Geographic Information Science: Student Testimonials

Yasna Kharadi

Majors: Human Geography and City Studies Co-op
Minor: Geographic Information Systems

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

When I first joined UTSC, I didn’t plan on taking Geography at all. I just happened to take a first year course as an elective and fell in love with the discipline. The topics we learn are all interesting and relevant to issues in the real world. The faculty is extremely supportive and encouraging, and all the other students in the program are friendly and accepting. I chose to pursue the program as a major coupled with City Studies, and a minor in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These three programs work really well together as there is good combination of theory, application, and real world skills that can be learned.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Many people think that Geography is about learning countries on a map, but it actually isn’t like that at all. There are many different types of Geographies including physical, urban, human, and cultural. Geography is about understanding the world around us, including concepts such as urbanization, globalization, migration patterns, changes to the environment, and inequalities of space. One of the highlights of this program is that it can be taken as a specialist, major, or minor. It can also be coupled with City Studies and be part of the co-op program. This allows students to take part in two competitive work terms with employers such as Environment Canada, Metrolinx, Ontario Energy Board, Ontario Power Generation, and many more. By doing so, students get an opportunity to apply their knowledge in real work environments and gain valuable experience. The curriculum for Geography is really diverse and students can pursue a broad range of interests. The first year Geography courses set strong foundations in understanding the different concepts and theories, while the upper year courses allow students to branch out in topics such as land development, megacities, health and sexuality, spaces of travel, and many more. This allows students to gain a breadth of knowledge they can use in their career path.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

1. Be involved in activities other than academics. Get to know the departmental associations, go to their events, they’re catered for students and their needs. Join a club or sports team, go to mix and mingles, talk to professors. All of this enhances the student experience. It helps in making friends and connections that are valuable, and you’ll enjoy your time in university much more.
2. Assignments and readings are hard so don’t be afraid to get help. Academic writing is a tough skill to learn but it’s an important aspect for your success. There are many services available on campus such as the Writing Centre, or workshops that teach students how to build these skills. It’s important to start assignments early so there’s enough time for editing. Readings are part of this as well as they help in understanding the material on a much deeper level. Take the time to question who the author is, why their perspective is the way it is, what in the reading is challenging, and what are the limitations within the reading. All of this facilitates critical thinking needed for academic success.

What will you do with your degree after graduation?

Geography is inter-disciplinary and has the ability to be incorporated anywhere. Upon graduation, I would like to take a year or two to work and gain experience before possibly perusing a Masters. I participated in the co-op program and had the opportunity to work with the Ontario Energy Board for 8 months. I would like to return there and continue to learn and participate in the public sector. Geography prepares students with important skills in research, writing, and evidence-based examination of our surrounding environment. These skills can be transferred to many jobs, and gives students the ability to apply them in the real world.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

For my first year, I took courses from all disciplines including Environmental Science, Health Studies, and International Development. By doing so I knew what disciplines I liked and possibly wanted to pursue and which ones I didn’t. I also tried to attend and participate in events because it’s really beneficial to talk to upper year students and hear their perspective and advice. Second year, I started to get more involved as I joined my departmental student association as a Second Year Representative. The courses I was taking were more detailed and therefore more interesting. It was at this point that I really started to get the hang of academic writing and the skills for critical thinking. By doing so, I was able to engage better in all my courses and learn about subjects I was passionate about. Third and fourth year courses are tailored by themes and there’s a wide variety of options for students to choose from. The class sizes are much smaller and intimate so I got to know my professors and classmates a lot better. Many fourth year courses are seminar based and students get to share their thoughts and experiences in an open environment. This type of learning is much more personal and much more rewarding.
 

Major: City Studies
Minors: Geography Information System (GIS) & English-Chinese Translation

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 

The reason I choose city study as my major is, as an international student, I would like to know the city first, and browse how the city operate in western countries, while seeing what the relationship is between city planners, government, and the communities.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
City Studies is a mixed-discipline, the program requires students to get information from diverse subjects, such as geography, environment, sociology, policy, and statistics. GIS, the full name is Geography Information System, sounds like a technical issue, and that is correct, GIS is a kind of method which makes information visible on a map.  For example, what is the criminal rate in a specific area, one can get the information and see it visually on a map. English-Chinese Translation is the aspect that I am interested in, this program provides me with a deep understanding of the language, and the importance of performing as a translator.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

If you are, like me, not a native English speaker, I would suggest that you do your reading material several times to improve your skills and understanding of the topic. I suggest this as these three programs will offer you huge amounts of readings. Particularly, if you are a social science student, I highly recommend that you take GIS as your minor, as that will help you in the future projects and careers. While, to be honest, it is often hard to get the point of the knowledge at the beginning, as these are new theories and concepts to most students. However, don’t get discouraged, as after you take the B-level GIS course, you will gain better understanding of what the beginning course is talking about. Although the B-level probably will be a tough period for students to learn, just keep going, when you practice more, you will know  the material more clearly.

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

Based on my GIS skills, there are some analytical jobs I can do. Also, city- related jobs, for example, research, project, and so on.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?
 

I suffered a lot in my first year, I was even on probation for a period of time due to the fact that I am not that familiar with the programs offered by this campus and I had language problems. The language test does not mean you are on the way to success. One year later, I decided to be a city studies student. I learned knowledge from different aspects, while I became more practiced on the academic studying, but I still felt that what I learned was so abstract that I cannot touch it. Thereafter, when I took C level and D level courses, things became better, we had projects that needed to do research and interviews in the community, this time I felt what I learned from the book, has been applied, and I recognized that there are gaps between the readings and the reality.