What Should I Do For My GIS Project?

Many of us have encountered the following question from students: “What should I do for my GIS project?” Or, perhaps you are that student looking for a GIS project. While the best project is the one that students come up with themselves, sometimes, suggestions are helpful to get started. If you choose to provide suggestions, below are some that I have provided to GIS students at many times in the past.

I always encourage the student to discuss his or her thoughts with me or their peers rather than me providing a simple list. I encourage students to start with issues that they are most passionate about.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals provide a good framework and starting point, because these goals that address poverty, health, education, and others can all benefit by the spatial perspective and spatial analysis through GIS (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/). Along the same lines are issues raised by books in particular fields, such as the book Essentials of the Environment. Another rich source of ideas is the annual Esri Map Books: http://www.esri.com/mapmuseum. Each 2-page spread in these books features a problem solved through the application of GIS—anchored in hundreds of disciplines from agriculture to zoology. Along similar lines are the Esri industry pages (http://www.esri.com/industries), which give a good sense of the fields in which GIS is used with additional details through written stories and videos.

I encourage students to read scholarly and trade journals, and to skim GIS blogs, Facebook pages, and mine for ideas on GIS web news services such as Directions Magazine, GIS User, GIS Café, and others. I encourage students to read local, regional, national, and international news to get a sense of issues of critical importance. In my local community, the top issues at the moment are deciding which schools to close in the wake of budget shortfalls, and mitigating and dealing with the aftermath of recent wildfires in the mountain foothills. In my state of Colorado, top issues include pine beetle infestation, designing urban greenways, extracting natural gas and oil shale, and an issue that has been with us for 150 years—water quality and availability. Just look around you. Events in 2011 from political strife to natural disasters are valid foundations upon which to build GIS projects.

How do you respond to the question “what should do for my GIS project?”

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Joseph Kerski

About Joseph Kerski

Joseph Kerski is a geographer who believes that spatial analysis through digital mapping can transform education and society through better decision-making using the geographic perspective. He serves on the Esri education team and is active in GIS communication and outreach, creates GIS-based curriculum, conducts research in the effectiveness of GIS in education, teaches online and face-to-face courses on spatial thinking and analysis, and fosters partnerships to support GIS in formal and informal education at all levels, internationally. He is the co-author of Spatial Mathematics, The Essentials of the Environment, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, and other books. Follow him on Twitter @josephkerski
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6 Comments

  1. molivares says:

    You covered the best sources of ideas! Local agencies generally welcome students who want to voluteer and offer their course project to analyze a community issue or discover geospatial patterns. It is a win-win because the agency most likley will have the data ready for the students, making their task easier.

    • escruz says:

      I am student for the University of Houston and I am currently looking for ideas for a GIS project. I was thinking about looking for projects related to oil and gas exploration, since it is the area that I want to work in, but I really liked the idea of dealing with a community issue. My problem is that I am an international student, and I dont really understand much of how this kind of community things work over here, I don’t really know where could i go or who could I contact in order to get volunteer for this projects. so if you could tell me how to do that, i would be great, i would really appreciate. and thank you very much for the tips :)

      • Joseph Kerski Joseph Kerski says:

        Greetings: You might use some search terms such as community and civic in the Esri User Conference proceedings, and the URISA conference proceedings. Both are available on the web and the Esri UC proceedings go back over a decade. That will give you a good idea of what issues people are examining. There is also the Esri Press book entitled Making Community Connections which you should be able to get on interlibrary loan if you don’t have a copy at the University. Also the URISA Journal has some articles in this regard. To connect with the geospatial community in TX, look up the folks at TNRIS.ORG, and also find some people via geomentor.org. I hope this helps and best wishes to you!

  2. escruz says:

    I am student for the University of Houston and I am currently looking for ideas for a GIS project. I was thinking about looking for projects related to oil and gas exploration, since it is the area that I want to work in, but I really liked the idea of dealing with a community issue. My problem is that I am an international student, and I dont really understand much of how this kind of community things work over here, I don’t really know where could i go or who could I contact in order to get volunteer for this projects. so if you could tell me how to do that, i would be great, i would really appreciate. and thank you very much for the tips

  3. alexpcad says:

    Hi Joseph,

    My name is Alex and from Scotland. I currently work for the Scottish Government assessing farm land for subsidy through the use of GPS technology to gain correct areas of fields through various measures of payment.
    Within in our office we heavily rely on our own GIS system and GPS’ing is a line of work I enjoy. I am hoping to further my knowledge in this line of work and am currently embarking on a masters degree in GIS at Edinburgh University. I am however seeking an idea for my research proposal and would like to link it to agriculture if possible. Would you recommend any ideas?

    Kindest regards

    Alex