Geoenvironmental engineering helps counter the impact industry has on our environment / Corbis

Susie Legge is doing a geoenvironmental engineering master's degree at Cardiff University

When I was at school, I was always interested in the world around me," says Susie Legge, 22, who is nearing the end of her first term of an MSc in geoenvironmental engineering at Cardiff University. "Initially I'd thought about doing architecture at university," she remembers, "but then one day my mother suggested civil engineering, which didn't mean anything to me at the time. But after I researched it, I realised that it sounded much more like me."

Her hunch paid off because, ever since targeting a place on an engineering degree, she has been thoroughly at home and thriving in the engineering world.

Between A-levels and starting her civil engineering degree at Portsmouth University, she did a year's placement with the engineering firm Mott MacDonald, and has returned for short stints in just about every holiday since.

"Over the time, I've moved around the different engineering areas in Mott MacDonald, including structural, environmental, geotechnical and buildings. The two that have interested me most have been the geotechnical, which means everything that happens underground, and environmental, which is to do with contamination of the ground and waste management."

After she got a first at Portsmouth, this interest led her in the direction of the master's she started last month. However, given the wealth of practical experience she'd already accumulated, why didn't she consider going straight into employment?

"Generally in engineering, it's all about getting chartered, and that is made so much easier if you have a master's," she explains. "You can get chartered if you start work straight after a bachelor's degree but at some stage you'll have to go back and do some more academic work."

Personal and professional considerations led her to the Cardiff course. "I researched universities along the M4 corridor because I wanted to live either at home, or with my boyfriend in Bristol, and the Cardiff master's is accredited by the Institution of Civil Engineers, which was also a major factor."

She got her application in early during her final year at Portsmouth and, as a result, once accepted, received a £600 reduction in course fees, which is a feature of Cardiff's postgraduate application system.

In addition, she's benefiting from an annual £1,500 bursary from the Mott MacDonald charitable trust, plus a one-off grant of £8,000 from the Royal Academy of Engineering's Panasonic Trust. These funds are combining to meet all her outgoings during the postgraduate year.

There are only four students on her course, which ensures plenty of concentrated tuition and support from lecturers and tutors, but the main plus point for her is the practical nature of the programme.

"The great thing about it is that it is so applied to the real world," Legge explains. "For example, if we are doing a lecture on land contamination, we will talk through the results of a report on land contamination at a gas works, which a former MSc student has done on a recent work placement."

She's finding the content a little harder than her first degree. "But I'm not stressed yet because I enjoy the subject so much and don't mind reading around it," she says.

"I am finding the maths much easier than I did at A-level because now it is all applied to structures and, in my mind, I find that it all falls into place."

As for living in Cardiff, Legge has no complaints whatsoever. She says: "I'd been to the rugby a couple of times, and everyone had said how great it was. And now I'm here I think it's a lovely city, and I can understand why students want to come here."