University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Geography

Molly Epstein, Geography Major from UVM 2009

Molly on the spiral staircase
Molly on the spiral staircase of "Vores Frelsers Kirke" in Copenhagen, April 2010

In the Fall of 2008, my senior year at UVM, people started asking me the dreaded question; “So, what are you doing after you graduate?”  This looming question motivated me to come up with a plan.  I knew that the recession was making it really difficult for people to find jobs, especially young, recent graduates with minimal professional experience.  I also found it hard to picture myself sitting behind a desk and working 9-5.  After thinking about it for awhile I decided I wanted to be an au pair. An au pair is basically a live-in nanny/housekeeper, but as the name suggests, you are sort of a part of the family.

As a Geography major, I followed the path of a social geographer, focusing on how people and environments influence one another, and seeing how geospatial technologies could visually interpret these relationships.   I was interested in people and places, and had gotten a taste for travel through two different study-abroad programs.  I took a winter session class through the UVM Geography Department in 2006 to Vieques, Puerto Rico which explored the political, social, and physical implications of the United States’ naval occupation of Vieques Island.  I also studied at the University of the South Pacific in the Fiji Islands during the Spring semester of 2008, where I took classes about human rights in the Pacific and Pacific Island biogeography.   I really enjoyed living abroad and was eager to give it another shot, this time in Europe.

I easily found a job with a family in Faxe, Denmark (about 45 minutes South of Copenhagen by car), a few months later my visa was approved and I booked a one way plane ticket to Copenhagen for September 1st 2009. My schedule as an au pair was pretty laidback.  I worked Monday through Friday for a little bit in the morning, had a big break in the middle of the day and worked again in the late afternoon/early evening.  I had a lot of free time which I spent working out, reading, cycling, and relaxing on the nearby beach in warm weather. 

I also got to travel quite a bit over the course of my year in Denmark.  My family was very generous with giving me time off as long as we arranged it in advance.  I visited Germany, France, Norway, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Iceland, Sweden, Poland, Croatia, and Bosnia.  I made very little money as an au pair (only about 550 American Dollars per month, depending on the exchange rate) since I wasn’t paying for rent, utilities, or food but I became an expert on budget traveling and used the site to stay with locals for free.  I also used the site for social networking in Copenhagen, where I would visit most weekends.  I cannot recommend Couchsurfing enough and I can’t even begin to mention all of the incredibly generous and interesting people I met through it.

After an amazing year in Denmark, I returned to my parents’ house in New Jersey in September of 2010.  I immediately started applying for GIS technician jobs in the New York City area.  There weren’t that many job postings that interested me and I was initially very discouraged since many positions required a master’s degree (I applied for those anyway).  I applied for about 15 different jobs and after about a month of sending applications, I heard back from a private company called ALK Technologies in Princeton, New Jersey, that makes navigation software, about their entry level GIS technician position I had applied for. I went in for an interview, was offered the job about a week later, accepted it immediately, and started work two weeks after that.  I couldn’t believe how lucky I had been to find a job that interested me so quickly!  At ALK, my official title is Network Editor.  I edit geographic data that goes into the navigation system my company makes.  I make sure that streets are in the right place and have correct names, which I do by cross-checking with a variety of different sources such as city and county GISs, Google Streetview, Bing Maps, etc.  It’s a friendly and casual workplace (I get to wear jeans!); my department is incredibly social and made up of lots of interesting, young geographers. 

There are jobs out there for geographers, you just have to look for them and be willing to live in a place like New Jersey (it’s really not bad guys!).  My advice to current Geography students -- take a GIS class.  Although geographical theory is really worthwhile and important, having technical skills will set you apart from other applicants, and get you in the door.  GIS can also provide numerous methods to examine and interpret our fascinating world.