Friday, August 26, 2011

Melanie Tobias

The whole Philippine transportation system is still far from perfect, and geographers could get involved in solving our transportation issues. Transport Planner Melanie Tobias shares some things about her profession in this Filipino Geographers interview.


Basic Info
Name: Melanie I. Tobias
Hometown: Pulilan, Bulacan
Current City: Taguig City
Profession: Transport Planner
Company: Halcrow
Hobbies and other interests: GIS, Transport Geography, Environmental Science, Land Use Analysis, research, traveling, fashion, reading, country and aternative music.

Towards Your Geographic Career

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When you’re a child you dream a lot. Sometimes you want to be a doctor, and then the next day you want to be an engineer, and then a pilot and so on. But if I remember it correctly, I planned to be an electronics and communication engineer (Wow?!) , an accountant and a fashion designer. The first two professions were probably because of my siblings, since they graduated from those fields and I looked up to them especially that I am the youngest. The last one is something that I really enjoy doing.

What made you interested in geography?
Geography is a very unique course and I am proud to call myself a geographer. It’s an all in one profession were you could deal with economics, transportation, GIS, land use planning and environmental monitoring.

Why did you take up Geography as your undergraduate degree?
My adviser introduced me to this course. At first I was hesitant because I wasn’t very familiar with it, until I saw the curriculum and got interested on the subjects included in it. The top three courses that caught my attention were Transport Geography, Land Use Planning and Economic Geography.

Your Geographic Career

What would be your typical day at work?
I’m already at the office at 8:00 AM, and the first thing in the morning would be to check emails. This is so important in my part because it will define my day, since most of my tasks are sent through emails. So depending on the phase of the project that we’re currently on, I could be at the office the whole day doing transport modeling and data analysis or on the road doing site visits and fieldwork surveys.

What do you like most about your work?
What I like about my work is that it is so challenging that I learn something new everyday, be it a new transport modeling software, a new road or route, some useful formulas or shortcuts in Excel, survey techniques, or socio-economic profiles of particular provinces, and so on. Another thing is that it gives me the chance to travel. As I mentioned earlier, part of my work is to do site visits and fieldwork surveys. I love doing such things! Exploring different places is always fun. It widens your knowledge on how people live in other places, and how their transport behavior is different from one place to another. I am very lucky to be able to do this kind of work. You could never ask for anything if you have a great job and good working environment.

What is/are the challenging parts of your work?
The transport modelling. This part of my work is really important. All the forecasts or numbers that the client needs depends on this. You cannot just rely on your supporting data because even if you have enough, sometimes the modeling software will act so weird that you and your colleagues could not figure out what’s happening. Another thing is that my work is full of numbers! You’ll work hand in hand with Mathematics and Statistics. Very interesting right?

How is your background in Geography relevant to your profession today?
Very relevant! In my case, I am not only focused on transportation but also on the environment and GIS. Once in a while I am tasked to do some environment-related work at the office like wildlife and water quality monitoring. I am also in charge of GIS and GPS work.

What are some of the important things that you’ve learned in your years as an undergraduate student?
The processes of doing fieldwork surveys. My undergraduate fieldwork helped a lot, as it exposed me to survey methodologies and factors to be considered while on site.

Lighter Side

What is your favorite geography subject?
Geography of Movement! Seriously, I enjoyed this class.

What is your favorite place on Earth?
Any place where I could just relax, read and have a complete peace of mind.

Where would you most like to travel?
I have my top five here: Paris, New York, Iceland, London and Sydney. And I promise I would do anything possible to be in these places.

Name a place you would most like to visit.
Batangas has always been my favorite. It is accessible and they have incredibly great beaches.

If you were not a geographer, what career would you have chosen?
Fashion Designer. Until now I still consider the opportunity of having my own shop where I can design my own clothing line or be hired as a fashion consultant. How cool is it if you are a Transport Planner and Fashion Consultant at the same time?

If you had a superpower, what would it be?
That would be the superpower to fly!! So that we could go wherever we want for free without any traffic at all.

What book would you strongly recommend the rest of the world to read?
reading this book, you’ll feel relaxed, contented and happy!

What book are you reading right now?
Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power.

What was the most interesting trip you have ever taken? Why?
My trip to Malaysia. My friends and colleagues know this. It’s very memorable because
my very first work-abroad trip was in Kuala Lumpur. I learned a lot and I got the chance
to work with kind, talented people from all over the world.

Final Thoughts

What current issue/world problem can geographers help solve?
A lot! Natural disasters, economic and political issues, environmental awareness, geographers can deal with anything. But in my case, I could think of the transportation issues that we’re dealing with right now. People in Metro Manila are very used to traffic congestion that it becomes a part of their day to day lives. We all know however that it is bad and inconvenient. You’ll spend two to three hours on the road doing nothing wherein if you have free flow traffic you can use that time with your family or do your work and have a productive day. This problem will get worse as the years go by; population will increase, future developments will be established, which will all lead to the increase of public utility vehicles and cars. We can’t just let this happen; we have to do some actions here. Geographers can deal with transportation issues like this. We can work with public and private sectors and help them understand the pros and cons of each development. How will it affect the traffic and the people? We can advise them of better road alignment, through our knowledge on physical geography and traffic demand and forecasts through Geography of Movement. A sustainable road network and traffic management will lead to economic growth and a healthy environment.

What contributions could Filipino Geographers make or leave behind?
GIS. This field is widely known all over the world. And it is incredibly helpful in research, presentations and forecasting natural phenomena.

What can we do, as geographers, to raise the profile of the discipline of Geography in the country?
By simply being proud of our profession. Being a geographer is one of a kind, we should be proud of it.

What are the prospects for geography in the future?
I can see a good future for Geography. We just have to be confident in showing what we’ve got!

What would be some life lessons you learned as a geographer?
If you will do it anyway, do it well!

Any advice to aspiring geographers?
To all aspiring geographers, keep in mind that our skills aren’t limited in creating maps. Explore the diversity of our field and give your best shot!


If you would like to get in touch with Ms. Melanie Tobias, email her at tobiasmi[at]halcrow[dot]com or visit her twitter page at www.twitter.com/meltobias

Saturday, August 20, 2011

1000 Views!



The Filipino Geographers Team would like to thank everyone who made the project's first week a success. In less than a week since its launch last Monday, the blog has already reached 1000 pageviews! Thank you for your strong support, and we hope that you stay tuned for future geographer features. Feel free to share and promote the blogsite and our facebook community page. Go Geography!

If you also have comments, suggestions or recommendations for future geographer interviews, please feel free to send us an email at 
filipinogeographers<at>gmail<dot>com. We would love to hear from you! 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Geliah Gloria

Music enthusiast, athlete and environmental advocate Geliah Gloria speaks about her experiences as a geography student, environmental researcher, and guardian of the Philippine coasts.
 

Basic Info

Name: Geliah Alcala Gloria 
Hometown: Dumaguete City 
Current City: Dumaguete City/Quezon City (to and fro)

Profession:
- Research Assistant of the Biodiversity Conservation Component of the Silliman University Project Team under the Integrated Coastal Resources Management Project (ICRMP) of the DENR. ICRMP is a foreign assisted project funded by ADB & UN-GEF.
- Freelance editor (edited scholarly work by consultants, professors, doctoral students, masters students, undergraduate students, etc.)

Hobbies and interests: soccer, swimming, reading, nature trips and activities (caving, scuba diving, surfing, mountain climbing, wildlife surveys), jamming (playing the drums, singing), baking, watching movies, music, classical art, capoeira, intelligent conversations, spending time with friends, environmental advocacy

Towards Your Geographic Career


FG: As a child, what did you want to be when you grow up? 
Geliah: At first, I wanted to become a forensic scientist, then I wanted to be a nurse (like my mom)... I also wanted to be a model but I found out that I couldn’t either be any of the first two since I couldn’t deal with 'opening up' people. And for the third one, I guess I’m simply physically under-qualified for it!

What made you interested in geography?
I believe that it is not what only what you learn in class that’s important— it’s also how you were made to learn it. I owe my continued interest in geography to my college professors who taught the geography major subjects well.

I started to realize that I wanted to pursue geography when I learned new things about landscape processes and how they affect the way people live in Geography 121 (Landform Analysis as taught by Ma’am Yo). And since I like memorizing, I enjoyed memorizing countries/provinces and their locations on the map (e.g., Geography of the Philippines as taught by Ma’am Lou). I also enjoyed learning how to use GIS software like ArcView (Digital Cartography as taught by Ma’am Joy). All these made geography so much fun and educational at the same time, but what inspired me the most was learning about natural resources conservation (Geography 111 as taught by Ma’am Do). I personally find meaning and importance in sustainably managing our resources, first, for the environment’s sake, and second, for the sake of future generations. Doing research along this line also sparked my interest in Geography (Geog 192 as taught by Sir Iño and Geog 105 as taught by Ma’am Vangie).

Why did you take up Geography as your undergraduate degree?
Initially, I got accepted at UP Visayas with a degree in BS Management but I transferred to UP Diliman during my second year and shifted as well. My college major was BS Geography, only because my Papa enrolled me in it. My Papa chose geography because he took up geology before (and is now a geologist) and foresaw that geography would one day be the “next nursing.” He also thought that through geography, I would one day work as a consultant for the World Bank or IMF. It was very fortunate that I ended up liking geography and continued it as my major.

Upon finishing your degree, how was it stepping out to the “real world”?
Stepping out to the real world entailed me to first to step back into my roots, nourishing myself with family, food, leisure, friends, and spiritual activities. Everyone deserves a break after college, especially if you're from UP. Then as soon as I felt that I was nourished (and fat) enough, I started looking for work. My first job (part-time) was to edit articles for inclusion in a maiden research journal. I later on became the managing editor for the maiden issue of that journal, Silliman Nursing Research Journal. This made me realize that what I learned from Geog 199 (Research Methods in Geography) really paid off. 


My skills in preparing research manuscripts also became useful in my third job (second job was as a part-time Computer teacher) as a research assistant in ICRMP. I became involved in activities related to coastal resource management. Although I had little background on CRM, I was able to learn so much about the nature of implementing government projects, from creating budgets, to facilitating trainings, to making site visits, to establishing cooperation among stakeholders, and many more.

Since the nature of my work was more on field, I was able to meet a lot of influential and important people from various sectors—national government, local government, academe, NGOs, and private entities. I was able to travel to a lot of places, covering various regions from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. From the series of consultations, workshops, meetings, and planning, you could just imagine how much knowledge and mentoring opportunities I’ve garnered in the past two years. The unfolding of the “real world” happened through these experiences. 

I learned about the harsh reality of the Philippines, which to me, is our problematic governance — defects in the institutional top-bottom approach, bureaucracy, “small-scale” corruption, pollution, lack in higher education institutions, etc. It’s so depressing and frustrating for someone like me who was just fresh out of college and filled with idealism. That’s when I realized the truth in the phrase, “The real world starts after college.” 

Your Geographic Career

What would be your typical day at work?
At the field: It would be in a training setting. I gather the participants in order to start the program. The trainer starts his lecture/activities while I manage the logistics (i.e., take down notes, record attendance, photo-document the activities, prepare copies of presentations and pictures for give-away, review plans made for the following day, follow-up on meals and snacks, and other preparations).

At the office: I do a lot of computer work. I stand up only to take phone calls, access the office printer, go to the comfort room, take lunch, and refill my glass of water. Sometimes I could stay up for nights on end just to get things done.

What do you like most about your work?
The fact that I am learning so many things that open my eyes to reality. Not that I like reality itself, but just the fact that I am not living day in and out unaware of what’s really going on, at least in the environmental side of things. Other pluses include privileges to meet people of great influence and chances to travel around the Philippines.


What are the challenging parts of your work?
Not getting too frustrated or personally attached to major problems. I have a tendency to be a worrywart. It is also a challenge to get things done on time. Always. 

How is your background in Geography relevant to your profession today?
I’m really thankful that through my background in geography, I’ve learned to deal with things in a holistic manner. My knowledge is not limited to identifying places on the map — I also make maps. Through geography I gained a certain thrill for research. There is this thirst for knowledge that when found, can be put to good use, not for personal or monetary gain, but for more important or meaningful things like advocating for the environment and valuing human lives. My background in geography also made me more appreciative of the interconnectedness of human and earthly processes.

What are some of the important things that you’ve learned as an undergraduate student?
Like I’ve said, I’ve found it important to manage our natural resources for sustainability purposes. I’ve also learned the importance of being involved in research or intellectual investigations. Research is not just a prerequisite for graduation. It is wanting to know more and wanting to be proactive about learning and spreading knowledge. 

Lighter Side

What where your favorite geography subjects?
Geog 111 (Resource Management and Conservation) And Geog 197 (Digital Cartography).

What is your favorite place on Earth?
Really? Anywhere called home. 

Where would you most like to travel?
Ah... Europe. And I finally have the chance to do so.

Name a place you would most like to visit.
Italy, for the art museums.

If you were not a geographer, what career would you have chosen?
I think management and tourism would strike my interest.

What would PAG-ASA name you, if you were a storm within the Philippine are of responsibility?
Ilyang, because it is one of my first nicknames/ terms of endearment.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Fly! Wouldn’t it be just amazing to see things from the top and to feel the wind in your face? I’m afraid of heights most of the time, but I often imagine myself on top of a high cliff, raising my arms to the skies, with matching music like Elevation by U2 playing in the background.

Final Thoughts


What current issue/world problem can geographers help solve?
Geographers can help solve any issue just like any other person can. But maybe one localized (Philippine) issue I can cite is the lack of data management. Geographer skills in digital mapping can help by providing a physical databank on things like disaster prone areas, tourist hotspots and more.

What contributions could Filipino Geographers make or leave behind?
Knowledge that can have widespread impact like doing research on transportation systems in the Philippines and applying GIS in the process.

What can we do, as geographers, to raise the profile of the discipline of Geography in the country?
The advertising of our page in Facebook sure helps. But a big profile raiser would of course be coming into the academic scene or perhaps the media as well with exciting new knowledge or applications using GIS and Philippine natural resources (e.g., perhaps applying remote sensing in helping predict weather for disaster preparedness for urban residents or for agriculture).

What are the prospects for geography in the future?
I wouldn’t really know for sure. But I am looking forward and optimistic in its evolution into becoming the “next nursing” as “prophesied” by my Papa.

What would be some life lessons you learned as a geographer?
Life lessons? Love can be tested by distance and time but always remember that each day spent away from someone you love is a day closer to the next that you will see them again.

Any advice to aspiring geographers?
Appreciate your undergrad subjects. No matter how boring they sometimes get, they will take you somewhere far in the future. Remember the little things like the capital of Hungary, the term for the side of the mountain that receives rain, the middle initial of your professor (i.e. bonus item sa exam). Go to all the field trips that you can and make friends, not just with people from your age bracket. Learn to socialize with people with different lifestyle or background from you. Most importantly, learn to be a critical thinker. 

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Geliah has recently been granted a scholarship by the European Commission through the Erasmus Mundus Mobility with Asia Program (EMMA). She will be going to the Netherlands this September to get her Master's Degree in Geo-information Science and Earth Observation for Natural Resources Management from the University of Twente. We wish her all the best!