The Dilemma of Interdisciplinary Studies

These past two weeks have been quite busy for me. In addition, I developed some interest in history and politics and spent two days reading "Selected Works of Mao Zedong". As a result, I haven't made much progress on my paper-related work and my blog hasn't been updated. Recently, I have had many discussions with my senior and classmates about employment, which has brought up mixed feelings about our profession. I had some new ideas while taking a shower, so I decided to record them.

The interdisciplinary field I am discussing here is "Geographic Information Science", and the entire Wikipedia entry is as follows:

Geographic Information Science (GIScience) or Geoinformatics is an applied science that integrates a series of modern technologies, including Global Positioning System (GPS), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing (RS), computer technology, and digital communication networks. It is based on the intersection of information science and earth system science, and uses information flow as a means to study the laws of material flow, energy flow, and human flow within the Earth system. It was proposed by Michael F. Goodchild, a British-American geographer, in 1992.

The research object of Geographic Information Science is the Earth system, and its methodology involves information theory, control theory, and systems theory.

Compared to Geographic Information Systems, it focuses more on treating geographic information as a science rather than just a technological implementation. Its main research areas include distributed computing, cognitive aspects of geographic information, interoperability of geographic information, scale, the future of spatial information infrastructure, uncertainty of geographic data and analysis based on GIS, GIS and society, spatial analysis of geographic information systems in the environment, and acquisition and integration of spatial data, among others. While conducting research on geographic information technology, Geographic Information Science also emphasizes the importance of fundamental theoretical research to support the development of geographic information technology.

My relationship with this field can be simply described as a relationship between adjustment and being adjusted. During my undergraduate studies, my understanding of GIS research was quite shallow compared to the extensive section mentioned earlier about Geographic Information Systems. I had a great desire to understand spatial data structures and theories related to spatial analysis. After entering graduate school, due to objective factors such as being enrolled in an engineering program, I focused more on engineering and the application of Geographic Information Systems. I have also developed some applications, but I always feel that my skill set has become strange, and I have started to doubt my core competencies.

In my understanding, core competencies refer to the theoretical knowledge system of my discipline and the relevant technologies accumulated through my learning and work, which can meet the requirements of a certain job and make me competitive for a certain position, and others outside my discipline cannot achieve this level of competitiveness in a short period of time.

The knowledge system of Geographic Information Science is quite extensive. Compared to the name "Geographic Information Science", I think my knowledge path is more accurately described as "Surveying" and "Information Science". Although my undergraduate courses include subjects such as "Physical Geography" and "Human Geography", I have little connection with the research direction I expect, which is more focused on technology. Instead, "Cartography" and computer-related disciplines have become the theoretical and technical foundations of my daily learning and work.

Comparing my relationship with the field of "Geographic Information Science", and considering my own situation, what is my core competency?

Regarding "Geography", I have almost forgotten the courses on "Physical Geography" and "Human Geography". I have a decent grasp of operating some GIS software and a good understanding of the principles of "Cartography". However, it seems that none of these have reached the level of core competency. As for the only potential core competency, which is the "Fundamentals of Cartography", there are no barriers that prevent others from understanding and learning about map projections, spatial references, and other knowledge in a short period of time. Moreover, in today's world of developing open-source technologies, people outside the discipline can even create applications without needing to understand these concepts.

Regarding "Information Technology", during my graduate studies, I did learn some frontend and backend technologies based on engineering requirements. However, not only are these technologies not mature enough for production, but I also have a very pessimistic view of my own abilities because of the tight project schedules. I usually start with a quick start and end with something that can run, making it difficult for me to find time for deeper research. In other words, my knowledge of "Information Technology" and "Spatial Information" are largely disconnected.

In today's mature research on "Geographic Information Science" or "Geographic Information Systems", is there still a need for the training program that I have undergone?

From my perspective, even if I hadn't studied geography during my undergraduate studies, I could still complete 99% of my work without any problems. All the new technologies I have learned are from the documentation of various open-source projects, which makes me feel disappointed. If this is achievable, it means that anyone without a background in "Geographic Information Science" can do it too.

I can do it, but I don't do it well. You can imagine the quality of an application that goes from a quick start to being able to run. Anyone in the field of software engineering, or even anyone who has completed a training program, can do it better than me. This is where the question arises about the necessity of this training program.

This forces me to compete with programmers who have a strong foundation in computer science with my weak knowledge base. Perhaps if I don't do this, I need to have a unique skill, which is the source of my desire to continue pursuing a Ph.D.

It seems that the illusion that our profession is easier to find a job in compared to geology and geography comes from the fact that, in this Internet wave, we have barely grasped some weak and incomplete "bricklaying skills" that can be used in this wave.

Several of my seniors have joined Internet companies and, using the same self-taught technologies, have won the competition mentioned above and are doing work unrelated to our profession. Unfortunately, I don't have the confidence to succeed in the competition like they do.

Perhaps "Geographic Information Science" is no longer a suitable path for undergraduate students. Let the doctoral students do the theoretical research. If we only want to cultivate talents in the application of "Geographic Information Systems", it is unnecessary because students majoring in software engineering are fully capable.

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