Mechanical engineering student, Holly Esson

Studying engineering at Portsmouth has opened doors for Holly, but the future didn’t always look so bright

3 min read

When I didn’t get the A Level results I wanted, I thought there was no way I’d be able to go on to university to study engineering.

I always wanted to be an engineer

I knew I wanted to be an engineer, because I liked to know how things worked. In school, I loved art and design but also maths and physics – particularly the practical sessions.

I wanted to do a job that would allow me to use all the subjects I loved in school but also allow me to think outside the box when it came to problem solving. Engineering was the obvious route for me.

But, I didn’t get the grades

Unfortunately, my A Levels didn’t go to plan. Towards the end of Year 13, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia and I ended up with much lower grades than predicted.

This really knocked my confidence. Without the required grades, there was no way I’d be able to go on to university to study engineering. I made the decision to take a gap year to work, earn some money and decide what my next steps should be. 

I found a way

I was living in my home-town of Watford, working two part-time jobs in retail when I found out about Foundation Degrees which are kind-of ‘pre-degree’ courses where you can top-up your skills and progress to a full degree course after a year.

I discovered that Portsmouth offered a foundation course in engineering and technology which could lead me on to an MEng Mechanical Engineering degree – which was the route I’d always wanted to take.

So, I visited Portsmouth

When I attended an open day at Portsmouth I felt at ease as soon as I walked into the buildings – which wasn’t something I felt at other universities. The staff were really friendly – they answered all the questions I had and told me all about the academic and additional needs support that was available which also made me feel more confident about my decision.

I loved the feel of the campus – almost all the teaching buildings are in the city centre, but you get the feel of a campus university because everything’s close by and interspersed with cafes, sports facilities and the library. The open day gave me a good feel for the university and the city, and I knew it was right for me.

Holly Esson, Mechanical Engineering student

I wasn’t alone

The move to Portsmouth was full of all sorts of feelings and emotions for me – there was an awful lot of excitement, but also the fear of the unknown and having to look after myself for the first time!

I’d spent time exploring the city on the internet so I had an idea of what was on offer and where to find the essential shops near my student accommodation. Portsmouth is such a student-centred city and there are always lots of students around, which I found really comforting as we were all in the same boat. It made the city feel safe and friendly.

So much support

The staff have been supportive the whole way through my time here. They answer all your questions regardless of how silly you might think they are. They take a lot of time to make sure you have a full grasp of the subjects and specialisms.

Holly Esson, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Portsmouth using a 'MyPort' student information hub

I’ve accessed several support services on offer here, including the academic skills unit, maths café and the student finance team.

Holly Esson, Mechanical Engineering student

I used the maths café during my foundation year to get some extra help with my mathematics and engineering principles modules. It’s an amazing service and it’s available to all students – it really helped me through the course.

There’s a hardship fund that students can apply for if they’re struggling. It was a lifeline for me as it helped with the upfront cost of upgrading the assistive software for my additional needs.

Perfect placement

The university actively encourages you to take a year in industry which is a fantastic opportunity. I got help with finding potential employers, writing my CV and applications and even mock interviews with real employers.

I got a placement with Atkins, the global design, engineering and project-management consultancy, where I worked on a number of fascinating engineering projects. My placement qualified me to become an accredited Engineering Technician (Eng Tech) – which is a step towards one day becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng).

It soon became clear to me how a year in industry would put me ahead of the field when it comes to graduate jobs because I now have the work experience that so many employers are looking for.

Looking back

One of my greatest achievements since starting university is averaging a first for each of my years of study – a real confidence boost after such disappointing A Level results.

When I look back, it’s not just the engineering skills and knowledge I’ve got from my time at Portsmouth Uni. I’ve learned how to work to deadlines, and I’ve become more confident in myself and my abilities.

At Portsmouth, you’re really encouraged to develop your life skills too, to become well-rounded, employable and an independent thinker.

Holly Esson, Mechanical Engineering student

Of course, there have been challenges, but the lecturers have all been super supportive. My course leader has been outstanding and a true inspiration – she’s someone I aspire to be like within the world of engineering.

I’ve made friends-for-life too, not just course mates but through all the clubs and societies I’ve been involved in. I swam with the university competition team, I’ve been a member of the University Royal Naval Unit, and a member of the cheerleading club – where I a coached one of the competition teams and was a member of the highest-level competing squad in the club.

What next?

On the final day of my placement with Atkins, they offered me a full-time job when I finish my degree! The paperwork has all been signed and I’ll be starting my professional career as a mechanical engineer at Atkins in Bristol as soon as I graduate.

Studying Mechanical Engineering at Portsmouth university has really opened doors for me, not just within the engineering sector but with the skills I have now, I can move into areas such as design, finance or project management. 

Although things didn’t look great for me in the beginning, there’s nothing I would have done differently. I’ve taken every opportunity that’s come my way and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here.

What advice do I have?

Believe in yourself and your own abilities...

If you work hard, you can achieve anything you want to…

Basically, reach for the stars!