Where are you from and what was your background before the ECE program?
I grew up in Reading, and although a long way from the coast, the sea and coastline have always fascinated me. I studied Geography at Southampton from 2006 to 2009, and initially did not plan on undertaking a masters. During my third year of my Geography degree I heard of the ECE program and the great opportunities it presented, I decided to apply and fortunately was accepted. Upon graduating, from my undergraduate studies, I took a year out before starting the ECE program, working in a bank, to get some funds for the course and to take a short break before studying – I had heard that an MSc can be a tough course! I chose the ECE MSc as it was a course that allowed me to study an environment that I loved, its practical nature and the great career opportunities it presents.
When did you graduate and can you tell us a bit about your experience at Southampton and what you have been up to since?
I had a great time doing the ECE course though I did find it challenging at times, particularly in the first semester when there were a lot of courses and even more coursework and exams! I really enjoyed the field trips and the fact the course was a small group and we all got on so well and were firm friends at the end of the course. I found the many field trips and also coastal seminars both interesting and incredibly useful and there is a great deal of knowledge that has a great practical application that I use regularly in my current role. I graduated in September, 2011, and started the van Oord traineeship, in January 2012. I applied for van Oord after attending a presentation about van Oord at the University, which made it sound like a very interesting, challenging and fun company to work for, along with a great opportunity to travel. I chose to work in contracting as I wanted to work on live projects, seeing the projects develop and change, something which greatly appealed to me. Whilst at van Oord I have worked in Holland, Belgium, Germany, the UK, Guernsey, Dubai and Indonesia; working on a variety of projects, e.g. dredging, offshore wind parks and coastal defences, and in a variety of roles e.g. superintendent, project engineer and quality engineer.
What does a day in your working life entail?
My working day, although a cliché does vary a lot, and depends heavily on the project I am working on and the role I am fulfilling in that project. When I have worked a project engineer, my day normally starts with reviewing e-mails and the daily progress reports. I will then attend a morning operations meeting to discuss the works being undertaken and going forward. After that it may be that I spend the day on site helping solve on site issues, or writing documents, such as method statements, invitations to tenders, contracts or attending meetings with subcontractors or clients. I also, sometimes, work on the planning, reporting and the final as-built files for the works completed. When working as a superintendent, my day starts with a handover from the night shift followed by a walk around the site to see what is happening, and plan the day ahead. I will also do a briefing to the onsite staff and then maybe head to the office to do some paperwork such as daily reports, planning for the forthcoming days or any other site administration. Throughout the day I go out on site and review the day’s progress and solve any issues on site, and look ahead to future works.
Have you any advice to ECE students that are about to start in September, and to those about to graduate?
Enjoy yourself and have fun, you should always have fun in whatever you do, both at university and also at work, whatever path you decide to follow, the right work is the best fun of all! Make the most of all the experiences on offer with the course, e.g. using the flumes, field trips, getting taught by world leaders in their fields, and getting the chance to do boat work, which will be useful to you whatever career path you take after graduating. I particularly enjoyed the coastal seminar series and meeting people actually working in the industry on a day-to-day basis, they really bring the subject to life and show how the subjects studied can be applied in the ‘’real’’ world. If possible try to get involved with a company or organisation when writing your thesis, it provides great support, makes it a lot more fun, shows how the work we did it at university translates to the real world and can lead to future career opportunities.
Your company employs several ECE alumni; what is it about the ECE program that you think makes it attractive to contractors and employers?
The wide range of knowledge, the fact you learn about engineering but also coastal processes which means you can look at problems holistically. I believe the assignments undertaken be that boat work, field trips or coursework all help make students from the ECE course attractive as the assignments teach you skills and provide experience that is very applicable to working life
Where do you think the industry is headed, how should that inform students?
There is an increasing focusing on sustainability, with solutions designed to work much more in harmony with nature, and a considerably more holistic view on problems and solutions. I believe that offshore wind and offshore renewable energy, as a whole, has the potential to be the next big thing, given the high amounts of interest in climate change. I have also noticed an increasing reliance on data in our industry with more data being collected and available for future use; managing that data, to get the most from it, will be critical.