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How to save the world

Working to limit the effects of climate change is one of the options for those who wish to pursue geography, suggests H Ramachandran.

education Updated: Oct 12, 2011 10:39 IST
H Ramachandran

Today, geography has a lot of application opportunities in diverse areas ranging from exploration, international relations/ geopolitics to military geography, disaster management, natural resource management, data mining and analysis, climate change and global warming. It is a lot more than remembering the names of rivers, mountains and capital cities just as history is a much more than merely memorising chronology and the dates of events. These two disciplines define the two basic coordinates of all events - that of space and time. There are few subjects in universities today that provide such a wide range of information and understanding of the world around us. There is something for every interest.



Geography as a subject is challenging. It not only improves one’s knowledge of the world, but also provides room for creativity. It is not static and real world changes keep updating the knowledge base of the discipline.



Geography as a discipline is uniquely placed since its contents include segments of physical sciences and humanities. Both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, it is listed either under the humanities or science faculty, depending on the emphasis in the course content. For example, a BSc in geography would include courses on geomorphology, oceanography, climatology, natural resources, etc, while a BA degree would offer basic courses in physical geography, but stress more on economic geography, human settlements, urban/ rural geography, historical geography, geographical thought and the like. In addition, either stream would include a course on quantitative analysis and cartography (mapping). Besides these, undergraduate courses also include tourism, regional planning, disaster management, and development studies. Courses in quantitative methods, cartography, map interpretation, fieldwork, social surveys, report writing, GIS (geographic information systems) and remote sensing equip students with hands-on skills that give them a professional edge.



The stress on practical application sets geography apart from other subjects and also develops the skills to apply theoretical knowledge to real world situations from the very beginning.



In the past few years, new offshoot courses such as geo-informatics have been introduced at the master’s level in some Indian universities (Osmania University in Hyderabad, Madurai Kamaraj University) and a few abroad.



Skill set

Basic skills required are the ability to isolate similarities and diversities, observational skills, the ability to create mental maps and abstraction, and the ability to unravel the relationship between physical and human attributes. It is important to have an ability to analyse, correlate and synthesise as well as to write clearly and cogently.



Career options

The options would differ for those who seek a career after the first degree and those who stay on for a second degree plus add-on courses. With rapid advances in remote sensing and GIS technologies in recent years and the use of maps in many areas, the career options have been expanding. However, most geographers enter careers in administration and teaching. There is a lot of demand for good geography teachers at all levels.



Tourism and travel management, census mapping, the armed forces and jobs with an environmental dimension are all open to geographers. Geography is an attractive avenue for students on the civil-service route - at least two students from the University of Delhi’s geography department have cracked the higher civil services exams and state civil services each year in the recent past with a significant showing of six successful students a couple of years ago. Defence services with a technical bent are another option (I recall a female student who was selected as a commissioned officer in the Indian Army in the education corps and another in a campus interview (with MA geography and physics background by the Indian Air Force).



The author is professor, Department of Geography, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi