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A group of engineering students in overalls and hard hats in an industrial setting

Engineering a career I love thanks to student experience

Published: 31 March 2022

Tom Edwards is a graduate of our Civil Engineering with a Year in Industry (MEng). He now works for engineering consultancy firm WSP, who designed the Shard in London. He tells us how his experiences at Southampton have helped boost his career and continue to shape him as a person.

Tell us about your graduate engineering career

I sit within WSP's local government discipline, working on the design of a programme of sustainable transport and active travel improvements across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole. Lots of cycling and walking!

Outside work, I sit on the board of trustees and chair an international development charity, Cameroon Catalyst, who are currently delivering a series of water, sanitation and hygiene projects across some of the least developed communities in Cameroon.

How did you get into your current role?

The University of Southampton offers a corporate scholarship scheme for Civil Engineering students, SUCCESS, which I was awarded a place on in my first year. I was sponsored by my current employer, with whom I completed 2 summer placements and a placement year as part of my degree course. It was these placements that resulted in WSP offering me a place on their graduate programme.

Placements were a great opportunity to get a feel for what it's like to work in industry, and a really useful tool, especially in a career as broad as civil engineering, to start to work out what I was passionate about.

What challenges did you face getting where you are?

Finishing my degree, graduating, and starting my career during the COVID-19 pandemic was especially challenging. I spent the first year of my job working remotely and hadn’t met many of my colleagues in person. Trying to develop strong working relationships virtually was definitely more difficult from home.

I’m grateful to have had an incredibly supportive team who made every effort to ensure I felt involved as best I could in both a work and social setting. I’m glad now to be getting back into the office, and out on site, more frequently. It's like starting a new job all over again!

What it's like to study civil engineering at Southampton

Tom explains why he chose to study civil engineering at Southampton, and the experiences he's had during his time here.

Who or what has helped you the most along the way?

Beyond hugely engaged academic staff at Southampton, supportive line managers and a great network of friends and family, it’s the experiences I made for myself at university that have influenced me the most.

The time I spent understanding what I’m passionate about, what I’d like to work towards in my career, and then translating that into opportunities and experiences that move me closer to where I want to be, has helped the most.

I would absolutely recommend taking that time to anyone who’s less sure about their career direction. But in the meantime there’s no rush to find it out. Be present in what’s happening right now.

Was there a moment you realised your hard work had been worth it?

The realisation, once I graduated, that I now had a master’s in engineering from one of the most reputable universities in the world made me incredibly proud and cemented my confidence in what I believed I was capable of.

As always, though, it's been far more about the journey than the end result. Reflecting on myself at university and seeing how much I’ve developed makes me grateful of the work I put in, even if at the time I didn’t have as clear an idea of who I was and where I was going.

How much influence was your time at Southampton?

The experiences that stick with me the most are those were I immersed myself completely in the university community and committed myself to opportunities outside my course.

In my first year I joined sustainable international development charity Cameroon Catalyst, which I now chair, and travelled to Cameroon to conduct research for the charity’s work.

I qualified as an event first aider with St John Ambulance through the university's First Aid Society, and volunteered at university sports fixtures and major events in Southampton.

I also acted as the Boldrewood campus officer within the students' union, and led the open day efforts for prospective engineering students. 

All my experiences outside of the course were hugely developmental in providing me with a wider and more rounded set of skills and experiences that complemented what I was learning on the course.

Thomas Edwards smiles as he stands next to an ambulance in his St John Ambulance uniform.
Tom trained to be an event first aider with St John Ambulance.

What are your future plans?

I grew up as a British expat in The Netherlands, surrounded by examples of Dutch sustainable urban design and active travel. This gave me a passion for the design and planning of urban areas, and how that impacts community mental health and wellbeing. I'm currently pursuing opportunities at work and in further education to build my knowledge and experience in how urban areas are designed and planned.

I’d really like to hold a consulting role, helping local authorities and private developers create sustainable urban spaces that address the climate and biodiversity emergencies and prioritise societal health and wellbeing.

What advice would you give someone choosing a university?

My advice is always to take the time to really understand what matters and is important to you, both in terms of course and location, and find somewhere that reflects that. For me, the civil engineering course at Southampton offered a really broad option for specialisms through the modules and projects.

I also really enjoyed the feel of the campus when I visited, and felt the city was a good size - it had everything I needed, but wasn't overwhelming.

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