Jennifer Joule: developing a passion for planning

Two years into a teaching career, Jennifer studied Plymouth's MSc Planning programme and is now a Planning Officer

Jennifer Joule

MSc Planning graduate 2017 | Five minute read | 19 October 2020

“Seeing people living in the homes that you worked on, or visiting the shops you applied for, is pretty exciting and makes you feel like you are actually shaping the built environment.”

Jennifer Joule, MSc Planning graduate

Planning for a career change at Plymouth

Before starting the course, I had worked for two years as a geography teacher but decided it wasn’t for me. After leaving teaching, I was considering further study and possibly an academic career, but after undertaking various work experience placements across a range of companies, I discovered that planning was something that could really suit me and my skill set.

I chose the planning course at Plymouth because it was both accredited by the Royal Town Planning Institute, which was essential if I wanted to become a Chartered Town Planner in the future, and it came across as a small and supportive course, which turned out to be a very friendly and helpful bunch of students and lecturers.

My career in planning

I worked for Lichfields, a town planning consultancy firm, for almost three years since graduating from Plymouth. I have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of planning projects, which has improved my understanding of the residential, commercial, energy and retail sectors. I enjoyed working as part of a small team and typically would either be the junior partner on a major project, such as a new 150 home development, or I would lead on smaller projects, such as minor retail applications or smaller energy developments.

I find the work-life balance and variety of projects in planning to be highly rewarding. It suits my interest in geography, architecture and place-making, but it is also a positive and forward-thinking discipline, requiring you to constantly think about what the world might look like in 5 or 10 years’ time, and even further ahead.

I also really enjoy constructing an argument for a new development. For example, in the case of a development in the green belt, what might constitute the ‘very special circumstances’ required in national policy to justify the new building? This is challenging and one of the more enjoyable aspects of my job.

The most exciting thing in planning is seeing projects that you have personally been involved in to be built out. Seeing people living in the homes that you worked on, or visiting the shops you applied for, is pretty exciting and makes you feel like you are actually shaping the built environment.

The benefits of studying at Plymouth

The planning course is small and led by some extremely dedicated lecturers, which led to lots of feedback and interactive sessions. The small size also allowed me to develop some good friendships with other planning students, which is a helpful way of building a network early in your career.

The course was both practical and theoretical, which has been helpful in my day-to-day career, but it also allowed me to explore the more intellectually-rigorous and academic side of planning, which was something that I was looking forward to after enjoying my undergraduate degree.

It was great to get stuck back into the essay writing and lectures that I’d enjoyed at undergraduate level, but the masters course was also broken up with a variety of assignments involving GIS, design, presentations and group work, which kept it interesting and helped me to develop new skills.

Plymouth was not only a great place to study but also offers a great quality of life. The setting of the city is just spectacular and, in my opinion, completely underrated by the rest of the country – my friends and family are often pleasantly surprised when they come to visit! The City Council also has an award-winning and highly proactive planning department, which is inspiring and offers a great opportunity for visiting lecturers and case studies as part of the course.

Additionally, I was very pleasantly surprised and extremely grateful for the help that was afforded me by the lecturer, Professor Christopher Balch, who took the time to advise on job applications and even a speech that I needed to prepare as part of an assessment centre. The University careers service and job fairs were also very helpful in allowing me to meet future employers face-to-face and for obtaining feedback on my CV and cover letter prior to making job applications.

I do not feel that, at another university, I would have benefited from such a personal approach or the incredible good will of the lecturers and other staff, which certainly helped me to understand the job market as a whole and then secure a role with a leading consultancy firm.

The value of gaining experience

I would advise anyone to gain work experience as early as possible to establish if planning (or any career) is definitely something they’re interested in and to demonstrate their commitment if it is.

Having tried one career and then made the late switch to planning, I can say with confidence that there is nothing worse than dreading going to work every day.

Planning has offered me a challenging and interesting career, which has been rewarding and worthwhile.

As of September 2020, Jennifer is a Planning Officer at Teignbridge District Council

Follow in Jennifer's footsteps at Plymouth

Do you want to pursue a professional career in planning? As the UK’s newest planning school, our programme has been designed to offer a comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing the formulation and delivery of spatial planning policy across the built and natural environments. You will be prepared to develop or enhance a career as a chartered town planner in a rapidly changing world. Choose to take this programme either full-time over one year or part-time over two years.

Study MSc Planning

Low angle view of vertical garden-BioWall or living wall is a wall covered with living plants on high rise residential building with heliostat of motorised mirrors, Sydney Australia. Image courtesy of Getty Images.