Hi! Please tell us more about yourself and why you decided to study with MLA College.
I’ve always been connected with the maritime industry, with family members working at sea. Whilst at school I also attended sea cadets and quickly sought a career at sea at the earliest opportunity, signing up to the Royal Navy at 15 years old.
I spent almost 9 years in the Royal Navy, with great experiences across the globe, coupled with education and training throughout my sea-going career. But with a young family, I chose to come ashore and found my new career at Fleetwood Nautical Campus, part of Blackpool and The Fylde College. Initially I had the job to set up a Marine Engineering department, and over the past 12 years we’ve gone from strength to strength, now offering programmes for school leavers through to experienced seafarers and superintendents, across Marine Engineering and Marine Electro-Technical disciplines, sitting alongside the Nautical Science provision.
All of this would not have been possible without engagement with continuous professional development. I have studied at a number of levels and institutes, but most recently I chose MLA in order to enhance my Level 7 studies and doing so in subject and a manner that suited my own needs.
Why did you decide on the MSc Engineering for Marine Professionals? What urged you to pursue chartership?
It took me some time, after my previous academic studies, to select the right qualification. Whilst I’m a marine engineer by trade, I’m now also a dual professional as an educator, and so I didn’t simply want to focus on the engineering, nor did I want to continue to pursue another pure educational-based qualification. So when I saw an opportunity to align my engineering studies with my on-going intention to become professionally registered, and with the freedom to research an area that interested me, I couldn’t turn it down.
I have long-thought of professional registration, and had considered the various route I could take. Although I like to call myself an engineer, I now work in an educational setting, and I was therefore cautious to pursue the experiential route to professional registration. I felt that studying at Masters Degree level would not only help me to develop a new set of skills, it also came with the added benefit of enabling me to use this qualification to work toward Chartered status.
How was your online learning experience? What are some of the challenges you faced in the beginning and how did the College help you overcome them?
In many ways, I felt well prepared for the experience. In my role I support students and help them engage with learning, so I felt that I had to simply listen to my own advice. The online resources were easily accessible, and they helped me develop the basic skills needed to progress through my studies. They also helped me to identify the skills I didn’t have, and inspired me to learn new skills that sat outside of the College resources; one example was statistical analysis, and how to use excel to assist this.
One of the main challenges I faced was narrowing down the area of research – I wanted to solve all of the problems associated with developing engineering competence. The forum activity, engaging with other students, and in particular the programme team were able to help me identify and clearly articulate my specific area of research.
What are the positives to you personally about studying a distance learning course?
Like many others, I have a full-time career and a family. I needed a course that would offer me the right qualification, opportunity to develop skills and progress my professional development whilst working around my professional and personal commitments. I had to make time to study, but could do so flexibly around my availability rather than a rigid timetable. This did require a level of discipline, and support from my family.
Was it challenging balancing other responsibilities with your studies?
After a long day at work, it was sometimes quite challenging to then re-focus on put the right amount of effort into studying. I chose to allocate specific timeslots each week, studying after work on a Monday and Tuesday each week, and flexibly over a weekend. The difficulty was staying motivated after a long day at work, and giving up precious time with my family. I knew how many months I would be studying for, so just factored this additional time into my schedule, and it was over before I knew it.
One of the best pieces of advice I was given by a colleague, was to consistently use my allocated time, regardless of what that entailed. There were some weeks where I didn’t want to type out a section of my work, or analyse data, but I used the time to read over some literature, check my reference list, or make sure formatting was aligned to the guide. This consistent approach made sure I always stayed on top of my work, and didn’t feel as if I was falling behind by not putting the effort in.
How did you find the learning materials? Was it easy to understand and learn?
The benefit of pre-recorded learning material was the ability to review several times over. If you’ve ever been to a lecture, you might have made notes, and then a few weeks later you can’t even make sense of your own notes. So having the ability to go back and watch the content again meant I could learn a skill, attempt to apply the skill, and then reflect on my learning by re-watching the content and cross-checking my application, sometimes resulting in changes to the work. There were times I didn’t understand the content, simply because it was such a new theory or approach, but by watching it back and engaging in wider reading, I was able to develop and use the skills the learning material was aiming to help me develop. I took this as a positive, trying to second-guess what my supervisor would say, and pre-empting this
What was the support like from your lecturers and other MLA staff?
Initially, I didn’t want to bother my supervisor, thinking that through this method of study I should be independent. I soon found that the support offered had no barriers, and they were more than happy to offer guidance and words of wisdom. This wasn’t proof-reading every single section, or answering single questions, but guiding my learning and research in the right direction; they helped me develop my independent learning through this support, rather than expecting me to demonstrate this skill from day one. My tutor was extremely helpful in offering guidance relating to various methodologies, or how I could consider researching these, and selecting one that was most appropriate to my chosen subject area.
Tell us more about the independent research you conducted during your studies.
The title of my thesis was: Evaluation of simulation technology and its impact on the development of competency in marine engineers. Now obviously I had access to simulation technology, enabling me to conduct my primary research, as well as secondary research through a range of literature. I knew what I wanted to achieve at the end of my research, and what I ideally wanted to confirm, but I did not know how to get there, what approaches to take, how best to engage with quantitative and qualitative data etc. This was probably the biggest challenge, and if I were to undertake a similar project, I would now know that planning my approach to research early would help create a clearer vision and direction of what I’m trying to achieve.
The main body of my research comprised of utilising a technological and environmentally simulated facility to conduct a set of competency-based tasks aligned to industry activities. The tasks had defined expectations of competence, and associated industry experience – this is what I wanted to challenge. By utilising simulation, I researched to what extent different levels of industry experience (including no experience at all) had an impact on the ability of individuals to demonstrate competence. My findings were fascinating, identifying that appropriate simulated technologies provided appropriate environments to develop competence and, when coupled with some industrial experience, competence could be developed at an enhanced rate compared to no use of simulation.
How did your career progress once you graduated?
Following on from my research, I was fortunate to be nominated to lead the national development of a now published simulator course criteria. Approved by the industry governing body for use as a training programme delivered alongside industrial experience, this course offers an alternative to industry placements and enhances the development of competence, whilst reducing the requirements in time spend in an industry setting.
Since achieving this qualification, I have been involved in a number of academic programme validation events in other institutes, acting as independent subject specialist. I have been appointed as the External Examiner at University of Gibraltar, where I am able to use the skills developed during my studies to support others through other programmes of study. Most recently, I have also been appointed as a member of the IMarEST’s Professional Affairs and Education Committee.
This would not have been possible without achieving my MSc, or my subsequent professional registration as a Chartered Engineer, followed by being elected to the position of Fellow by IMarEST. Ultimately, undertaking this programme of study was for my own personal development, not to progress my career, although it has provided opportunities that wasn’t even looking for.
What are the top three skills you gained from MLA College that you are still using today as a professional?
Communication – appreciating how to use a range of communication, but most importantly adjusting to different audiences.
Organisation – being disciplined in my approach to any given project, with clear plans and setting the groundwork first, such as organising folders
Reflection/judgement – I know I’m cheating here, as it’s two. But I feel that I now how the experience and ability to make better judgements on a number of short term and long term decisions, based on my ability to reflect on the information presented to me, and I often (re)search for more information to better inform the decision making process.
Would you recommend other potential students to study with MLA College, if so, why?
Absolutely! However, anyone intending to study via distance learning must be willing to commit to this in terms of time and discipline. The results over the past two years alone have far outweighed the sacrifices made during my several months on programme. Good luck to you all!
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