By Feiyang Zhang, USC MPL, 2017
On Wednesday, February 15th, on the USC main campus, a group of students had the opportunity receive career advice from Meredith Canterbury, senior Geographic Information Science (GIS) Specialist at LSA Associates, Inc. at the first METRANS Lunch with a Practitioner event of the spring semester. Not surprisingly, GIS is becoming increasingly popular with students as they recognize its growing importance and applications in planning, engineering, and spatial analytics. At this event, Ms. Canterbury shared her experience, an introduction to her firm, LSA, and her insights about what one should do to succeed in the field of GIS.
“LSA is a company that focuses on providing environmental services to help projects meet the key environmental regulations such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA),” Canterbury shared. As a GIS Specialist, she has worked on projects such as I-710 improvement and California High-Speed Rail.
Ms. Canterbury’s first advice to students was to continually seek networking opportunities to meet people and make connections, pointing out that one can learn of many career opportunities from directly contacting those both in the field of GIS, and in transportation more broadly. “Try to get involved with organizations such as ESRI’s Young Professionals Network (YPN), as well as American Public Works Association (APWA), for example,” she said. In particular, she recommended students who are interested in GIS to go to the annual ESRI User Conference in San Diego to learn more about the industry and meet different professionals.
“If you want to do GIS, learn Python” was her second suggestion. She pointed out that having knowledge both in GIS and Python scripting would make a candidate much more competitive when applying for jobs, mainly because that if one knew Python very well, he or she would be able to customize GIS and to build widgets that can significantly improve the efficiency of the workflow.
As a GIS specialist, Ms. Canterbury emphasized the importance of constantly learning new knowledge and skills. Jisu Lee, a graduate student who is studying urban planning at USC, asked about how we could learn these and other skills most effectively. “We can always learn from our mentors and colleagues, we can use ESRI’s online training resources, and we can go to conferences, develop connections and make contacts,” Ms. Canterbury advised, again stressing the importance of networking.
Joanna Wang, an undergraduate majoring in Geo-design asked about potential career paths in GIS, and what one could expect being employed at the entry level and later, when one is moving up. Ms. Canterbury related her experience about starting with an entry-level GIS technician role and then moving to a “project management” type of position, and detailed how the growth in these positions changes one’s day to day activities. “I still create maps, but now I spend more times managing and distributing GIS works to entry-level GIS staffs,” she explained.
Ms. Canterbury closed with some very helpful tips specifically when searching for jobs and internships. “Don’t be turned off by job descriptions which seem to ask things you are not sure describe you; they are just an employer’s wish list,” she noted, encouraging students to apply for the position they are interested in even if their experience is not a perfect match with the job description. She also emphasized the importance of researching firms so students can see what the company is actually doing and how the student might relate to or find particular interest in a company’s projects.
It was very interesting to see the importance of networking being stated over and over again during the event, even for a technical field like GIS. Throughout this event, I was reminded that METRANS continually provides a valuable platform for students to learn from and build connections with top researchers and practitioners in the transportation industry, through well-designed mentor programs, research seminars, and the Lunch with Practitioner events. I am a recent graduate, and I still return to campus and learn so much each time I attend METRANS events. I highly recommend anyone interested in transportation to stay tuned and join these events in order to network, to learn more about the field, and to learn valuable career skills to best pursue and advance a career in the field of transportation.
Author Feiyang Zhang
Feiyang Zhang is a recent graduate from the University of Southern California Master of Planning program. Currently, he is interning at the Research & Analysis Department of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), where he is responsible for research, data management, and providing GIS services. Prior to this position, he interned at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), where he worked with city planners and engineers to implement better bicycle and pedestrian facilities. His areas of interest include transportation planning, urban design, and environmental planning. Specifically, Zhang is passionate about using data analysis and visualization to inform planning decisions and to promote sustainability. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.