When I finished my education a couple of years ago, I realised that my uni transcript is just not enough to secure my dream career as a Geographic Information Science professional. Every single job conversation I had followed with a question around the practical experience- or lack thereof! – I had in the field. Quickly, it became apparent for me that what I needed was a meaningful way to expand my professional portfolio.
Hunt for opportunities - they can be anywhere
Being a long standing member of Toastmasters International, an organisation that teaches leadership and communication skills, in May 2018 I attended a conference of the organisation in Bracknell. As an officer of my Toastmasters, I was required to sit in a as-dull-as-it-can-be-for-a-millennial council meeting listening to all the stuff that I wasn’t interested in. Then, all of the sudden, I’ve heard words “geographical” and “maps”. My attention sparked and as I raised my head... I saw a map. Can you imagine what a map nerd such as myself felt? My first thought was actually “These are rubbish! I can do them better!”, but then as I listened carefully to that presentation, I realised that the author did an amazing job of putting clubs on that map and drawing the boundaries needed. The art and science of cartography weren’t there, but the output served the purpose. That day I approached the leaders of my organisation and I volunteered that I can help them map whatever they needed to be mapped better.
You learn most by doing
I started my journey by understanding the purpose of mapping, which was alignment of clubs within the right geographical boundaries. But there was so much more to it- hard data about the clubs, but also intangible information like relationships and historical performance. I realised that before I can turn my geeky brain on, I had to listen and learn what was known to the leaders who have completed the process before. As I caught the grasp of the process, I started making suggestions and considering scenarios and in no time, I realised that I was actually consulting (!) a proposal with those affected (clients!) to achieve the best outcome. In May 2019 I presented the proposal on that very same as-dull-as-it-can-be meeting and it was actually accepted!
Do it again – do it better – learn more
A month later I was asked if I would stay on the committee and provide my data and maps expertise. Knowing how much I enjoyed the process and how much it helped me grow, I said yes! But the round 2 was more challenging for me. We’ve decided that the time has come to split some of our areas and divisions. And every change brings the challenges that usually result in annoyed and frustrated members. Again, I ran numbers, I considered scenarios and I drew my maps. Then, I consulted, I reported to the chair. Then, we had to persuade the members while at the same time explaining the intricacies of process and complexity of the data. And in May 2020 we’ve passed our proposal on the as-dull-as meeting. While it might seem as a repetition of the process, doing it again helped me hone my skills as geospatial data scientist and negotiator. The principles of our process were the same, but as every scenario is different, I was required to stretch myself even more and in turn, I learned more!
I’m a young professional in a geospatial data field and I still feel there’s so much for me to learn. But I am grateful for the experience I had. It allowed me to learn the skills I wouldn’t use otherwise like consulting, persuading, disagreeing, managing conflict and conveying a message using data to a non-technical crowd. All in a safe environment that was at the same time a-real-world problem with its messy data and emotional baggage of people who were stakeholders that I needed to win over.
I don’t think that is the end of my journey as Toastmasters map geek. However, I feel that this portfolio experience gave me an amazing opportunity to grow out of being a fresh graduate into a geospatial professional with a feel of a real world project.
Find out more about Toastmasters Check out Monika's map of Toastmasters clubs in the South of the UK below
Monika Swiderska is a self-confessed data and map geek, applying this to her portfolio and developing her career!