NB: Dr McGranaghan retired from the university in 2016, so this note is no longer about prospective study with him; it describes a past situation. Still, it might be useful for anyone contemplating graduate studies in GIS. Contact the current faculty to ascertain their views on the issues addressed here.

A Note for Prospective (Cart/GIS/RS) Graduate Students

from Matthew McGranaghan

This is intended to clarify some of my expectations of graduate students who want to work with me. It is a work in progress, to help me organize my thoughts and to help you understand what I am thinking about graduate study at a research university. It should give us a starting point for discussing your educational objectives and your program of study. If you have thoughts on the content, or even the notion of making this document available, please share them with me. Thanks. ---Matt


I came to Hawaii in 1985 to teach in a research oriented, graduate degree granting, Geography program and to conduct research in human factors issues in GIS and computer cartography. My BA was a double major (Philosophy and Geography) from SUNY-Albany. I stayed there for an MA in Geography, concentrating on perceptual issues in cartographic display, and then moved to SUNY-Buffalo for the PhD in Geography, concentrating on GIS.

My teaching emphasizes the conceptual foundations of cartography, GIS, spatial database technology and spatial analytic techniques. It is hoped that these concepts have a longer "half-life" than does current software. This teaching is done through classes, seminars, and directed studies. The classes establish a common base upon which students can build. Regularly offered seminars examine narrower topics in greater depth, and independent directed reading and research courses provide education tailored to your individual interests.

My primary research interests have been the perceptual and cognitive issues in making and using representations of space, especially experimental evaluation of map symbology and map display systems, aimed at improving them. I have had secondary interests in algorithms for handling spatial data and image processing. These are the areas in which I am interested and able to advise students.

Past projects include: developing software to convert natural language descriptions of locations to geodetic coordinates, modeling simultaneous contrast in map displays to correct for non- linearities in human value perception, and attempting to identify characteristics of surface diagrams that correlate with the ease of comparing them.

I do not do much applied cartography, GIS or remote sensing. I teach principles in these areas and can do these things when the conditions allow and warrant it, chasing money to buy and time to then learn the latest release of current software is not very interesting to me, nor I believe, valuable to you. The underlying theme is to understand current GIS software well enough to determine how to improve it.

Student objectives:

UHM is a research university and our MA and PhD are research degrees so you will need to decide a direction for your research. Students entering our program usually have one or the other of two objectives. One is learning to use GIS or do cartography to support research in an application area (e.g. environmental resource management, population geography, or climatology). The other is conducting research in cartography/GIS which advances the state of this sub-discipline. In either case, the student's research project supports a larger endeavor --- graduate studies are about gaining insight into the state of knowledge in a discipline and (more importantly) developing the abilities to formulate research questions and to conduct research that will improve that state of knowledge.

I distinguish between research on and research using GIS (including cartography, visualization techniques, and/or remote sensing). Lots of geography research projects would benefit from the use of these techniques. These typically are not projects that are research on GIS. Learning to do GIS (i.e. to use it to conduct a geographic study) is different from earning a research degree in cartography and/or GIS. An example of the former would be an analysis of the spatial variables that are associated with the distribution of a species of fish to identify particular spatial covariants, possibly to predict where they might be found; the study may use GIS but it doesn't intend to examine or improve the technology. An example of research on GIS might be to experimentally compare several alternative user interfaces for a GIS function or to examine the data conditions under which alternative algorithms for a GIS function would be more favorable. You can do either (even both) here at UHM, but it is a good idea to be clear about which one you are doing for your research.

To conduct graduate level research on GIS or cartography, students should become solidly grounded in the relevant literature. Preparation in geography, cartography, computer science and programming, and probably perceptual and cognitive psychology, are parts of the background that I believe students in this area should have or develop.

UHM Geography Department Cartographic/GIS Laboratory and Resources

UHM Geography offers a broad program in cartography and GIS. The computing, library, and graphic arts resources are good, as are our ties to cognate units in the University. (Note that the Halloween Flood of 2004 adversely impacted the library's map and air-photo collection, but the new MAGIS facility has been a bit of a bounce-back.) The department's computer lab is predominantly MS Windows-based, but we have several GNU/Linux PCs. Software includes QGIS, ArcGIS, ENVI, GRASS, IDRISI, Manifold, AutoCAD, Freehand, Illustrator and other software. The emphasis in developing our cartography/GIS/RS lab has been to provide a resource for exploration. There is now a lab technician who performs the maintenance, management and nuts and bolts support for our facilities. It is an excellent situation for motivated students. (Personally, I'd appreciate a few motivated Linux FOSS hackers!)

My Expectations of Students

Actively pursue the degree (and the knowledge and skills it entails).

Be intellectually skeptical. Question what we think we know.

Strive for intellectual honesty. Do not presuppose "privileged knowledge". Don't bend observations to support your favorite notions.

Understand the notion of the hypothetico-deductive model and its role in the creation of knowledge, and try to apply it.

Understand that advocacy is not research. Particular causes or policies may be valuable to you, and even to society, but assuming them and then arguing for them, is not research.

Admissions Policies and Materials

Admissions to the program are determined by the department's Graduate Admissions and Awards Committee, and are coordinated through the university's Graduate Division. Information and materials are available on-line. Department information is here and Grad Division information and forms are here.

Last modified 9 May 2011.