What Should I Do For My GIS Project?

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04-01-2011 07:42 AM
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Esri Frequent Contributor
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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. Below and in this video 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.   Don't pick something where you can easily find data, or even something your professor is interested in... pick something that you are interested in.  For more from the student perspective, see my essay here.


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/).  The UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a related excellent framework. 

Along these lines are the issues raised by books in particular fields, such as my own book Essentials of the Environment. In this book I discuss biofuels, ecotones (the 'boundaries' of ecoregions), climate and weather, natural hazards, water quality and quantity, soil erosion, and other topics from local to global, and issues on the technical and instructional side, such as comparing field data collection methods. Another rich source of ideas is the annual Esri Map Books.  Each entry in this book features a problem solved through the application of GIS—anchored in hundreds of disciplines from agriculture to zoology. The Esri industry pages (http://www.esri.com/industries), is another good source, giving a sense of the fields in which GIS is used details and case studies told through written stories and videos.

Still stuck?  Try the following suggestions:

  1. Scan the recent User Conference proceedings from Esri (https://proceedings.esri.com/library/userconf/index.html), from www.scgis.org, and conferences from other organizations to gain ideas on the problems people are addressing, the data used, and the methods employed. 
  2. Go through the Esri ArcGIS Book (https://learn.arcgis.com/en/arcgis-book/) for additional ideas that may spring forth from your investigation of the many intriguing maps there.
  3. Go through some articles on https://scholar.google.com/ using a variety of search terms.

I encourage students to read scholarly and trade journals, and to skim GIS blogs, Facebook pages (such as the Esri Higher Education group), and investigate ideas on GIS web news services such as Directions Magazine, GIS User, GIS Café, www.esri.com/news, 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. Current events from health, political instability, and natural disasters, to economic inequality, energy, water, and many more are valid foundations upon which to build GIS projects.

How do you respond to the question “what should do for my GIS project?”  Some of my best ideas come from when I am out in the field, such as here in Utah. 

I look forward to your comments!

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

2 Comments
New Contributor

Hello Joseph!

I found this blog post while looking for ideas to come up with a GIS project in my 300-level GIS class at Montclair University. I am a member of the Society of Conservation GIS that you are a part of and realized that you are the author of this blog post (and several others!). I am struggling with coming up with a project for this years class that I have true interest in. I live in North Jersey, right outside of NYC - so local project ideas serve interest, as well as Adirondack wilderness areas (I do a lot of hiking up there).  I am very interested in conservation, hiking (something with hiking trails?) or basically any outdoor recreation (maybe comparing it with sources of air pollution?), or something with wildlife and light pollution? Maybe something with watersheds and the Hudson River!? My issue is coming up with a problem or a question to ask and analyze! Would you have any ideas on formulating a project that includes one of these topics? My apologies that my ideas are all over the place! (P.S. Thank you for everything that you do in order to show the world and people interested in GIS how important it is and spreading so much information and education on it's uses!)

Esri Frequent Contributor

Hi Amy:

I would say:

 

  1. Scan the recent User Conference proceedings from Esri (https://proceedings.esri.com/library/userconf/index.html), from www.scgis.org, and conferences from other organizations to gain ideas on the problems people are addressing, the data used, and the methods employed. 
  2. Go through the Esri ArcGIS Book (https://learn.arcgis.com/en/arcgis-book/) for additional ideas that may spring forth from your investigation of the many intriguing maps there.
  3. Go through some articles on https://scholar.google.com/ using a variety of search terms.

 I hope these additional resources are helpful.

--Joseph Kerski 

About the Author
I believe that spatial thinking can transform education and society through the application of Geographic Information Systems for instruction, research, administration, and policy. I hold 3 degrees in Geography, have served at NOAA, the US Census Bureau, and USGS as a cartographer and geographer, and teach a variety of F2F (Face to Face) (including T3G) and online courses. I have authored a variety of books and textbooks about the environment, STEM, GIS, and education. These include "Interpreting Our World", "Essentials of the Environment", "Tribal GIS", "The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data", "International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS In Secondary Education", "Spatial Mathematics" and others. I write for 2 blogs, 2 monthly podcasts, and a variety of journals, and have created over 5,000 videos on the Our Earth YouTube channel. Yet, as time passes, the more I realize my own limitations and that this is a lifelong learning endeavor and thus I actively seek mentors and collaborators.