The University of Southampton
Engineering and the EnvironmentUndergraduate study

Ben Kelley MEng Civil Engineering, 2015

Tunnel Engineer, Arup

Ben Kelley's Photo

Summer placements in an engineering firm were invaluable in shaping my career ambitions and helped me to realise which parts of the industry I enjoyed the most. Starting the Civil Engineering Society gave me an opportunity to network with experienced engineers and learn about the different career paths engineers commonly take.

What made you choose Southampton?

Southampton has a good reputation and the Civil Engineering course is highly ranked. The location is brilliant, with lots of green space on campus whilst still being close to the city centre. It’s also only a short train journey to both the New Forest and Bournemouth beach. What clinched it for me was the amazing atmosphere at the University on the Open Day!

What were you anxious about before coming to Southampton, and once here were these fears unfounded? How did Southampton help you settle in and help you belong?

Heading off to university is an exciting time, but moving away from home into the ‘unknown’ can also be quite intimidating. Southampton did a great job at making everyone feel welcome, by providing hosts at the halls on moving in day and arranging course inductions to meet lecturers and peers.

It’s important to remember everyone is in the same boat and there are loads of opportunities to meet people and make good friends, on your course, in halls, through societies and more.

What were your Southampton ‘highlights’?

I went on two of the University's ski trips with a big group of friends from my course. The skiing was amazing, I met loads of new people and the nights out were great fun. In our second year we had heavy snow at university in January, so we took a break from revision to build an igloo on the Common!

My biggest achievement at University was founding the University of Southampton Civil Engineering Society (CivSoc), which I’m really happy to say is still thriving. We arranged site visits, social events and trips, including one to London involving a talk on the Shard from the building’s chief designer.

I made the most of the University's Watersports Centre, learning how to kayak, sail, windsurf and drive a powerboat, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

What other activities did you take advantage of while at University?

The Civil Engineering course includes a week long construction project in the first year called "Constructionarium". This involves a week of getting stuck in and building scaled down versions of famous structures. I was project manager of an 11 metre tall version of London’s “Gherkin” skyscraper, which was one of my favourite experiences of the course. The experience taught me just how challenging working on site is and has given me a lot of respect for people managing big construction projects.

I was involved in promoting the University, both as a Student Ambassador and also a tour guide on the Civil Engineering UCAS interview days. I was a University Representative on the local Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Graduates and Students committee and the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) committee. Through this I met lots of local people who are very enthusiastic about the civil engineering industry.

Did you participate in any extra-curricular activities that provided skills that you have used after leaving?

Summer placements in an engineering firm were invaluable in shaping my career ambitions and helped me to realise which parts of the industry I enjoyed the most. Starting the Civil Engineering Society gave me an opportunity to network with experienced engineers and learn about the different career paths engineers commonly take.

Did you have any exposure to employer involvement or research-led learning during your course? Did this help you join your chosen field or industry? If so, how?

We had guest lectures for some modules from local senior engineers. It was always interesting to hear from a practicing engineer exactly how the theory is applied in current industry practices. Additionally, our first year Constructionarium project was sponsored by an external company with site support from young engineers. It was great to speak with graduate engineers and learn what the real world is like.

My final year Group Design Project (GDP) was to design a road tunnel crossing in east London. Engaging with the industrial sponsor (Arup) for engineering advice and assistance with tunnel design was a very valuable learning experience.

What did you enjoy most about your course?

I enjoyed the course more and more as it progressed, as the theory became more and more applied to real life projects. This was especially noticeable on Group Design Projects, which I found really fun.

What networking, employment and work experience opportunities did you undertake and did they enhance your Southampton experience?

I spent a gap year working for global engineering consultancy, Ove Arup & Partners Ltd, in their London head office before university. I returned to Arup each University summer, working initially in geotechnics and then tunnelling. This also involved one summer working for Arup in Perth, Australia designing part of the Perth Stadium.

I was awarded a scholarship by the British Tunnelling Society (BTS) to attend a week long residential course in “Tunnel Design & Construction” during my second university summer. The course was led by senior tunnel engineers with global experience and was a great networking opportunity.

These experiences have been invaluable in helping me decide that tunnelling was the industry I wanted to pursue a career in.

What is Southampton like as a place to study?

Southampton has a real buzz about it, there’s a multitude of interesting things to get involved in and a lovely sense of community between everyone on campus.

What have been the highlights of your career to date?

For the past year I have been Assistant Project Manager for the options phase of the £1.4 billion A303 Stonehenge scheme, being delivered by an Arup Atkins Joint Venture for Highways England.

It has been an excellent experience being involved in this fascinating road project, largely within a World Heritage Site. We held a public consultation on Highways England’s proposed tunnel options January – March 2017, which was very interesting.

How did your time at Southampton help you to grow as a person and help you get to where you are now?

Spending four years at the University of Southampton was precisely the preparation I needed to begin my professional career in earnest.

My course gave me the technical basis I needed to be an engineer, but it was the people I met, the opportunities I took and the softer skills I acquired that made the biggest difference to my development.

What advice would you give to a student starting their degree at Southampton?

Say ‘yes’! There are lots of opportunities, sports, societies, events, socials – get involved and make the most of your time at Southampton.

What tips would you give to current students looking to start a career in your sector? What could they be doing now to make themselves more employable when they graduate?

Work experience makes a huge difference to getting a good job in engineering, and gives you the chance to try difference parts of the industry. I highly recommend getting a paid summer internship or taking a year out to work as an engineer.

Southampton run the ‘SUCCESS Scholarship Scheme’ programme of internships which you can apply for in your first and second year and the ICE run the ‘QUEST’ scholarships (both of which also provide a bursary!). Otherwise, you can apply directly to companies for their internship programmes, or apply speculatively to smaller companies.

Good luck!

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