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

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