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The University of Southampton

Toni Harding Aeronautical Engineering

Toni Harding's Photo

Officer Cadet Toni Harding, Bursar, Thunderer Squadron speaks about her experience on the Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme and how it’s helped her through University.

I have been given the opportunity to push myself past my previous limits, make many new friends, conduct amazing AT and sports, and really get to grips with my future career as an Engineer Officer in the Armed Forces – all whilst having loads of paid fun

I joined the Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme (DTUS) as a Royal Navy Bursar in September 2014 to study Aeronautical Engineering at Southampton University.

From a young age I had been interested in engineering; particularly aircraft. So when I joined Thunderer Squadron, I was very excited at the prospect of a head start in my career.

After one year with the Squadron, I have been presented with opportunities that I could never have imagined. From climbing in the Spanish mountains, to taking part in ‘green’ field exercises; I have tested myself both physically and mentally in ways I have not even contemplated doing so before.

Although I am sponsored by the Royal Navy, I’ve spent time on several Army and RAF bases, which will be a great asset to my career as the three services work very closely. It has also allowed me to make many friends from a variety of backgrounds and interests.

As a Bursar, I receive a bursary of around £4000 a year, plus extra pay for any additional activities I undertake within the squadron, such as Adventurous Training (aka AT) and sport. It’s an excellent way to help fund my time at University and it’s my money to spend as I please, so with all the AT I am able to undertake with the squadron, the latest GoPro and set of skis are at the top of my list.

On base
On base

We’re located on the South Coast so the Squadron goes sailing most weekends. It also offers sailing expeditions within the UK and countries such as Cyprus, Spain and Brazil throughout the year. There is the opportunity to take part in other activities too such as mountain biking, climbing, kayaking, trekking, parachuting and caving to name a few, as well play lots of sports - and at a high level. Several Thunderer Bursars represent their Service in sports such as hockey, rugby, canoe polo and martial arts.

One of my passions is show jumping and I was lucky enough to be selected to represent the Royal Navy at show jumping and begin training with the Reserve Forces equestrian team. I have met many interesting people through team sports that I would probably not have met in my career. And it is great to meet others who share a passion for my favourite pastime.

During my time on the Scheme, I am encouraged to lead and organise my own expeditions as part of ongoing personal and professional development. This can be daunting but always a fun challenge. Many students gain instructor qualifications, which are handy when you want to take your mates away sailing, but pays dividends in my future career.

The Scheme also gives many opportunities to attend social events throughout the academic year. This year alone I have attended several mess functions at Army and Navy stations, and even helped to organise two mess dinners. You can also run for a position on the mess committee. For example, Social Secretary or Sports Rep. In addition to the various lessons and lectures you receive at our weekly ‘drill’ nights, there is the possibility of work placements during the University summer break.

I spent five weeks on an attachment to both of the Royal Navy’s Air Stations, whilst other members of squadron visited countries such as Germany, Spain and the USA. Some of us were able to work on real projects within the MOD during our attachments, such as the new Successor Class of Submarines and aircraft upgrade programmes, all of which provided a real insight that could be related to academic coursework.

On an Adventurous Training (AT) exercise
On an Adventurous Training (AT) exercise

Being a member of the DTUS has really helped me through my time at University as the squadron has a team of full-time staff who are literally on-call 24/7 for support in my academic studies and early deployment as a potential Officer. I have been given the opportunity to push myself past my previous limits, make many new friends, conduct amazing AT and sports, and really get to grips with my future career as an Engineer Officer in the Armed Forces – all whilst having loads of paid fun. There are no sponsorship schemes where I can take part in so many different activities and meet as many new people. It is an incredible experience, offering so much within such a short period of time, as well as a job at the end of my time at University.

If you think a career in the MOD and the lifestyle that accompanies it could be for you, I would really recommend enquiring about the Scheme. See you at Thunderer.

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