Jack of All Trades, Master of…

It has been a year. One full year.

Exactly one year ago I went to bed on the night before starting the first module of my master’s degree at Cranfield University. I shut off the light above the bed in my little campus bedroom and shut my eyes; full of excitement and nervousness for what the next day would bring. Orientation week was over, the team building activities completed. I had met the fellow peers who would be part of my course for the next 12 months. The hard work was about to begin.

And boy was it hard work! I’m not saying that I wasn’t expecting it, but postgraduate study is certainly no walk in the park. From the very first day we were accelerated to full speed and there was never a sign of slowing down. Split over three major phases: modules, a group project and an individual thesis, my taught master’s degree at the Centre for Design at Cranfield was a whirlwind of lectures, assignments, late nights working in the studio, long drives to company headquarters, an exam or two and, in the brief moments of respite, evenings lounging on bean bags watching Game of Thrones on the big screen. Having emerged (not entirely unscathed) on the other side it is great to look back at what a year it was.

The course itself was fantastic. MDes in Innovation and Creativity in Industry is quite a mouthful I must admit, but I thoroughly enjoyed all of the modules that make up the course (even though it may not have felt that way at 3am on a Sunday night trying to frantically complete the week’s assignment). A combination of design, engineering and management, the course covers a wide variety of subjects, from new product development and innovation management to smart materials and whole system design. Coming from an engineering background I revelled in every opportunity to get creative, throw together prototypes or develop a project management strategy for a simulated warehouse project.

Just casually testing UAV's in the studio.
Just casually testing UAV’s in the studio.

To call the group project phase of the course intense would be a rather massive understatement. It was all systems go from the minute the group met for the first time in mid-February to the final presentation day in early April. The project I was a part of involved working with industrial partners including Cisco, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems to explore the opportunities for a product information tracking system. Over the course of the project we travelled extensively, including visits to the BAE docks in Portsmouth and Rolls-Royce facility in Derby. We also typed a lot. Like a lot a lot. As exhausting as the project was, however, it was incredibly rewarding to work on a project of such interest to the industrial partners. We felt like the work we were doing was actually going to lead to something, rather than simply end up hidden in the depths of the library.

The final phase of the course is the individual thesis project, the four-month final stretch that leads to the completion of the course (and hopefully the awarding of a degree). As I have mentioned previously, my thesis project involved developing a vision for the future of the fast-moving consumer goods industry in a circular economy. As with the group project I was lucky enough to work closely with a number of the largest consumer goods companies in the world including Coca-Cola and Unilever. It was a little strange transitioning from the frantic, team atmosphere of the group project to the solitary effort of the thesis, but the four months raced by and, on a sunny Thursday afternoon four weeks ago, we stood behind our posters and presented our work for the last time. Master’s over.

The C4D bunch at the conclusion of the poster exhibition - photo courtesy of Mr Waleed Noaman (and his 41 megapixel cameraphone... ;)
The C4D bunch at the conclusion of the poster exhibition – photo courtesy of Mr Waleed Noaman (and his 41 megapixel cameraphone… 😉

The next day it was time to leave. To say goodbye to the friends we had made over the past 12 months. The C4D team of 2013/14 could not have been better. Hailing from all corners of the globe, speaking more languages than I have toes, they are just a great bunch of people and I am happy to have spent the year with them. Now we just need to plan the annual reunion, making sure to visit everybody’s home country…!

Now, as I have moved to the Isle of Wight to continue working on the transition to the circular economy, the words of the well-travelled hobbit, Bilbo Baggins come to mind…

The Adventure Continues

It has been a year since I left South Africa. Since I set out on a journey that would take me around the world; from South Africa to Australia, New Zealand (or Middle Earth rather), the USA and, ultimately, The UK. I have now been in the UK for 7 Months and am 5 months into my masters degree at Cranfield University.

Bilbo-Baggins-Im-Going-on-an-Adventure-The-Hobbit

I am here studying an MDes in Innovation and Creativity in Industry at the Centre for Competitive Creative Design (C4D) at Cranfield University. It has been a roller coaster ride thus far and I have worked harder than I ever have before, but I have learned more than I could have dreamed of. Not necessarily in terms of academic knowledge (I can hardly claim to be learning more than any other masters students around the world), but so much more than that.

I am part of a cohort of around thirty students who come from no less than 15 countries, including China, Mexico and Poland. Just having the chance to learn and work with such a diverse group of people has been an experience in itself. When you spend an entire weekend in the studio attempting to finish a piece of work with your team, you learn things about cultural differences that are impossible to learn while on holiday! We have, however, developed a great tradition: on Friday evenings, when the weeks work is done, we have an international dinner where people endeavour to share food that is traditional to their country. It always turns into an night of sharing stories of life at home and usually ends up on the Student Association dance floor.

C4D 2013/14

On the academic side we have been exposed to ideas and concepts at the cutting edge. We have been lectured by industry leaders, formula 1 engineers and world-renowned researchers. We had 8 week-long taught modules on topics such as innovation management, consumer trends and behaviours, and whole system design. We are now into the next phase of the program, a three month group project conducted in collaboration with industry. My own project, which involves research into the Circular Economy, is running full-steam ahead.

Following the completion of the group project at the end of April we will immediately begin our individual thesis projects. This will make up the final stretch of the one year masters degree that concludes in September. Once all that is done it will be time for me to start thinking about the next adventure.