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.

News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

KS1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

C# R&D .NET Developer (Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET)

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NET Developer (Algori...

Year 3 Teacher needed- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Look no further; this is the ...

Primary NQT Teachers

£95 - £105 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Opportunities for NQTs for the...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star