Creating a team

By Katie Kowalsky | April 6, 2015

When I found Cartography/GIS  and fell in love with it, it was also the community I fell for and built around myself. Building a niche community for your professional, academic, and personal development is so important. I think we’ve grown to transcend past the basic student-advisor/employee-boss relationships and need a more complex web to build a strong support team. The people that make up my personal community turned my personal and professional lives into any sports team metaphor ever. I couldn’t be successful in a vacuum. How I’ve come to determine my success as a student in cartography is through these relationships; their support and advice will mean more to me than any A in a class.

Tanya Buckingham, who serves as one of my mentors as my boss in the Cartography Lab and overall queen, sent me this article in Fast Company about mentors. Tanya and I have deep, passionate discussions about finding your place and your community. What has made my experience in cartography so different is the ability to naturally grow a community around myself in my field. The Earth Science Women’s Network describes 9 different roles for mentors in this exercise: mentor network. The goal of a strong network is to have roles for people to do different things to help you grow. It’s natural to have some people you go to for certain decisions and others for other decisions. For instance, my lovely family would never be able to commiserate over PostGIS database problems the same way it can be inappropriate to vent about someone on a public media platform.

Self-assessment is key to evaluating where you’ve come from, how you’ve grown, and where you want to grow next. Otherwise we get stuck in the loop of seeing what others have done and the guilt with not doing what others have accomplished. Our paths are all our own and it’s up to us to prune and nourish them, celebrate our growth and move on to the next stage.

The competitive urges I used to feel when meeting new people in my field has turned into overwhelming excitement, as I know they’re learning and growing everyday as much as I am. Establishing that network is key to feeling confident in your work and your abilities. Too many people I meet my age are nervous about sharing their work at any step of the production stage. Criticism is a double edged sword, but embracing it is the key to becoming better at whatever you do. Remember that you are not just the sum of your work and your skills, you’re so much more than that! Asking someone who’s a professional in your field with 10+ years of experience can be daunting, but they have a whole different perspective and through critiques can teach you things you never thought possible.

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