Reflections, research and advice: Q&A with our recent academic prize winners

Posted on: 22 December, 2021

In addition to the conferment of certificates handed out to graduands at our graduation ceremonies, awards are also presented to those who attained the best overall performance on each of our programmes.

To achieve the best result in your cohort on your programme is an outstanding achievement. For an insight into what it takes to achieve such results, we asked some of our 2020 prize winners – who received their awards at our September graduation – for their reflections on their studies with us and what advice they would give to those students at the start of their academic journeys.

Project manager, Mert Atli, won The CMI Prize for best performance on our MBA Construction and Real Estate programme; senior surveyor, Cara Hardman, won The Chase and Partners Prize for best performance on our MSc Real Estate programme; and operations manager – commercial property, Rob Clegg, won The UCEM Prize for best performance on our BSc (Hons) Building Surveying programme.

How does it feel to win the prize for best performance on your programme?

Cara HardmanCara Hardman: Great! I put in a lot of long hours in the evenings and weekends to complete the Master’s course alongside my full-time management surveyor role, so I’m glad this paid off and grateful it has been recognised.

I was already proud of myself for achieving a Distinction in what was a challenging two years, so winning the award was an added bonus for me!






Mert Atli: It’s a great feeling to be recognised, especially considering the difficult times we’ve all been through together. I also feel very lucky to had been among a wonderful group of people studying in the same class as me. The support we gave each other during this period was extraordinary.

Rob Clegg: It is an honour to receive this prize which adds a further sense of reward to graduating.

How would you reflect on your studies with UCEM?

Rob: I enjoyed my journey with UCEM and learnt a great deal. From the outset, I was able to apply my learning to my professional practice which supported my career development and ensured I maintained pace with industry standards.

I faced a plethora of challenges throughout the course but the exceptional tutor support and networking with fellow students kept me on track.

I reflect fondly on my studies and my time with UCEM.

Cara: I knew that completing a Master’s alongside a full-time job was not going to be easy and it by no means was, but the set-up of the UCEM course allowed me to be flexible with how I managed my studies with the support of my employer, Workman LLP.

I’d say I’m an independent learner anyway so online learning suited me, but the tutors and students were always available if I needed any help, via the VLE [virtual learning environment].

The material covered in the modules was interesting and relevant, and a lot of the knowledge has been transferable in my role as a management surveyor. I also think it helped build my understanding of real estate as a whole, which was valuable for my Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) to become a chartered surveyor.

I would recommend the course to anyone looking to further their knowledge or career in real estate and think the course structure is ideal for anyone who is undertaking a MSc alongside their employment or working towards professional membership.

Mert AtliMert: It was a very challenging, though rewarding, process I had to go through, like many of my friends in my cohort. We pushed through these times by imagining a brighter future for all of us and focusing on our work. Our tutors and other UCEM personnel were extremely understanding and helpful over this period. That is why UCEM’s MBA will always have a special place in my life.






Could you talk me through what you did for your dissertation.

Mert: I wanted to explore the impact of innovative tools on the built environment, focusing on their impact on strategic decision-making, as I personally believe that innovation is the main driving force behind growth and tackling social challenges. It can help companies improve work-life balance and achieve sustainable, competitive advantage.

Having said that, implementing innovation is no easy task for leaders, given the fact that ‘change’ is always difficult as people are often reluctant and resistant. Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 has fueled the advancement of innovation for all of us.

I saw the reluctance to change first-hand at the mega-project I was involved in back then. I collected data from my colleagues and friends from all over the world with questionnaires and interviews. These have helped me understand the different perceptions on construction innovation with its advantages and disadvantages. Their input was parallel to the current school of thought, which reinforced my arguments.

As for my method of putting the dissertation together, I allocated an hour each day before work for reading and brainstorming the ideas I had for some sections. At the weekends, I gathered my notes and structured the dissertation draft. Once I had the data, I analysed them and summarised properly considering the constraints.

Rob: My dissertation focused on the reasons for the low uptake of modern methods of construction (MMC) in England’s housebuilding sector, despite a longstanding consensus that increased use will alleviate housing market pressures, and improve industry standards and environmental performance. By reviewing extant literature, and using quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, the project investigated current barriers faced by MMC users. The participants’ experiences, challenges and real-term gains were examined to evaluate growth barriers and provide recommendations for increased uptake.

Cara: At the time of writing my dissertation, the future of the retail high street was a big talking point, particularly as I work in the retail management sector. There was a huge amount of negativity in the media and literature regarding the decline of the local high street, and as I managed retail high street properties in my day-to-day role, it was of particular interest to me to investigate whether this was painting a true picture of the high street’s future.

I studied current literature to examine the reasons why the high street was in decline and then carried out my own research, using a local high street as a case study, to determine if this reflected the national trends and the specific driving forces behind this. Interestingly, I found that the high street was in a period of transition, rather than decline, and that as consumer habits and behaviour was changing, the high streets needed to evolve with this in order to remain relevant.

The future of the high streets is not as bleak as you are led to believe; it is simply in a transitional phase and, importantly, retailers and key stakeholders need to respond in a positive and collaborative manner to give the British high street its best chance.

What advice would you have for students at the start of their journey with UCEM?

Rob CleggRob: Enjoy it and start early! At the beginning of each module, I prepared a draft for the first assignment, which was developed as we progressed. This prevented me being overwhelmed later and enabled me to target my research.

There will invariably be ups and downs, especially when balancing studies with work and family commitments, so take each module at a time, engage with tutors and fellow students, and be realistic when allocating your time. There is plenty of support and resource available so be sure to use it.




Cara: I would advise students starting their journey to really focus on their organisation and time management, as this is key. It’s easy to get overwhelmed at first with all the resources and information you need to get through each week but, if you organise your time well, then it definitely becomes more manageable and achievable.

I’d also recommend students to use the online discussions on the VLE if they’re unsure of anything, as there is generally always someone there to help, and you’ll find that a lot of other people are in the same boat.

Finally, I’d advise students to select modules and a dissertation topic that interests you, as this helps keep you motivated during those late evenings and weekends!

Mert: Try to imagine the ways you can implement the information you gain through the weekly activities on the VLE to your day-to-day work. Notwithstanding the differences in legislations, work culture or the ways you work with the examples given in your modules, you will definitely find common ideas you can use. And don’t forget – discussion forums are your friend, use them wisely!