Two-time GeoSciences graduate David Gray tells us about his global career leading to 22 years at the World Bank and his role as president of the Edinburgh University Alumni Club of Washington DC.
|MA (Hons) Geography; MSc Geographical Information Systems
|Year of Graduation
Your time at the University
I fell in love with Geography at secondary school (that’s the power of a good teacher) and came to Edinburgh keen to better understand the world. The staff and students of the Geography Department at High School Yards became my second family for the next five years.
Always a rapidly evolving field, we were encouraged to explore different facets of the subject, from the social to the physical, and I remain a great fan of a generalist education, particularly for young people who may not have yet found their passion.
I found mine quite quickly, international development, and several Department expeditions to Belize really sealed the deal. A small country with a lot of challenges, it seems that everything we learned during our degree was playing itself out on the ground. It became a real launch pad for my subsequent career, the basis for a lot of lifelong friendships, good memories and “how did we survive?” moments.
At that time a number of us (staff and students) were getting excited about the potential of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing and I was able to join the first cohort of the MSc in Geographical Information Systems in 1985. It proved to be the perfect complement to my MA and has come in very useful. I’m glad I was able to turn it into paid employment before everyone could do it on their phone!
I found [my passion] quite quickly, international development, and several Department expeditions to Belize really sealed the deal. A small country with a lot of challenges, it seems that everything we learned during our degree was playing itself out on the ground. It became a real launch pad for my subsequent career, the basis for a lot of lifelong friendships, good memories and “how did we survive?” moments.
Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University
After graduating I was keen to move overseas and managed to get postings for the UK Overseas Development Administration (ODA) – now Department for International Development (DFID) – in Indonesia for four years, Belize for five and some other short-term assignments in the Caribbean.
Much of this work involved Geographical Information Systems (GIS)/spatial analysis and Land Information Systems (LIS) but was as much about building capacity in these countries to apply the technology and the resulting information. It was a truly amazing time in my life.
After leaving Belize I was invited to assist the World Bank with their country analysis and subsequently to bolster their spatial analysis function. I’ve been there for 22 years, as of last count, and have been privileged to be able to follow my interests within the institution. Interestingly, I now feel I use more geography than GIS! I am now in the Development Finance group and lead the knowledge and learning function.
How did my Edinburgh education contribute? I always go back to the quality of the lecturers and professors I had – real mentors in many cases. That and the pervasive emphasis on questioning the conventional wisdom and finding innovative solutions to problems. These ideas have been at the heart of Edinburgh, the University and the City, for hundreds of years – but they are the basis for an interesting journey – and are always going to be needed.
Finally, in my spare time, I am President of the Edinburgh University Alumni Club of Washington DC. We work with the University to organize events that bring recent graduates and other alumni together. It is remarkable to see how much affection graduates have for the University and the City. We try and keep these connections alive, through seminars, happy hours, Burns night and career seminars. I’ve also recently persuaded the World Bank to venture north of Oxbridge to recruit talent from the Scottish Universities!
One – take chances when you are young. If you want your dream job, do something that separates you from the pack – work with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Africa, volunteer, travel, write a novel.
Second, life is long, enjoy the ride. So many people seem to want to get established in a career and the day-to-day grind. Truth is, this ride isn’t linear and there will be ups and downs – take time to find your passion and then go for it. I always look at the pictures on my walls as a guide. Strangely not many of them involve work meetings.
Thirdly, it took me a long time to understand that people are fundamentally wired differently and that it is this diversity that makes for good results, particularly in a work environment. Seek it out. Don’t let people tell you how to think!
Edinburgh University Alumni Club of Washington DC Facebook page (external link)