Lyon, LizCareer Profile: Liz Lyon

 Liz Lyon is one of the relatively small proportion of geographers whose job titles reflects their disciplinary background. A native of Wheaton, Illinois, she completed her undergraduate work at Augustana College with a geography minor and received a master's degree in geography from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. To support her work as a Research Geographer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Liz continues to build upon her foundation in geography and GIS by working towards her PhD in computational social science at George Mason University.

USACE was a logical career destination for Liz, a "legacy" employee with a  family history of employment in the Corps. She works in the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), which provides science, technology, and expertise in engineering, environmental, and social sciences to support military and civilian customers. Liz also collaborates with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), developing strategies for effective communication and collaboration among federal agencies around geospatial technology and information at strategic, operational, and technical levels. She describes this role as "building bridges," alluding to the USACE's status as the world's largest public engineering, design, and construction management agency.

When providing input on hiring decisions, Liz seeks candidates who can be multidisciplinary thinkers, able to look at problems from different perspectives and across scales. A wide range of skills, supplemented by specialized knowledge or a solid understanding of a basic theoretical principle is another key qualification.  For example, for positions involving GIS, she appreciates applicants who have previous experience working in a computing programming environment. "In order to be competitive, geographers should have a strong foundation in the discipline as well as knowledge of at least one programming language with practical examples," she explains. With a geospatial revolution under way, maps and spatial data are playing a central role in everyday life. Applicants from a wide variety of disciplines can now offer geospatial skills to potential employers, but not all of them understand the unique skill set that geographers offer. Despite a difficult job market, Liz expects that geographers will continue to be in demand for positions in the federal government as well as in the private sector. However, she cautions that "geographers need to learn how to market themselves in a way that a lot of other fields don't need to," highlighting how their specific skills provide a unique perspective in terms of understanding problems from a spatial point of view She advises job seekers to pursue experiences that give you "opportunities to build character" and to stay abreast of the latest developments within the field. "Geography is an evolving discipline, so you have to keep learning in order to be involved with it," Liz states. "Find something that you love and have passion for, then keep learning."

This profile was published in 2011 by Dr. Joy Adams.