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Originally from Hartlepool in the UK, Steve has been living in the United Arab Emirates for the past thirteen years. He is a Lead Mechanical Commissioning Engineer for ZADCO, an oil and gas operator. In July 2016 he graduated with an MSc in Project Management – Oil & Gas.

After over 25 years in the oil and gas industry, Steve Armstrong decided it was time to formalise his experience with an MSc in Project Management, studying online with the University of Liverpool.

“Apart from proving to myself I could handle the challenge, I embarked on a masters to keep in front of the competition, and because engineers without a degree are not recognised in many countries, including the United Arab Emirates.”

Steve started his career in engineering with an apprenticeship, and developed his skills on the job. He eventually specialised in testing newly constructed oil rigs and processing facilities to ensure they are fully compliant, and safe to operate, before they become operational.

It’s a complex process that involves coordinating a team of engineers and checking everything meticulously before giving a final sign off.

Theory meets practice

Steve was an experienced project engineer when he began his masters, and he was able to reinforce his experience with relevant academic theory thanks to the programme.

“It made the penny drop,” he says. “I realised that I was always on the right track.”

The programme also prompted Steve to think about aspects of the oil and gas industry he had not considered in detail before, such as how events in one country can have a knock-on effect in other countries.

Interacting with fellow students from around the world was another bonus for Steve.

“The diversity of cultures represented in the online classroom taught me there isn’t a single answer to one question. You can approach a problem from different angles.” Studying with international students has influenced the way he interacts with members of his international team.

“It taught me to open my eyes, ears and mind with respect to the thoughts of those around me in the workplace when considering the bigger picture,” he says.

Family support

Finding the time to dedicate to his masters was a challenge for Steve, as it is for most online students, and he recommends that new students ensure they have the full support of their families because of the time pressures that come with undertaking a masters degree with the University of Liverpool.

Steve speaks enthusiastically about the support he received from his wife and daughters. “If it wasn’t for them, I would have failed for certain,” he says. His daughter Kate remembers visiting her parents in Abu Dhabi and being told to sit in silence because Steve had to concentrate on an assignment.

Studying has become a family affair for the Armstrongs: both of Steve’s daughters were studying for university degrees at the same time as their dad, and his wife Kathryn is now also studying for a qualification.

Steve’s long-term ambition is to continue working in his current field as a consultant. Now with an MSc in Project Management from the University of Liverpool, he is ready to consider this option.

“Having an MSc is a major step forward for me,” he says. “It gave me the confidence, hope and knowledge to move forward into consultancy.”

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