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Derek Watkins at the New York TImes

derekI went to grad school because I was still enjoying learning things full-time when my Bachelor’s program ended. I also thought I might want to be a professor, and I wanted to move out of the town I grew up in.


Seeing the details of academia at UO showed me that I wasn’t cut out to be a research professor. I realized I had more talent in explaining things visually than with words: map-making was a natural way for me to combine that with my interest in geography.

I applied for a handful of grants for thesis fieldwork, and won none of them. So instead I used an empty summer to pad my cartography portfolio, which helped me land an internship at The New York Times. I started working there full-time a few months after the internship ended.

I’m often amazed I found a job that is such a good fit for my personality and interests. I was drawn to geography because I wanted to learn about everything all at once – at NYT I’ve worked on projects about territorial claims in the South China Sea, shrinking sea ice in the Arctic, and the culture behind Norway’s “slow TV” movement, to name a few. In retrospect I wish I had been more involved in journalism at UO: there’s more overlap between geography and journalism than I realized in Eugene.

virginia election map








At UO my thesis seemed like the Most Important Thing, but since graduating the written work itself has been irrelevant to my life. The process of researching and writing it, though, taught me a lot about how to organize and synthesize information, and that has been very useful in my job at the Times.

The most detailed interactive amps from the 2014 midterm elections.

Beautiful footage of melting glaciers in Greenland.

An animated and striking visualization of Earth every ten minutes.

See more of the stunning visualizations that Derek does on his online portfolio.