Co-Founder, UAV Pilot, Geomatics Specialist
Owner and Senior Medical Geographer
Map Hawks UAV Aerial Surveys, and Spatial Health Analytics in Guelph, Ontario
Rob Meyers has an extensive experience of over eighteen years in medical geography. Meyers worked closely with Health Canada during the 2000 E. coli outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario, where over half of the town’s population became ill from their drinking water supply. Meyers’ Master’s thesis (Geography, University of Guelph) was devoted to understanding the transmission cycle of the West Nile Virus, which entered Canada around 2001 and spread across the country. Meyers then managed a multi-national West Nile mapping program for ten years. In 2013, Meyers transitioned into the private sector through his work with Spatial Health Analytics. Later, in 2015, with advancements in drone technology, Meyers co-founded Map Hawks UAV Aerial Surveys, which uses unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drones to provide accessible high precision and high resolution 3-D geospatial data and imagery.
1. In what ways did your program prepare you for your career?
My program was highly multidisciplinary. It taught me how to work flexibly across disciplines, and it provided a base of geospatial technology skills that prepared me for the work force. The theoretical understanding was especially helpful when I was working on the West Nile Virus outbreak with the Public Health
Agency of Canada. We were trying to understand the cycle of the disease and its spread across North America. Approaching the issue from a geography perspective allowed our team to ask questions on the elements involved and their spatial relations, such as the ecological and biological lifecycle requirements of birds and mosquitoes and how to identify them using GIS and remote sensing.
2. How do you incorporate geography into your work?
Apart from using ArcGIS and QGIS as my primary tools, much of the theory behind medical geography is spatial relationships. Using spatial data is also a huge part of my work as we look at cause and effect. We often see concentrations of a given sickness or disease in regions that share similar traits, such as socio-economic class, and proximity to industries or landscapes. For example, the risk of West Nile transmission is higher in vegetated areas than in high-density downtown centers, where a lack of green space deters bird and mosquito interactions. These indicators help us develop indexes, which we then use to analyze trends and focus our resources more efficiently.
3. Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I would have looked for opportunity in times of change, though it may have involved taking risks. In my experience, when my department’s management structure became more rigid, it hindered the ability to perform cross-jurisdictional tasks. Rigidity is like bricks without mortar; some positions in an organization must remain flexible to hold everything together, such as GIS resources. I benefitted greatly from directly working with the outbreak response teams and a diverse range of researchers, though other GIS specialists working in the IT and infrastructure department were more restricted and were thus less effective. In hindsight, I would have left that work environment much sooner, as many of my co-workers did, and sought external opportunities.
4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?
The first epidemiologist I worked with, and with whom I still work with today, is a great mentor of mine. He always pushed the limits of what was possible. I did not think I could do certain things, and he would always say “Yes you can.” He encouraged me to be comfortable with expanding my comfort zone.
Secondly, since geography naturally crosses many subject matters, geographers are well-suited to combine different elements and to be innovative. I would advise students to think outside of the box, to be open to unexpected opportunities, and to continue learning.