areas of geospatial science.
Our strong connections to the geospatial industry also make this degree distinctive.
The course is continually reviewed by our industry-based program advisory committee. Indeed, last year we revised the course based on advice and involvement from our industry partners. And students also often choose to involve industry partners in their final-year major project.
As an expert in geospatial science, what inspires you most about this area?
I am inspired by the many new ways that geospatial science and technology is improving our lives.
Twenty years ago, no one had imagined putting a GPS in a phone – today almost everyone has a phone hooked up to location services.
More recently, we’re seeing unprecedented growth in remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) or drones. We are now routinely using RPAS to capture all sorts of geospatial data, from mapping the health of a vineyard to managing koala populations – which incidentally are both current research projects by RMIT geospatial science academics.
One of the next big areas for geospatial science is making sense of data from the Internet of Things.
In a world that becomes more interconnected by the day, our answers to Where? will continue to be a key piece of the puzzle.
Start studying Geospatial Science in July.
Story: Rebecca McGillivray