You Want to be a Surveyor?

Surveyors, cartographers, and photogrammetrists are responsible for measuring and mapping the earth's surface. Traditionally, surveyors establish official land, airspace, and water boundaries. They write descriptions of land for deeds, leases, and other legal documents; define airspace for airports; and take measurements of construction and mineral sites.

Other surveyors provide data relevant to the shape, contour, location, elevation, or dimension of land or land features. Cartographers compile geographic, political, and cultural information and prepare maps of large areas. Photogrammetrists measure and analyze aerial photographs that are subsequently used to prepare detailed maps and drawings. Surveying and mapping technicians assist these professionals in their duties by collecting data in the field and using it to calculate mapmaking information for use in performing computations and computer-aided drafting.

Surveyors get started in their career through many paths. It could be through a summer job, through a class about surveying, or from a family member who knows or who is a surveyor. Many surveyors suggest spending a summer working on a survey crew and asking questions. You don’t have to have a degree or experience to work as a survey technician on a crew as a summer job. It can provide a chance to see what surveying is all about.

In general, people who like surveying also like math, primarily geometry and trigonometry. The field attracts people with geology, forestry, history, engineering, computer science, and astronomy backgrounds, too. To become a surveyor, you need to follow four basic steps:

The first step is to get a degree. Accredited college programs throughout the country offer two-year and four-year degrees.

After completing an education, you take the Fundamental exam. Successfully passing this exam lets potential employers know that the candidate has achieved a recognized standard. You are now considered an LSIT (Land Surveyor in Training).

The next step requires work experience under the supervision of a licensed surveyor.
After attaining the required experience, you qualify to take a national exam and a state-specific exam to obtain a license for the state in which you will work. Many surveyors obtain a license in multiple states, especially when they work for large firms.

Several states currently allow surveyors to become licensed without a college degree. In these instances, surveyors need to spend significant time in the field as survey technicians, usually more than 10 years, before they can pursue a license.

Career Options:

Surveyors measure distances, directions, and angles between points and elevations of points, lines, and contours on, above, and below the earth's surface. In the field they select known survey reference points, and determine the precise location of important features in the survey area. Surveyors research legal records, look for evidence of previous boundaries, and analyze the data to determine the location of boundary lines. They also record the results of surveys, verify the accuracy of data, and prepare plots, maps, and reports. Surveyors who establish boundaries must be licensed by the State in which they work. Surveyors are sometimes called to provide expert testimony in court cases concerning matters pertaining to surveying.

Cartographers measure, map, and chart the earth's surface. Their work involves everything from performing geographical research and compiling data to actually producing maps. Cartographers collect, analyze, and interpret both spatial data-such as latitude, longitude, elevation, and distance-and nonspatial data-for example, population density, land-use patterns, annual precipitation levels, and demographic characteristics. Their maps may give both physical and social characteristics of the land. They prepare maps in either digital or graphic form, using information provided by geodetic surveys, aerial photographs, and satellite data.

Photogrammetrists prepare detailed maps and drawings from aerial photographs, usually of areas that are inaccessible, difficult, or more costly to survey by other methods. Map editors develop and verify the contents of maps, using aerial photographs and other reference sources. Some States require photogrammetrists to be licensed as surveyors.

Specialized Surveyor
Some surveyors perform specialized functions closer to those of cartographers than to those of traditional surveyors. For example, geodetic surveyors use high-accuracy techniques, including satellite observations (remote sensing), to measure large areas of the earth's surface. Geophysical prospecting surveyors mark sites for subsurface exploration, usually in relation to petroleum. Marine or hydrographic surveyors survey harbors, rivers, and other bodies of water to determine shorelines, the topography of the bottom, water depth, and other features.

Survey Technician
Surveying technicians or assistants position and hold the vertical rods, or targets, that the operator sights on to measure angles, distances, or elevations. In addition, they may hold measuring tapes, if electronic distance-measuring equipment is not used. Surveying technicians compile notes, make sketches, and enter the data obtained from surveying instruments into computers either in the field or at the office. Survey parties also may include laborers or helpers who perform less skilled duties, such as clearing brush from sight lines, driving stakes, or carrying equipment.