Monday, March 31, 2014

One slightly different MSc PMBE, two very different students...

Remember the celebrations last year to mark five years of the MSc Project Management in the Built Environment? Well, the MSc programme has now been restructured to make it even better. And we have recently introduced two new MSc programmes that share the same structure and some modules. So we can now offer a choice of three programmes, two entry dates and two ways of studying:

MSc Project Management in the Built Environment
MSc Construction Project Management
MSc Construction Management with BIM

So what's changed?
Basically, it's the module structure that has changed. The programme is now made up of short-fat modules that run sequentially, rather than long-thin modules running in parallel. This means that we can now offer two start dates: September or January. 

The following diagram shows what your programme would look like if you took the MSc as a full-time student starting in September:

You can also take the MSc as a full-time student starting in January; an open-learning student starting in September or an open-learning student starting in January - take a look at the diagrams for the other options.

One of the great things about the MSc PMBE is that it attracts students from a wide range of backgrounds and locations. Many of our students hold degrees in fields outside the realm of the built environment including law, psychology, languages, architecture and geography and many choose to study part-time whilst continuing to work in industry. These factors bring additional benefits for all our students as experiences of work, location and approaches to study and problem solving are shared across the student group enriching the student experience and contributing to the success of the Study Weeks which bring all the students (full and part-time) together on campus.

And so, onto our students - two students (with very different backgrounds) agreed to answer my questions about their experiences on the MSc PMBE:

Malia Moua (left) and Toby Vokuhl (right).

Malia studied the MSc PMBE as a full-time student and successfully completed the MSc in 2012.
Toby is studying the MSc PMBE  as a distance-learning student and is in his second year.

1. What is your background and why did you choose to go into project management?
MM: My background is in computer science/computing informatics. I chose to go into project management because I am a people person and I didn't want to stay with the same environment or be involved in long-term operational work. Project management appeals to me as each project is always unique from one another, and as a result, your managing ability improves as experience from different environments helps to sharpen your skills.

TV: I have got quite a diverse professional background, but the majority of positions held have been directly related to buildings. I have either been involved in the construction of new buildings, the repair of historic buildings, or the maintenance management of hospital and college facilities. From a position of mostly implementing existing plans and measures I am now increasingly involved in the developing and planning stages of projects. I therefore felt the need to broaden my horizon and gain an understanding of good project management practice in this sector.

2. Why did you choose the MSc PMBE at Brookes?
MM: After researching several project management programmes in the UK, the MSc PMBE programme at Oxford Brookes (and Oxford Brookes University itself) had positive reviews. What really attracted me was that this programme “adopts a problem-based learning approach to ensure that it is real-world focused and holistic”. This enabled me to have “hands-on” experience during the duration of the programme. Another major plus was that Oxford Brookes is located right in Oxford, probably my favourite city in the UK!

TV: As an Oxford resident, Oxford Brookes was a natural option to explore, especially as the built environment courses are well regarded. I also liked the broad range of courses including modern and vernacular architecture, as well as various construction disciplines and felt therefore that the library would be well equipped, catering for cross-disciplinary learning. I then attended the post-graduate fair at Brookes and talked to one of the tutors, who explained the problem based learning approach which I liked. Wanting to study alongside my employment, I enrolled on the distance learning course, with modules spread out over two years.

3. What was it like when you arrived and started the course?
MM: Though this programme is in project management, the focus is actually in the construction industry. Although my background is not in construction, I was curious to learn how project management methodologies are used in different industries globally. As the programme unravelled, I had enough confidence that the knowledge and experience obtained from this programme would be valuable for me to bring into my world. However, what really kept me going on the MSc was the passion that all the lecturers exhibit in teaching this programme – this kind of enthusiasm is hard to find and I thrive when working with people who are so passionate about what they do.

TV: As a distance learner it was important to have an intensive study week early during the first semester and to meet fellow students and tutors, both in class and at informal social events. We got to better understand the academic requirements, and discover how online learning would work out in practice. It also helped to meet tutors face to face, as for most of the year you are reliant on email, phone or Skype, as means of communication.

4. Looking back over the course now, what were the highlights? And the most challenging bits?
MM: There were many highlights to this programme:
  • Great lecturers! They are very knowledgeable, committed and passionate people who will do their best to help you succeed. 
  • Field trip to the Netherlands! Though it was cold, and exhausting, it was very interesting to see how the Dutch approached things whether that be in business, public transportation, living arrangements, food or leisure – everything I saw on this trip (during class hours and leisure) was valuable knowledge that I took back with me to see what I could learn. 
  • Study weeks are always fun. You get to meet all the students and work with each other in groups. 
The most challenging bit for me was finding a topic for my dissertation on. To put things in perspective, I had no previous background or knowledge of construction so trying to find a topic that interested me was a challenge as my ideas kept changing. However, I kept in mind what would be of benefit to me to help further my career – this principle was what shaped my dissertation.

TV: Spending time with fellow students during the intensive study weeks and field trip, was a definite highlight of the course. After all, we were all working to the same deadlines throughout the year. In addition it was great to start applying some of the course content straightaway to my work situation. The course input on understanding and managing conflict has come in very handy at work and has made me take a different approach to handling conflict - leading to more positive outcomes.

Working in relative isolation to a specific deadline can be hard, and motivating yourself to study after a long day at work or at weekends is equally challenging. I found it helpful to build up good relationships with full-timers and distance learners during the study weeks, and could then discuss issues on the phone, via Facebook or email.

5. Bearing in mind your experience, what advice would you give to someone starting the course? 
MM: Realise that this programme is for anyone in the construction industry OR anyone who wants to get into the construction industry and wishes to pursue the career path of a project manager. I had no background in construction but I found all the courses very useful. It certainly touched all the key areas of the industry that is required on a project management level.

TV: I recommend weighing up carefully whether the full time or distance learner route is best to your circumstances. Whilst the second option was right for me considering my ongoing employment, there are definite advantages to seeing tutors and fellow students on a regular basis for discussion. As a distance learner you have to work bit harder at these things. For distance learners I also recommend investigating access to a well stacked library. The majority of course material is available online, but for further exploring issues and wider reading, nothing beats a whole isle of books on the topic. 

6. What did you do for your dissertation and why?
MM: I did my dissertation on Building Information Modelling (BIM) – an investigation on how BIM could improve project communications. I wanted my dissertation to be directly related to project management but also have a technology “edge” to it as my background and work experience is in software and information technology. BIM proved to serve me well in both project management practices and the evolution of technology and how both worlds impact each other.

TV: Deciding on a dissertation topic was not easy. I had a good look at past built environment dissertations, which can be accessed by current students, and talked to quite a few people. I was very tempted to engage in materials testing and lab based work, using the excellent testing facilities on the Brookes site. In the end I decided to engage in some cross-disciplinary research, investigation the sociological implications of UK housing provision on young families. So far I received input from a number of Brookes staff, including a Professor in Sociology, and the MSc PMBE programme lead. I appreciate the support so far and am pleased to do my dissertation on a topic that I have a personal interest in.

7. What have you got planned for the next 5 years career-wise?
MM: Following the MSc, I worked as an IT Project Manager for one of Canada’s biggest retailers in 'petroleum' managing several IT projects ranging from software enhancements to new infrastructure and hardware upgrades. I have recently moved to work for Roche (Canada) as an Associate Project Manager (IT).  The MSc PMBE adopts a problem-based learning approach which I found more effective and far more rewarding than the traditional examination method as it enabled me to develop a whole range of management skills and knowledge performed through real-life projects and case studies. This knowledge transferred very well to the software/IT world.

TV: I feel that the course has given me good overview over the wider issues relevant to the UK construction sector, as well as providing me with valuable personal skills. I have been challenged through the academic work and group work to engage critically with issues and arrive at considered conclusions. I am now looking to establish myself as a project manager and will work towards a professional accreditation with either CIOB or the RICS over the next few years. Having particularly enjoyed the study and academic engagement, who knows, maybe I will take this further one day.

Malia (on the left in the first photo) and Toby (second photo)
taking part in the brick-laying workshop during the March Study Week

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