Paul McDaniel

Assistant Professor of Geography, Kennesaw State University

EducationPh.D. in Geography and Urban Regional Analysis (University of North Carolina at Charlotte), M.A.E. in Higher Education Leadership (University of Alabama at Birmingham), M.S. in Geography (University of Tennessee), B.S. in Geography (Samford University)

What attracted you to a career in education?
In between completing my masters degree and beginning work on a doctoral degree, I worked full time in location analysis and market research analysis. While completing my doctorate, I taught several courses as an instructor. After finishing my PhD, I again worked full time outside academia—this time as a research fellow for an immigration policy research organization in Washington, DC. While in DC, I realized that I missed the university setting and interactions with students. After several years in DC, I decided to pursue a career in academia in a setting that provided a balance of teaching and research opportunities.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position?
I was always interested in geography. When I found out geography was something you could major in at university, I knew that was the route I wanted to go. I love geography because of how broad the discipline is, covering both physical and human geography. Because geography is such a broad discipline, there is opportunity to cultivate a diverse skill set of breadth and depth that can be applied in a variety of settings. My career pathway to working in higher education has been less traditional and has allowed me opportunity to apply a variety of geographic skills, including quantitative, qualitative, and GIS/technical skills in settings outside academia. Having a background in geography has allowed me to bring a unique perspective to work in non-academic settings. In turn, my application of geography in such settings has allowed me to gain new insights about how geography may be applied to better understand issues and help solve societal problems. And I bring those insights into the classroom today and discuss such opportunities with students.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often in your work?
Geographic skills: I use a variety of quantitative, qualitative, and spatial analysis/GIS techniques in my research about immigrant settlement, integration, inclusion, and receptivity, in cities, to be able to explain relationships and processes of human migration. Conceptual understanding and application of knowledge about the broader forces driving the changing geography of international migration is also important in my work. Using tools of geography to visualize phenomena is also important in the classroom to convey information to students in a compelling way.

General skills: other skills important in my work that were cultivated during graduate school and working outside academia include analyzing literature (including academic/scientific literature); critical thinking and critical writing skills; writing for different audiences (academic, policy, general audience); presentation and public speaking skills, including speaking to different types of audiences (academic, professional, policy, general public).

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them?
In academia, you must quickly become efficient at juggling commitments in the three areas of teaching, supervision, and mentorship of students; research and creative activity; and professional service. Organization skills are critical to be successful in managing your various activities in each of these three areas while progressing on different projects in each area that are at different stages of your productivity pipeline.

Additionally, it is important for academia to engage with the broader public about current events and issues. The breadth and depth of training of geographers allows us opportunity to help the broader public understand the nuances and contexts of many issues and processes. As such, being able to write and speak to the public in a compelling and conversational way about complex issues is important. During my time in DC, I was able to hone my writing and public speaking skills for a wide variety of audiences, and these skills continue to be important today when discussing topics about immigration with different audiences, either in writing or through public speaking.

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for?
I look for people who bring a geographic skills set of breadth and depth, are confident in what they have to offer and in themselves as individuals, are flexible and open to learning new concepts and ways of doing things, and will be collegial and pleasant colleagues with whom I will look forward to working and interacting.

What do you find most interesting/challenging/inspiring about your work?
In geography, there is always something new to learn and new perspectives through which to explore and examine an issue or process. In my work focused on immigration and immigrant settlement, and how cities respond to changing immigration dynamics, there is always something going on that directly links to current events as well as conversations about the topic occurring in media and political realms. This makes the work timely, but also presents the challenge and opportunity of conveying research-based information to the broader public as well as to policy audiences in a timely and compelling way, as well as helping students to understand processes from an informed perspective. A couple of things I find inspiring about my work include interacting with a wide range of individuals and organizations in different communities doing meaningful work with vulnerable and marginalized populations. I am also inspired when my students gain new understanding and insights about local, regional, and global processes through the variety of perspectives that geography offers.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?
Pursue a variety of opportunities to cultivate a diverse skills set with breadth and depth. In addition to your thesis or dissertation work, seek out opportunities to help with other research projects; gain teaching experience in different courses; participate in service opportunities in your department, at your university, and in the broader community; get involved with the broader geography academic community, such as your regional division of AAG or an AAG specialty group; network with other geographers doing things that you find interesting; and develop communication skills for conveying information to a variety of audiences including writing and public speaking to general audiences.

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers?
Whether or not you are pursuing a career in higher education, there are a wide variety of opportunities for geographers in many sectors, including education, nonprofit/NGO, government (local, state, federal), research institutions, private sector, business, and more. Geographers bring a unique spatial understanding of issues and processes with local, regional, national, and global significance. The skills geographers practice to develop such understanding of such issues and processes are in high demand by many occupations and career fields.