Geography in Australia: the right place to be

With its varied climates, landscapes and contrast between highly urbanised areas and vast open spaces, Australia is the perfect place to study geography, says Iain Hay, President of the Institute of Australian Geographers.

Why study geography in Australia? Leaving aside the obvious benefits of warm weather; wide, open spaces; friendly people; relaxed lifestyle; a successful multicultural society; and truly great food, you also get the benefit of a world-class education in a place beautifully suited to the study of geography.

But let’s start with some shared sense of what geography is about. In Australia, geography is considered to be the study of place, space and the environment. Geographers explore what places mean, how people shape places, and how places shape our lives. Geographers investigate biophysical environments encompassing terrestrial, marine and atmospheric systems. These investigations include the nature, dimensions and causes of environmental change; the reciprocal relationships between the environment and people; the resources biophysical systems provide and their sustainability. Finally, in their consideration of space, geographers examine how, why and with what effect diverse phenomena vary across the surface of the earth.

There are few parts of the world better to pursue these ends than Australia, with its remarkable juxtaposition of a highly urbanised population settled on the margins of vast open spaces; territorial reach from the tropics to sub-antarctic zones; and physical proximity to Asia set as a counterpoint to longstanding cultural and economic links to Europe and North America.

So, as a geography student in a land of such contrast and variety, you can expect to ask and answer questions about why space, place and environment are like they are and how they could be; how societies and environments are connected to one another; how and why they change; and how and why their characteristics vary across time and space at different scales.

Geography has been taught in Australian universities for almost 100 years. Our undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are internationally competitive and compare very well against those from other nations. Most good universities offer a major in geography as part of a degree programme such as the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Health Science, Bachelor of Letters, Bachelor of Science, or Bachelor of Social Science. You can also pursue the study of geography as part of your studies in degrees such as the bachelor of environmental management. Because of its tremendous breadth, geography is also a very good discipline to pair with another (e.g. environmental studies, information technology, international relations, tourism) as part of a double-major for instance. And of course, you may love geography so much you go on to pursue advanced research as part of a PhD programme.

Australian geography is fundamentally interdisciplinary. It is one of the few disciplines that encompass very different ways of knowing, from the natural and social sciences and the humanities. Geographers are therefore uniquely equipped to understand and address critical problems facing the world. Geographers are motivated by issues such as social and environmental justice, and the efficient, equitable and sustainable use of resources.

Australian geography graduates are qualified to understand the world as an integrated whole. They use a powerful mix of geographical and interdisciplinary skills to solve a range of problems. They can analyse and synthesise complex environmental, economic, social and political information to enable a geographical understanding of humans, environments and the dynamic relationships between them.

By the time you have completed your undergraduate degree you will have developed:

  1. A coherent geographical understanding of trends, processes and impacts that shape Australian and other environments and/or societies at different spatial and temporal scales.
  2. A firm understanding of geography as an academic discipline, including awareness of its concepts, history and principal subfields.

that, you’ll also have learned a range of research techniques, which can include fieldwork, survey design, statistical analysis, spatial data analysis (including Geographic Information Systems), and other forms of qualitative and quantitative analysis. You will be proficient at retrieving, synthesising and communicating information, as well as managing data and drawing on different sources of knowledge. And you will be able to think critically and creatively, and work effectively in teams and on your own initiative.

Not surprisingly, with these skills and attributes you will be highly employable in a wide variety of fields across both government and non-government sectors. The flexibility of geographers is demonstrated in the diversity of career paths they follow. Fields of employment include, but are not limited to: disaster management, environmental management, national security, international development, market research and planning.

One of the remarkable things about studying Geography in Australia is the clear dedication of leading scholars in the field to the quality of university teaching. Lecturers are active and often world-leading researchers who constantly seek ways to enliven classes with recent developments in their field and, perhaps even more importantly, find ways to support students’ own research. Reflecting this kind of dedication, the Institute of Australian Geographers actively supports student involvement in national level activity. For instance, it runs an online journal, GEOView the publication of high quality work produced by undergraduate students. The Institute also offers active support to postgraduate students to attend and participate in its conferences.

So, if you want to study geography, look no further. Australia is the right place to be.

Iain Hay
Institute of Australian Geographers