What Skills Does a Geographer Need?

Caitlin Dempsey


Geographers study people and the environment.  To be a successful geographer, certain skills are needed in order to be able to understand the Earth’s physical environment as well as human patterns and processes.  Learn here what skills geographers need to have.

The skills that geographers need to be successful can be categorized into five main categories: Analytical, computer, critical-thinking, presentation, and communication (oral and written) skills.

Analytical skills

Geographers analyze the world to find patterns.  In order to make sense of spatial patterns, analytical skills are a must. Geographers must consolidate geographic from a variety of sources such as GIS data, printed maps, aerial photographs, and statistical data. Geographers must be able to decide which information is relevant to the task at hand and to be able to analyze that data in order to draw conclusions.

Computer skills

Geographers must be skilled in the technology driven aspects of their field.  This involves becoming proficient with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices as well as Geographic Information System (GIS) and remote sensing software packages. 

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A laptop running QGIS, a mapping software.

More frequently, geographers are also required to understand scripting languages such as Python in order to automate repetitive geospatial tasks.  Since much of the data is stored in databases, geographers must also be proficient in relational database management.  Geographers who use GIS technology need strong computer skills.

Critical-thinking skills

Critical analysis is a key skill for geographers. Being able to analyze information in order to choose the right GIS data, analytical method, and scale of data is important.  Geographers must display logic, good judgment, and the ability to reason when analyzing information.

Data Visualization skills

For geographers, one of the most common ways to report their findings is by creating a map. Therefore, possessing solid cartographic and data visualization skills is a must.  Geographers must be skilled in cartographic techniques in order to understand the best use of color shading, symbology, and labels are needed in order to make their maps and graphics legible and easily understandable to their audience.

Communication skills

Communication plays a critical role.  Geographers are often tasked with distilling complex geographic information and presenting the results of their analysis.  Oftentimes, geographers must present technical information to laypersons. Therefore, geographers need to hone their oral and written skills so that the information they present is clear and concise.   The ability to collaborate is also essential since most geographers works as part of a team.

Specialized Skills

Geographers don’t work in isolation but rather do work that supports a specific industry. Geographers must also acquire the specialized skills for the industry they work in.  A geographer working as a demographer must obtain skills in statistical analysis and working with population data.  A geographer working in urban planning will need to pick up knowledge about land use planning and environmental impact reviews.


Geographers must consolidate a range of skills to be successful.  Formal training is a must, with geographers obtaining at least a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university (related: How to Find a Top Geography Degree Program). 

Many geography jobs require a master’s degree and the U.S. Department of Labor reports that in 2016, at least 50 percent of working geographers had a higher degree.  On the job training through an internship is often the next step taken towards becoming a well-skilled geographer.

Geographers need to acquire a range of skills to be successful.  Being able to analyze and map out information requires skills such as critical thinking, map making, and communication.

Video prepared by  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on being a geographer (more: Geographers)


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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.