Congratulations to our newest Alumni Spotlight recipient, Piyali Kundu! Piyali graduated from the MPSGIS program in 2015 and is currently employed by ESRI as a Solution Engineer.
What is a recent project that you have worked on that you have drawn on skills from the Masters program?
Throughout my GIS career, I have drawn extensively from the ArcGIS skills I learned in the MPSGIS program. As a Solutions Engineer at Esri, I utilize the ArcGIS platform (e.g., ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Online, and ArcGIS Enterprise) and other supporting technologies daily to quickly construct demos and proof-of-concepts, and develop hands-on training workshops and courses in mapping and spatial analysis for our users and the public. Most recently, I developed a proof-of-concept for the NYC Board of Elections to facilitate real-time reporting and monitoring of poll sites, which was piloted at a special election event. I also developed and led a hands-on training course in data exploration and spatial analysis for NYC Open Data Week using Esri’s latest analysis workbench tool, Insights for ArcGIS.
How have the skills you have learned in the Masters program helped you progress in your career?
The skills I learned in the MPSGIS program have been invaluable to me throughout my GIS career. They provided me with a solid base of both technical development and analytical knowledge to quickly attack a problem and identify different tools and technologies to solve it. During my time as a GIS analyst at Conservation International, I relied heavily on topics covered in the MPSGIS’s spatial analysis and statistics courses, and mapping and visualization techniques in ArcGIS desktop (e.g., ArcMap) for deforestation and landscape sustainability research and analysis. I also used (and continue to use) computer programming skills learned through the program to create custom analysis tools and batch geoprocessing workflows. Finally, I utilized skills from the web GIS class to set up mobile and desktop mapping application systems in ArcGIS Online. Understandably, I’ve utilized all my ArcGIS skills from the program extensively as a Solutions Engineer at Esri. (I even keep some of my old textbooks and notes from the program at my desk!)
What drew you to the MPSGIS program at Maryland?
The number of GIS courses today is growing fast, and many tend to offer the same variety of courses and workloads. The MPSGIS program has several unique characteristics that stand out and drew me to it over other graduate GIS/geography programs.
- First, the program is predominantly online and runs on a quarterly semester system. This pragmatic structure allowed me to easily manage a full-time student course load—therefore, also to qualify for federal student loans—while simultaneously interning/working full-time. I could be flexible when applying to jobs since I wasn’t constrained to a physical campus, and I was also able to put my course work to immediate use. In many cases, I could work on projects for my job as final projects for class and get additional assistance from the professors, TAs, and my classmates.
- Additionally, the Masters program differs from other online programs because I graduated as part of the University of Maryland, College Park. UMD has an extremely well known and respected geographical sciences department, and obtaining a formal Masters degree through the graduate program offered a considerable boost in my credentials. In comparison, other online degrees often come from lesser known universities with little or no reputation in geographical sciences and technology. This aspect of the MPSGIS program was especially helpful for me when applying for internships and entry-level positions at the beginning of my career.
- Finally, the location of UMD to Baltimore, DC, and major cities in northern VA offered a plethora of internships and job opportunities. Faculty at UMD are also extremely well connected, and I took take advantage of the numerous job listservs, career fairs, and other networking opportunities hosted by the program and university.
What advice can you give current and prospective students about the Masters program?
As a part of the Masters program and the UMD campus, you have access to nearly unlimited resources—make use of them! There are certain services that we tend to take for granted, especially if we are in academia for an extended period: professional/student networks, access to academic literature and technical resources, and access to career guidance are a few examples. Take a moment to pause and explore these resources and the knowledgeable people around you beyond what the coursework requires.
What recommendations would you make to current students for career and academic success after graduation?
- First, develop your (web-based) portfolio. This is the most definitive way to show that you have the skills to pursue a job. ArcGIS Developer accounts are a great, free tool to create a portfolio of maps, apps, and analyses that’s hosted for free online and easily accessible when you need it. GitHub also allows you to build custom websites for free. Even a Wix website is powerful. Anything will do—just have it web-ready!
- Second, know how to “sell” yourself in your application. Speaking from experience of evaluating hundreds of job applications, many applicants lack the skills to present themselves effectively and catch a recruiter’s eye. Never submit a generic cover letter; research the position and convey true interest in the organization’s business, why you are the best candidate for the job, the unique skills and strengths you bring and why they should matter, and what you expect to get out of a career at the organization. If you think your own cover letter sounds generic and blasé because you “just managed to get through it”, then imagine how an objective recruiter would feel reading it. If you’re struggling to synthesize your sentiments clearly and concisely, then take a moment to consider whether the position is right for you.
What are some of your hobbies/interests?
Exploring the city, discovering cultural and arts events and venues (e.g., museums, galleries, shows, etc.), attending tech meetups and networking, indulging my inner foodie, working out and running, hiking, staring at other people’s dogs and wishing I had my own, hacking around on new tech, gaming, digital art, traveling, photography and video editing, and looking at apartments I can’t afford on StreetEasy.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Enjoy the program and UMD! Go Terps! 😊