Student Q&A: Studying online with the University of Portsmouth

MSc Project Management for Construction | Online learning

2 Feb 2023

What's it like to study for a master's online?

Current student Jake tells us how he manages studying alongside a full-time job in construction.

Hear from student Jake about his experience studying for an MSc online with the University of Portsmouth.

We recently chatted to Jake Simpson, a current student on the MSc Project Management for Construction at the University of Portsmouth, about what motivated him to do a degree, how it’s helping at work, and how he manages his time effectively alongside a full-time job. 

Read on to find out more: 

Can you tell us about your background and experience?  

Jake: I started as a time-served bricklayer. I left school at 16 and went straight into a modern apprenticeship. I did a week at work, then a week at college for a year, and then I did day release for another two years. And I was a qualified bricklayer at that point.  Jake Simpson

About 10 years ago, I decided to get into construction management. I got offered a foreman job, and I'm currently a site manager for a medium-sized construction company in the North-West. I’ve built quite a lot of residential houses and worked on commercial projects such as Manchester Museum as well.  

What motivated you to study for a master’s? 

Jake: I just wanted to better myself, to be perfectly honest with you. A lot of the people that I work with, especially the younger people, the deputies and the trainee site managers, are now leaving school and doing a degree, whereas I went straight into an apprenticeship, and I didn't want to be left behind. I wanted to do this course to add another string to my bow and learn some up to date techniques. 

Is the course helping you support colleagues at work?  

Jake: I'm a site manager, so people look to me to know what's going on and to be able to give them answers straight away. The course has given me confidence when dealing with our clients, especially contract dispute resolution. It's brought me up to date with modern building techniques. A lot of the clients I work for are from an academic background and having this qualification gives me more credibility when dealing with them.  

What’s the best thing that you’ve learnt so far?  

Jake: Without a doubt it's been learning about digital twins, which are virtual representations of physical objects. You get access to a lot of software during this course through student licenses and some of the things the software is capable of are amazing. The direction of travel in construction, using modern technology and computerised building techniques, has been a real eye opener. 

What's your experience with Moodle, the virtual learning environment, been like?   

Jake: Moodle provides everything that you need in a bite-sized way. Each module is broken down into weekly sections. There’s reading lists and lectures that you can re-watch if there’s anything you’ve missed. It's quite intuitive.  

Each week you’re given a task to do where you give your interpretation of a certain case study. There are webinars where you can ask the tutor questions and they'll tell you the best way to approach the work that you've been given or answer any questions for you.  

What’s your advice for managing time effectively while studying?   

Jake: Two or three days a week, you've got to put a couple hours aside. It sounds like a lot, but it's two episodes of Netflix that you sacrifice and probably half a day either on a Saturday or Sunday, something like that, to put together what you've learnt in that week. 

If you leave everything to the last minute, you'll just panic and produce substandard work. If you do a little bit each week, when you come to produce an assignment, you'll have 70, 80% of what you need there already. That would be my advice.  

It’s difficult. You know, I won't lie to anybody. What I will say though, is there are gaps as well. You get about nine weeks off over the summer. There's also a reading week at the end of each module, so it's not hectic up to the last second. There’s time at the end of each module to put everything together. 

How do you interact with the other students?  

Jake: We're all in a WhatsApp group and if somebody finds a journal article or a book or something like that, they’ll share the link. It's a good sounding board because, for example, if you produce an assignment and you're curious about whether you’ve put enough references in there, you can ask people how many they’ve got.  

Everyone is invited to the weekly webinars. It’s like being in a classroom, just a virtual one. The resources that are available for you in Moodle are the same that you would expect if you were attending the University itself. It's like having the University on your machine, really.  

A lot of people think that you're not receiving the same standard of learning if you're doing something virtually. I've not found that to be the case.  

What can you expect from the academics in terms of support?  

Jake: My experience has been very positive. The academics are from all around the world and some of them have worked on fantastic projects and written high-quality papers. 

They're supportive. You can email them and ask them questions if you need to, and they will give feedback on the work that you've produced so far.  

A lot of the time when I'm looking for some reference material or some additional reading, I'll come across something that's been written by one of my tutors or somebody at the University.  

Do you think there's a stigma associated with online learning? Will it count against you in the job market? 

Jake: I would say it's an accolade, if anything, because it means that you've bettered yourself whilst you're working. If anything, people admire what you've done. 

I thought it was just going to be a piece of paper that's proves that I know it all. What it's taught me is that I've still a lot to learn, even though I've been in construction for 25 years. It’s furnished me with the skill to see where construction is going to be in 25 years from now, in a digital world.  

Thank you, Jake, for sharing your insights into learning with the University of Portsmouth! 

Want to hear what other students think of studying online with us?

Discover more student insights 

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