Why a PhD at UMD?

The  Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland College Park, ranked 3rd out of 49 Geography Departments in the 2010 NRC Rankings. This is an outstanding achievement and confirms that Maryland Geography is one of the leading departments in the nation. The assessment also showed that Maryland Geography ranked first in the number of citations, indicating the broad level of recognition for our research publications. While members of the Department are involved in many of the mainstream concerns of the discipline, they are also responding to the new challenges and opportunities of earth system science, human dimensions of global change, global warming, population expansion and third-world development, to name but a few issues.

Even more encouraging is that, since 2005/6, when the survey was undertaken, a number of substantive improvements have been made to the Department. Over the past two years, total departmental faculty more than doubled, with tenure/tenure-track faculty increasing from 11.5 to 16, and research faculty increasing from 8 to 18. In addition, the number of Research Associates ("Post-docs") increased from 3 to 13. Along with this growth, the Department is on pace to dramatically increase its research revenue, with proposal requests growing from $17.8 million in FY11 to almost $30 million in the first five months of FY12 alone. In 2011, seven department faculty members were recognized as "Research Leaders" at the university level. This activity represents leadership across the board, in potential new satellite and space station missions, new continental scale ecological field campaigns and modeling efforts, and numerous innovative basic and applied studies. We are also working to grow even larger by combining forces and launching a new Joint Initiative focused on formally linking UMD, NASA Goddard, and the Joint Global Change Research Institute to address the biggest and most integrative science questions no one unit could address alone. The Department is also actively engaging in the newly established National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center based in Annapolis.

The University of Maryland Geographical Sciences Department maintains one of the most active externally funded research programs in the US. Over the last two decades, this research has rapidly expanded and evolved to address the growing importance of geographical issues in public policy and research. The Department is housed in over 25,000 sq. ft. on the main College Park campus and in an adjacent research building. Three teaching laboratories are dedicated to computer-based instruction of geospatial information sciences with over 75 PCs dedicated to teaching and graduate research. The research laboratories support Linux, and high-end PC machines, with very high performance processors and multi terabyte RAID arrays. An extensive range of software is available, including satellite data processing, image analysis, and ESRI GIS packages. Many opportunities exist for students to participate in externally funded research projects and field research.

Current major externally funded research activities include participation in: NASA Earth Observing System (EOS), the NASA DESDynI, The North American Carbon Program, NASA/USDA global agricultural monitoring, the NASA-funded Global Land Cover Facility in association with the University's Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), the USAID Central Africa Regional Project for the Environment (CARPE), and the USGS Landsat Science Team. Other funded projects include studying regional to global scale land cover patterns, tropical deforestation, fire and the environment, NOAA global climate-modeling and spatial aspects of biodiversity. Graduate students find this research environment a rich source of ideas for research papers and dissertation studies, as well as providing opportunities to join these projects as paid (including tuition) research assistants. This experience often leads to openings for employment on completion of their studies.

The Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC) is a cross-campus research initiative that brings together Geography, Geology, and Meteorology in a shared research institute to further encourage interdisciplinary studies to address contemporary questions in earth system science.

The Washington, D.C. metropolitan area is an exceptional location in which to pursue geographic research. Many national and international agencies and organizations are within a short distance of the campus. Major national research laboratories are close by, including the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the Joint Global Change Research Institute, the USDA Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, the National Archives, Bureau of the Census, National Institutes of Health, USGS, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), NOAA and the Offices of the US Global Change Research Program. International and non-governmental agencies are also located within easy reach, including Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, the World Bank, the National Geographic Society, and many others. Corporations, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that use geographical applications are also well represented. Libraries on campus and nearby are unrivaled anywhere in the world. The University of Maryland is also located in a region of extraordinary geographic diversity, including two major urban centers (Baltimore and Washington, D.C.), the Appalachian Mountains, Piedmont, Coastal Plain, Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Coast.


The specific geographic research specializations represented by the Faculty include:

  • Geospatial-Information Science and Remote SensingCollecting and interpreting geospatial data is central to everything we do as geographers, whether on computers or in the field. From local events to multi-scale processes, our faculty are developing and applying advanced remote sensing capabilities and GI Science that will help us to develop the next generation of GI technologies and understanding of the world’s geography. Our strengths include advanced computer modeling, scientific and geographic visualization, sensor calibration and design, image processing, geocomputing, spatial statistics, and semantic learning.
  • Human Dimensions of Global Change – Coupled Human and Natural SystemsThe Department’s ultimate research goal is to advance an integrated understanding of the coupled Earth system including spatially distributed human processes. Our research addresses both fundamental and applied issues in coupled human and natural systems, such as population, socio-economic development, consumption and production, poverty, climate impacts and adaptation, vulnerability and mitigation, as well as the examination of policy options and trade-offs on sustainability. Our scientists investigate both the human socio-economic system and the climate system, and their linkages.
  • Land Cover – Land Use ChangeLand cover and land-use change is a key interface between human and natural systems. Our scientists are world leaders in the remote sensing of land-cover changes. This information is actively combined with human socio-economic data to study past land cover and land use change and to inform advanced modeling of spatially-explicit future scenarios. These methods are actively being used to simultaneously address social, economic, carbon, climate, biodiversity and other aspects of land-use changes. We develop agricultural monitoring systems and look at societal impacts, adaptions and vulnerability to fire, droughts, floods, desertification, and other catastrophic events.
  • Carbon, Vegetation Dynamics and Landscape-Scale ProcessesThe department carries out a broad array of research focused on monitoring vegetation dynamics, with a particular focus on mapping and studying human and natural disturbances and their landscape-scale impacts, as well as changes to the earth surface as a result of climate variability. This research involves integration of field-based research with remotely-sensed observations to address key scientific uncertainties. Alterations to the global carbon cycle are changing atmospheric composition and climate with implications for human well-being and a particular focus of our research is on monitoring and modeling the terrestrial carbon cycle with unprecedented sophistication and resolution.