Postgrad Lives: "The challenge of passing each year is very rewarding"

Interview by Steve McCormack

Matthew Penny is studying part-time for an MSc in engineering in the coastal environment at Southampton University. He earned a degree in ocean science at Plymouth University in 2001.

Why coastal engineering?

After my first degree, I got a job in facilities management at a college, doing small-scale jobs such as refurbishing classrooms, but I’d always wanted to work in the environment sector, so in 2005, I got a job with the Environment Agency at Blandford in Dorset, initially part of a flood-management team, but then I moved to a more engineering-based role doing inspections on flood and coastal defences. Since the Environment Agency was then setting up new coastal teams, I pitched it to them that they might put me through this Masters course, which they agreed.

What does the course involve?

It’s a mix of engineering principles applied to the coastal environment and the geomorphology side, such as sedimentation. And it also deals with long-term strategic questions for the coast, which ties in with what we do at the Environment Agency. The course straddles the civil engineering school and the school of oceanography and earth sciences at the university, and is split into about nine self-contained modules, each consisting of lectures, coursework and exams. There’s also a field trip connected with each module. For me, without an academic engineering background, I would say the engineering part of the course has been the hardest, but the university help you get up to speed by making you do civil engineering modules that those with an engineering background don’t. My A-levels helped me cope with the maths content, which is quite high.

How’s your week organised?

Initially, I tried to do the course over two years, but I soon realised that the amount of coursework made it unmanageable for me, so I moved to three years. The Environment Agency give me a day’s study a week, which I have generally used to attend lectures. The other four days I work full-time, so all other academic work has to be done in my own time.

Who else is on the course?

There are between 12 and 15 people who join every year, and the vast majority of them are doing it full-time, about two thirds carrying on from a first degree and refining an area of expertise, and the rest coming back to study having worked in the industry.

Have you enjoyed it?

It’s been very enjoyable, even though in busy periods with coursework due in, and exams, it can be stressful. The hardest part is actually fitting it all in around work and the rest of my life. But the challenge of passing each semester and each year is very rewarding.

Now, I’m coming to the end, I’m looking forward to it all being over.

But I’m just starting the big push to get my dissertation done over the summer. It’s on something called the sediment budget for a stretch of coast in West Dorset, which involves trying to balance the sediment carried by the longshore currents with the sediment stored on the beach and coming down from cliffs. The Environment Agency need to know this because they manage these beaches.

Where do you hope the course will take you?

In the long term, I want to get a job with one of the Environment Agency’s coastal teams. There might be a project I can work on that’s linked to my dissertation.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree have recently been awa...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £21000 per annum + uncapped commission: SThree: As a graduate you are...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Junior Software Developer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Junior Software Deve...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn