Designing the dream structure

This is Jack's story

Jack Howard graduated in BSc (Hons) Civil Engineering from Plymouth in 2012 and is now working for a civil and structural engineering consultancy Mason Navarro Pledge in Hertfordshire.

Here Jack takes looks back on his time studying at Plymouth and gives his advice on how to succeed as a project engineer.

Trusting my judgment

“Since graduating, I have been working for a civil and structural engineering consultancy in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. I have gained experience in designing a wide range of structures including residential, commercial, leisure and education sectors – plus, all core materials such as timber, masonry, steel and concrete. I have also just passed the IStructE chartership exam."

“Working on structures of different ages, from complex historic, to new build structures, has taught me how to use my engineering judgement and to produce designs sympathetic to existing building fabrics."

Every project is different and is an opportunity to learn

“Inevitably all projects have their ups and downs but there is always a massive sense of achievement when a build is complete. You can look back and know you have overcome problems through good engineering to produce the completed building.

“A couple of examples that stand out for me were a bespoke timber frame house in Norway and my first reasonable sized framed structure.

“The timber frame house in Norway was irregular in form, which meant it required bespoke solutions while maintaining the timber framed construction and overall sustainability goals. Developing these unique solutions based on first principles and seeing them come to life was very satisfying.

“The framed structure involved vertically extending an existing steel framed structure. This led to many tricky issues to resolve through trying to limit strengthening to the existing structure, while modernising and vertically extending it. This was a great project to see from concept to completion – managing every aspect of the engineering role, every step of the way."

Studying engineering at Plymouth

"Plymouth has a great school of engineering with helpful knowledgeable staff – always willing to help, answer questions and guide you through further learning. 

“The course syllabus covers a wide range, so you get a great insight into different forms of engineering. The general construction modules were great to help me understand the full picture."

"As I progressed, you are made aware of the variety of engineering fields that could be pursued. I targeted my career towards structural engineering, as that was my strongest and preferred module."

“The University library provides everything you need and the staff are helpful with any issues. The careers department as well were helpful to me for producing effective CVs and cover letters for placement submissions. 

“I have many good memories of my time at Plymouth. From overcoming educational challenges – winning the URS Scott Wilson prize for my dissertation was an honour, to developing friendships – nights out were always good fun and the summer balls were great."

"The student union facilities are amazing as well, with a vast option of clubs and societies. Relaxing on the Hoe in the sun was always a winner, too. I really enjoyed the city – it is fun with a lot to offer, plus has all the benefits of being on the coast."


"My placement had a massive impact on my career. It helped with the time management of my final year and raised my awareness of engineering issues. 

"It showed me where I could go with my career and focused my mind on making sure I achieved that."

Returning to the original blueprints

"If I could go back in time and give myself some advice before starting university again, I would say to myself do not put off chartership development due to general work deadlines and commitments."

"Get an early start on projects once they are set – deadlines can creep up quick when you have multiple modules with similar deadline dates."

"I'd also say to have more involvement with IStructE local committees and get more involved with the amazing sport societies and clubs provided by the Student Union. I would also encourage myself to travel before committing to full time employment."

Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge (left) next to the Tamar Bridge – connecting Devon to Cornwall by rail and road over the River Tamar

Follow in Jack's footsteps at Plymouth

We all need a clean water supply, shelter, energy, transport, protection from flooding and an infrastructure able to meet societal needs. Civil engineers are at the forefront in providing sustainable, environmentally acceptable solutions to such problems and play increasingly important roles in tackling the challenges and effects of climate change.

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