Harry, third-year marine and composites technology student.

Getting off ‘the rock’

I was born and raised in Jersey, so I’m technically classed as an international student. Moving to Plymouth to study has meant that I have not only had to adapt to a different city, but an entirely different country as well. Even though many students from Jersey seem to have the same idea and relocate to the South coast of England to study, I’ve only encountered a few Jersey students in Plymouth, so I have had to embrace meeting new people and making a completely new set of friends.

Staying in Jersey, or sticking with other friends who got off ‘the rock’, would have been a safe option. So the idea of relocating to somewhere new, without too many geographic or cultural differences, really appealed. Jersey has a strong influence of French culture and I can see the similarities on the South West coast, especially in areas like the Barbican in Plymouth, for example – it has a unique atmosphere.

It sounds like a small thing to care about, but it was always really important to me when I was looking at where to study. It makes Plymouth feel more like home.

SRRDG exhibit and sponsor plymouth barbican
Harry Dodge
Burrator Reservoir, Dartmoor National Park

Overcoming uncertainty by researching courses early

I was unsure which A level subjects I would take, but I was definitely thinking about university courses to study whilst I was taking my GCSEs at school. When initially considering courses to study, I definitely benefited from my Dad’s guidance in answering the important question: ‘What am I actually interested in?’

My Dad put two and two together and suggested that because I was achieving good grades in biology, coupled with the fact that I have a keen interest sailing and sea, I should start to research marine biology courses on university websites. Plymouth came up straight away.

Instantaneous appeal

When I visited Plymouth on an open day, I was immediately impressed with the University’s facilities such as the ocean wave basin and the advanced composites manufacturing centre. At the time, they were conducting testing on renewable energy and had impressive simulations on display – the navigation and maritime science simulation really jumped out at me – I seriously considered doing that degree as well to be honest.

Jasper’s lasting impression

During my open day visit, I met Dr Jasper Graham-Jones, Associate Professor in Mechanical and Marine Engineering, and heard his course presentation.

I feel like I am a good instinctive judge of character, so it was important for me to come out of an open day subject talk feeling like I really want to be taught by him.

Straight away, I knew that I only wanted to study the marine and composites technology course that the University of Plymouth were offering – it was instantaneous. I looked at courses at other universities but nothing excited me more than the opportunity to develop new composite materials for a range of applications...and to be taught by Jasper, of course.

Wave flume
Marine station
marine building wave machine

Who needs public transport?

During my first year of study, I stayed at Astor House halls of residence and, to be honest, it was fantastic. Situated in a really nice location, not too far from the campus, and in close proximity of the Hoe and the Barbican, this student accommodation option was perfect.

We really are quite spoilt here because all students live so close to the main campus – I have friends in different halls across the city and they are all still within walking distance of the campus.

‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’

...or one cook in my case

Cooking for myself every day was the main thing that stands out – I wasn’t a bad cook, but it was definitely something to get used to. The main thing was trying to not to set the fire alarms off for the 20th time and upset the neighbours. Overall I don’t think I struggled too much, but there will always be some challenges to overcome.

I’m still sucked in by SU socials 

I think our Students’ Union venue is probably one of the best in the country because the social events are amazing. I’m in my fourth year of study and I still go the Students’ Union for a night out every now and again.

Looking back, there were loads of events during Freshers’ Week, and it was easy to meet people and overcome the initial settling in period.

Being quite a family-orientated person and being so used the safety net of ‘the rock’, it naturally took a little bit of time to adjust at first. I think there’s always a settling period when you move to any new place.

If you’re into live music, it’s really not hard to find something every day of the week in the city, but the Thursday night Jam House open mic nights at the SU have always been a particular favourite of mine. There always seems to be something going on at the Barbican on the waterfront as well. We’re very well covered for live music and social events.

Su music event
Harry Dodge
SU event night

So, what does my course actually involve?

The course that I have been studying is marine and composites technology, which falls within the mechanical, marine and materials engineering subject area. The University does not offer this particular course title any more, however, all of my course’s key modules have since been integrated into a number of BEng degrees.

The ‘marine’ element

This covers naval architecture and fluid dynamics.

  • Naval architecture refers to how boats are structured and designed with vessel stability and resistance in mind.
  • Fluid dynamics refer to how fluids such as air and water interact with a hull. It addresses how water flows under the hull, as well as how air flows over and around the boat, which is as important for sailing boats for propulsion as it is for high-speed performance vessels when considering drag.

The ‘composites’ element

This refers to material science and the use of materials such as carbon, glass and natural fibres, and even new materials such as graphene in manufacturing and industry. Global aerospace, automotive and marine industries all have growing demands for lighter vehicles to increase efficiency, economy and sustainability. The necessity for expertise and knowledge in composites and material science make this aspect of the course incredibly relevant and, therefore, very important to cover.

carbon fibre

Getting paid on placement

A placement year in industry gives you the chance to earn money and apply the things you’ve learnt during study to live projects in the real world. It also prolongs the fast-paced university experience by a year, which is always a good thing.

I gained so much from studying my course for two years. I also received an amazing amount of support from my lecturers and the Careers Service – this really developed my confidence going into my placement.

A year in industry really opened my eyes

So many friends tell me they wished they completed a placement year during the course. Trying to come up with a dissertation project is really frustrating for people who haven’t done a work placement year.

I came back and knew exactly what I wanted to do straight away because I’ve had that previous placement experience, which has really opened my eyes.

I’ve also benefited from the organisational structure that the placement year gave me. Get up at 8:00. Get in for 9:00, work and get things done. Switch off at 17:00. It’s just as important to have that sense of routine when you’re in control of your independent study, as it is when you’re working in a full-time job. Even now, some students I know just think: ‘deadline!’ and ‘I’ve got 24 hours to do this’. The placement year has hammered home to me that I can’t allow myself to slip into those bad habits.

Close up valves
Independent study
Harry Dodge sea

Pushing the boat out

Outside the rigours of study, Plymouth has given me the fantastic opportunity to unwind, relax and exercise my love of sailing.

I have been a part of the University yacht club since my first year of study, which has always presented me with really cool opportunities. Every year, the club runs a big sail where you spend the bare minimum amount of money and you all head out on a boat in Croatia and sail around the Med. I’ve never done it, but it looks awesome and is definitely something I’ll treat myself to when I finish studying.

The club runs practical sessions on Wednesdays and Saturdays as well as theory sessions on Thursdays. Sundays are reserved for racing in the local series. Over the last few years, I’ve completed my certified RYA Day Skipper qualification and am now at the stage where I’m helping out the first-year students when they first join the club.

‘The Sound’ is quite spectacular and perfect for sailing

Plymouth naturally has an incredible area for keen sailors – it’s unique in that you’re always sheltered on three sides and the breakwater, so you can pretty much sail in most conditions. It feels quite safe – if something goes wrong, you are always really close to land. There are a lot of places in the UK that are good for sailing, but you can’t help but experience quite a bit of traffic. Plymouth is a little bit quieter and is a lot safer.

Plymouth is fantastic for people who maybe aren’t too outdoorsy to maybe push themselves and try something new – I know a lot of people who move here having never sailed, but they try it out and absolutely love it.

Harry Dodge sailing. Photo credit: rossmackley.com
Harry dodge
Harry dodge

What comes next?

Once I have graduated, I’d definitely like to go back home to Jersey and apply the manufacturing expertise I’ve gained to the family bakery business. There is a real opportunity to put invaluable transferable skills that I’ve learnt from my course into practice in a completely different industry.

Setting my sights on pastures New ZealandLonger term, I definitely want to experience travelling and working abroad. The aim is to end up in New Zealand where there are a number of exciting opportunities, varying from masters courses to study and companies to work for.
If I don’t find myself wanting to live in New Zealand permanently. I might set up my own business in Jersey once I have a good amount of experience. There is definitely a marketplace for a composites business.
The appeal of further study
Postgraduate study is definitely an option that I am considering as well. I was always advised to do my masters in a different place, but the University of Plymouth offers a postgraduate programme, leads on perfectly from my undergraduate course. I’m very tempted to do MSc Advanced Engineering Design. If I do opt for the route of further study, the University has a mechanical engineering doctoral programme that could also be a good option for me. 
Harry Dodge