Manager, Earth Observation
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Ottawa, Ontario
Andrew Davidson has worked for two Federal Government Departments since 2006. At Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (2006-2009), he led the development of a National Crop Monitoring System prototype to acquire and process near-real-time agricultural assessment from satellite data. At Health Canada (2009-2011), he developed geomatics-based approaches for characterizing human exposure to air pollution. Davidson moved back to Agriculture Canada in 2011 as the Manager of Earth Observation in Agriculture Canada's Centre for AgroClimate, Geomatics and Earth Observation (ACGEO).
Davidson maintains strong links to academia. He is an Adjunct Research Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University, where he has taught and supervised students since 2003. He recently expanded his role at the University to include the position of Associate Scientist with the Geomatics and Landscape Ecology Laboratory (GLEL).
1. Can you describe your career path since graduation?
It has been a meandering but strategic path. My first job after completing my doctorate in 2002 was a post-doctorate position with National Resources Canada, where I stayed until 2006. The Government of the day had started to shut down climate change-
related activities at NRCan, and I thus had begun to explore other opportunities. I was aiming for either a government elsewhere or a faculty position at a University. Despite being offered a faculty position in the United States, I remained in Ottawa because my wife and I enjoyed the city and knew there were career opportunities for us both in the long term. In 2006, I took a 3-year position at Agriculture Canada. Then, at the end of the term, I moved to Health Canada to work on air quality modelling and exposure assessment. In 2011, I returned to Agriculture Canada to manage Earth Observation (EO) operations.
2. How do you incorporate geography into your work?
Everything I do is geography. Any data that has a location associated with it is geography, whether it is remote sensing, programming, statistical analysis, or temporal change detection. Mainly, we are responsible for the space-based mapping of Canada’s agricultural lands. We use satellite images to create maps and other value-added information products that are used to support decision making within Agriculture Canada, the broader Government of Canada and the sector as a whole.
3. In what ways did your program prepare you for your career?
My graduate degree prepared me well for research and applications development in government science. My doctorate taught me how to work with a limited budget, how to write proposals, how to manage projects and people, and gave me insight into the entire research process. The program gave me an excellent skillset that, even 15 years later, remains flexible and transferable. For instance, I did not have any experience in public health or epidemiology before working with Health Canada, but my managers there knew that my spatial analysis and modelling skills were exactly what they needed.
4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?
Manage your expectations. I often meet students who think they are going to make a lot of money immediately upon graduation. Some do, of course, but generally, this does not happen. You start in junior positions and work your way up. Success comes only with hard work and the willingness to learn, take on more responsibilities and lead. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.
Students often give up too quickly. I knew exceptionally talented geography students who wanted to pursue careers in geography but switched to entirely different fields when they were unable to find a position within months after graduation. In my case, it took seven years to get a permanent position with the Government of Canada. Keep networking, learning, and making yourself a better candidate. Persistence is key.