Jim works on several projects that look at the spatial distribution
and structure of estuarine habitats as they relate to the
distribution and abundance of fish species.
B.S. Geography, minor in Mathematics, University
of Maryland Baltimore County, 1995
M.S. Geography, University of South Carolina,
In 1995, I graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore
County with a BS in Geography and a minor in Mathematics. I went on
to earn my MS degree in Geography at the University of South
Carolina in 1998.
As a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Analyst for Michael
Baker, Jr., Inc., I worked on-site at the Federal Emergency
Management Agency's (FEMA) Mapping and Analysis Center performing
GIS analyses and making maps for federally declared
After leaving that position, I worked as a GIS Specialist with The
Louis Berger Group, Inc. At Berger, I worked as a consultant
performing natural resource GIS analyses and developing Web sites
for federal and private clients such as the Army Corps of
Engineers, Minerals Management Service (MMS), Federal Energy
Resource Commission (FERC), and Duke Energy Corporation.
I have been an Assistant Research Scientist for the Fish and
Wildlife Research Institute since 2000. My work has included
developing informational CD-ROMs about Harmful Algal Blooms,
developing interactive Internet mapping Web sites, and using GIS
and landscape ecology methods to quantify landscape structure.
Two specific landscape ecology projects that I have worked on
include a NOAA Marfin grant to study fisheries species in Charlotte
Harbor and a South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) grant
to measure changes in seagrass habitat. For the NOAA Marfin grant,
my research partner and I used various GIS-derived data sets with
Fisheries-Independent Monitoring sampling data to model where
several fisheries species occur. Specifically, I developed methods
to measure landscape structure of various habitats such as seagrass
and mangroves. My analyses answered questions such as, "How much
mangrove edge exists within x-distance of this location, and how
much seagrass habitat exists within y-distance of that location?"
For the South Florida Water Management District grant, I used
Fragstats, a specialized GIS application for landscape ecology, to
measure the landscape structure (configuration of habitat patches)
of dense and sparse seagrass for areas in Florida Bay. These
measurements may be used to gauge seagrass changes as water flow
into Florida Bay is modified due to the Everglades restoration.
What are you working on now?
Recently, I have worked on a handful of projects that look at the
spatial distribution and structure of estuarine habitats as they
relate to the distribution and abundance of fish species. One such
project is providing GIS analyses for the Tampa Bay ECOSPACE
modelling effort. For this project, we used a variety of habitat
and shoreline data sets to develop a habitat classification system
to be used for modelling fish species. Another example is the Tampa
Bay Seatrout spawning project where we are using landscape-level
habitat measurements to build exploratory models that describe
Seatrout spawning in Tampa Bay. Finally, we expanded on our
Charlotte Harbor work (described above in the explanation of the
NOAA Marfin grant) and applied these analyses to the Tampa Bay and
Indian River Lagoon estuaries.
In addition to the landscape ecology work, I continue to work on
several internet-based applications that include interactive
mapping components. Two such projects include the Research Projects
of the Big Cypress Watersheds and the Florida Oceans and Coastal
Council's Research Review. Both applications allow users to perform
tabular or spatial queries on metadata databases to identify data
sets or research activities of interest.
Was GIS work your original career interest?
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and landscape ecology were
not my original career interests. From childhood, I wanted to be a
marine biologist studying charismatic macrofauna (dolphins,
turtles, whales, etc.) and doing something good for the
environment. I ended up going to the University of Maryland
Baltimore County (UMBC) and found out that UMBC's Biology program
focused on microbiology. At the time, it offered little-to-no
ecology curriculum. The summer between high school and college, I
completed a marine biology internship studying growth hormone of
striped bass. I accomplished tasks as varied as pipetting, using
centrifuges, and preparing polyacrylamide gels. I quickly realized
that I did not want to spend the rest of my life in a lab; I wanted
to have a career where I spent most of my time outdoors.
For the next several years, I took mathematics and statistics
courses and focused on the university's general requirements. At
the beginning of my junior year, I chose to major in geography
because I found my two geography courses fun and exciting. I
concentrated on the technical side of the geography program, taking
courses in GIS, remote sensing, and cartography because the course
work was more practical and would afford more job opportunities. It
is ironic that this would lead me to computer-based jobs that offer
little time outdoors. I went directly to graduate school, where I
completed a master of science degree in Geography with a focus in
geographic techniques and landscape ecology. I worked in
Washington, DC, as a consultant for several years. Since I have a
passion for marine science, research, and helping the environment,
consulting in Washington was not very fulfilling. Although it
involved significant pay cut, I jumped at the opportunity to work
What would you say is your biggest
My biggest accomplishment is maintaining both a strong marriage
and family. No matter how much you like or dislike your job or your
career, striving for balance in all aspects of your life is
critical to being a stable, happy, well-grounded individual. For
me, my foundation begins with both my family and my faith.
What do you like most about your career?
With my job at FWRI, I like the freedom and support I have to
pursue research and apply GIS and landscape ecology to marine and
What do you like least about your career?
GIS is a predominantly computer-based field, which, at times, I
find difficult. I do hope that at some point in my life, I will
find more balance in my job-spending less time working on a
computer and more time interacting with other people (teaching,
managing, outreach, working on teams) or working in the field
What are some of your biggest challenges?
Finding a sufficient amount of time to pursue research has been my
biggest challenge. Although my supervisors encourage the research I
am doing, most GIS efforts are product-oriented and allow little
time for research. Research is very time intensive, and results are
difficult to quantify. In an environment bent on measurable goals
and products, it is often hard to justify research endeavors. I
feel lucky that my management has the vision to see the potential
and support the research with which I am involved.
What advice would you give to someone interested in
pursuing a career in your field?
GIS is more of a tool than a field. Unless you truly wish to be a
human or physical geographer, acquire a degree in something other
than geography: biology, ecology, planning, environmental science,
etc. GIS software is becoming easier to use, and you will probably
be more valuable to your employer if you have a focus in another
area. Although having the fundamentals of GIS is important, having
a unique background is often an asset. I feel that having a
background in landscape ecology makes me much more valuable to FMRI
than if I just had strong GIS skills.
However, it will always be important to have some formal
coursework in GIS, remote sensing, and cartography. Many
universities offer a certificate program in GIS and related
techniques. These programs vary greatly in quality. So many people
claim to be "GIS experts," yet few of them understand important
areas such as projections (methods of representing round earth as
flat maps), datums (methods defining the earth's size and shape and
defining the origin and orientation of the coordinate systems used
for mapping), and cartographic (mapping) standards.
On a similar note, GIS research jobs are quite rare. Many
researchers use GIS, but very few GIS people do research. If you
want to be a scientist, specialize in something else and learn GIS
as a tool to use for your science. Remember that GIS jobs are
predominantly computer-based. If you mind spending most, and in
many cases ALL, of your time on a computer, GIS may not be the best
field for you.
It is not all analysis. Since there are wide varieties of analyses
that a GIS person must know, college GIS courses often focus on
different analyses using canned data sets. Although performing GIS
analyses is probably the most fun aspect of any GIS job, it is what
you will spend the least amount of time doing. Most GIS
professionals spend much of their time on data development, which
is often tedious work that requires a lot of patience. Some jobs do
have mapping or programming focuses. Rarely will you find a job
that focuses on analysis.
There are wide varieties of jobs working for the government, for
engineering and consulting firms, and for private industry. The
biggest two focal areas for GIS in the U.S. are Washington, DC, and
Denver, Colorado. However, since most counties, cities, and states
use GIS as a tool, there are GIS positions almost everywhere. GIS
jobs vary greatly in the quality of work (data development people,
mappers, jacks-of-all-trades) and in the compensation.
Learn problem-solving skills, how to effectively use available
resources, and critical-thinking skills. Being strong in these
three areas is vital to any successful career.
Write, write, and write. Most entry- and intermediate-level GIS
jobs require little-to-no writing. You will often spend all of your
time developing databases, making maps, or programming. However,
being able to effectively communicate both verbally and in writing
becomes much more important as you progress through your career.
Finding alternative ways to develop effective communication skills
is crucial to career development.
Be true to yourself, and approach your life and career
passionately. Most of the people at FMRI do this, and it is, in
part, what makes FMRI a special place. Since I worked as a
contractor-consultant for several years, I saw many people who put
money first. Although money and security are very important,
believing in what you are doing is also very important. In
Washington, DC, I knew people who would switch jobs every six to
twelve months just to make more money. These people often had very
low job satisfaction because they based their decisions solely on a
financial bottom line. Many people at FMRI have made significant
financial sacrifices because they believe in their work. It seems
that the level of job satisfaction here is much higher that what I
observed working in Washington, DC.
Finally, search for balance in your life. It will be much easier
to like your job and career if the rest of your life is