DNV GL in Montreal, Quebec (Currently living in Nairobi, Kenya)
Caroline Donohue’s fascination with place and location gravitated her towards a career in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). A self-proclaimed map nerd, Donohue attained her Bachelors of Arts in Geography and International Development Studies (McGill University) and went on to complete her Master’s degree in Geo-information Systems and Earth Observation for Environmental Modeling and Management through the Erasmus Mundus program (University of Southampton and Lund University). Donohue enjoys the dynamic nature of her work as a GIS analyst for DNV GL, where she reviews spatial data to optimize project sites for large-scale renewable resources in locations around the globe. Donohue currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya, emerging in the culture.
1. Can you describe your career path since graduation?
I returned to Montreal after completing my Master’s program in Europe in 2012. At that time, just before the big oil crash, most GIS jobs in Canada were in Calgary, and I was not keen on moving. I eventually found a dream job, working with renewable energy resources. It was an entry-level position with a very steep learning curve. I learned more hard-skills in the first six months of that job than I did during my entire Master’s program. It was a difficult time. I was also transitioning from a heavily research-
based program into the world of consulting, which is fast-paced and often time-sensitive. Certainly, talking to my friends and colleagues was very helpful; they understood that the transition was challenging.
2. In what ways did your program prepare you for your career?
Both of my degrees prepared me well for my professional career. Many of my undergraduate classes were not directly related to my current work, but they prepared me for working in a rigorous, fast-paced, and competitive environment. McGill instilled in me a good work ethics. During my Master’s degree, the experience of creating my own structure and working on an individual, long-term thesis project introduced me to working remotely and working for myself. I also gained a close network of people in GIS, all working in different fields and living in various countries.
3. Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I would have entered my undergraduate degree in Geography from the very beginning. I began in International Development, which was related to what I studied in CEGEP. I was learning about many interesting things, but nothing concrete or applicable. Studying geography felt similar, but with each geography class I took, I found myself more and more inspired. I remember sitting down with a guidance counsellor and looking at the stark difference between my grades in International Development and Geography. It was quite clear that geography was where I belonged. I also would have motivated myself to be more adept at programming, since many GIS jobs involve certain aspects of programming.
4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?
Pursue a career in geography. From early on in your degree, take note of the career opportunities that you encounter, and ask people questions on how they got to where they are now. In geography, there are no defined steps to landing that first job, and thus the options are broad. A large part of a geography education, especially in human geography, is focused on opening your eyes to consider the various facets and perspectives at play in any scenario. It is critical to look at problems from a multidisciplinary, geography perspective. This flexibility is an asset and is one of the benefits of a geography degree.