Should You Get a GIS Internship?

Caitlin Dempsey


Those currently studying for a career in GIS should consider carefully how to start their GIS employment.  One of the most important strategies is to obtain a GIS internship.  A poll of GIS professionals held on GIS Lounge last year found that more than half of respondents held a GIS internship position at the start of their career.  Of those, a majority found the GIS internship to be invaluable.  One respondent noted, “My GIS Internship was the most important factor in finding a permanent position because, not only did I learn skills during my internship that I never learned in college, I also made important contacts that led to my first position and my current position.”

Students in a GIS program should look at the GIS internship as an extension of their coursework.  Many GIS curriculums, in recognition of how an internship contributes to a student’s success in the field, are starting to require hands-on experience as part of the program: “The GIS internship was the way that I learned about how GIS is utilized in the real world. In school, assignments are given and perfectly packaged, and instructors are there to guide you through each assignment/project. This does not happen in the real world, and skills not used in school are needed in day to day occurrences.”

How to Find a GIS Internship

The majority of those who have done a GIS internship found it through their local college or university with a high number noting that it was a college professor who provided the lead.  When you are ready to start looking for a GIS internship, check first with your GIS or Geography professors to see if they know of any opportunities.  Other resources to check are the local job bank at the school or guidance counselor.  Jobs fairs held on campus provide another avenue towards finding an internship. One survey respondent noting finding a GIS internship posted on a flyer around campus so keep an open eye for unexpected ways to find an internship.  Another tried the universal method, “I asked everyone I knew and every person I encountered, and finally stumbled upon an opportunity.  The internship was with a regional planning commission.  This was in 2001, and nothing was advertised.”

Another methods is the “do it yourself” method.  I personally found my own internship by calling up the GIS point person at the National Park Service near where I lived and asking if they could use a GIS intern.  Another survey respondent said, “I created it.  I called  a local County Planning department and suggested a workplan for my internship.”  Another negotiated a internship this way, “Through an online GIS jobs site – it was posted as a part-time job and I talked the employer into making it an Internship.”

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Building Your GIS Career

Not only is a GIS internship important to developing GIS skills, many respondents reported that their GIS internship paved the way for their first professional position.  A GIS analyst in California: “My internship was crucial to getting a permanent position. I helped build their GIS database from the ground up, gained a lot of problem-solving skills and kept looking for a permanent position with benefits. Once I had an offer of employment from another company, my internship turned into a permanent job with benefits as they didn’t want to lose me. I would urge anyone to start with an internship and keep looking for opportunities.”  Many in the survey reported that their GIS internships either led directly to a full-time position or provided an opportunity for developing contacts that led to a job offer.

Intern Deanna Wilson and GIS Technician Anthony Calderon at work. Photo by Kristina Jacob.


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.