Ilya - GIS online student

Ilya Ilyankou

Why did you decide to study a Masters at the University of Leeds?

After completing my bachelor's degree in computer science, I joined an organisation that uses public and open data to promote data-driven decision making. I started being involved in mapping-based projects, and while I felt comfortable using Python and JavaScript libraries to create interactive maps, I had a vague knowledge of projections and zero experience with shapefiles. This made me realise I needed some formal training in geospatial, and when I stumbled on the Leeds GIS course description, I knew this was the right course for me. Not only did it offer an opportunity to marry my data skills with the world of geospatial, it also didn't price-discriminate based on my non-UK fee status, which is a rare find.

What has been the best aspect of studying on your course and with the University so far and why?

Unlike many other remote-learning programs, the GIS at Leeds is what I call fully asynchronous. I don't need to tune in and listen to real-time lectures, having to reschedule work or triple-check my calendar before setting up a meeting. Instead, I can work through materials in the evenings or weekends (and so can my classmates from as far as Australia!). When things are busy at work, I may get a week or two behind schedule, and it is okay (or so I tell myself) because major course assignments are due at the end of term.

Tell us about some of the exciting projects you have been involved with.

For my web-based GIS class, I created Street Crime Explorer, an interactive map that uses police data API to show approximate crime locations recorded for a given month for any location in the UK. I am now searching for a new place in London, and I actually used this map a few times to check neighbourhood crime stats. I also participated in 2020 #30DayMapChallenge on Twitter that requires you to create and publish a map a day; I've made over two dozen maps in one month, most made with QGIS which I mastered in my first year of the degree. My goal for 2021 is complete all 30!

Why did you decide to study on an online course and what have been the advantages of working remotely?

I have a full-time job, and I was searching for a part-time programme that involved as little commute as possible to fit my schedule. I started the programme in September 2019, when a remote Master's was a "cool" thing to do and not a necessity caused by Covid-19, so having a course that was remote by design made my 2020 much more tolerable.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I'd like to continue sharpening my understanding of geospatial, and do research that combines my computing and GIS skills to improve the way people live in the post-pandemic world, such as designing more equitable and efficient transportation systems, safer urban spaces, and resilient delivery networks.

What have you learned on your course that you think will help you in your future career?

I got exposed to industry-standard software, including Esri ArcGIS, Erdas Imagine, and Google Maps, and free alternatives like QGIS and Leaflet. Most projects and examples use real-life datasets, and as a result I now have a much better understanding of different organisations and what types of data they collect and distribute, and what licensing issues I may encounter.

What would you say to students coming to do the same course?

It is one of the best investments you can make. The course gives you solid fundamentals and tons of practical knowledge, while providing flexibility. You will learn everything from projections and Python to processing satellite imagery, and your degree will not be affected by any pandemic!