Let´s talk about ¨failure¨

failureBy reading the IMFSE blogs, you might think we write about optimistic and cheerful topics because we are optimistic and cheerful people. Indeed! IMFSE students are! however it´s not always rainbows and butterflies (yes, I´m quoting Maroon 5 here) so this time, I will share with you one of my ¨failure¨ during the program.

During the 1st semester, we all struggle with different things. In some cases, home sickness is a strong issue. In other cases, managing the cultural changes and adjusting the learning method can be complicated. In my case, I struggled with one specific course: Basics of structural engineering.

For you to understand better, I must let you know a bit about myself. My background is industrial engineering (focused on processes optimization) with a master in occupational health and safety, this means that basically I have almost cero knowledge in structural engineering. I chose Gent as my 1st university knowing that I would have a challenge with this specific course, however I really liked the rest of the courses so I decided to accept the challenge and go for it.

I won´t lie to you, it was really a challenge. A challenge that in the first semester I didn’t conquered so I ended up failing by a few points even though I tried. In all my academic life, I had never ¨failed¨ that bad and I was feeling that I wasn’t good enough to be in the program, I was questioning all my life decisions out of one ¨fail¨ in my academic records. It took me weeks of mental preparation and a lot of ¨TED talks¨ from my friends and family pointing out that I did very good in the other courses to finally overcome it, and start doing something about it instead of being negative about it.

So, I decided to ¨study like a Granger¨ and improving my weakness.

Spring break came by, and I saw how most of my classmates went for the trip of their lives and I was studying for my exam. Again, I won´t lie. This hit me very hard, however I decided to stop being negative and focus on learning and not only ¨passing¨ the exam. I still don’t know the results of my exam, but I can tell you that I feel satisfied that now I know by heart how to identify lateral torsional buckling out of a description among other things, so yes, I can say that this time I learned.

For what I experienced, ¨failure¨ is an opportunity to learn what your weaknesses are, to know your limits and to push them as far as you can, and the most important, to know when you need to ask for help and to appreciate those in your life that are there to support you in your hardest times.

My message here is: ¨Failure¨ is in your mind.

Learn from the difficulties, surround yourself with people that has a good vibe and never give up!! you can do it and then you can go for a 72 hours trip to Berlin (that´s what I did anyways)


Interview – Vladimir Parezanović

This time, I am interviewing my Serbian friend, and a fellow IMFSE alumnus, Vladimir Parezanović, who was a part of cohort 2012-2014. With several years of experience in fire safety engineering already behind him, he was a perfect person for discussing his thoughts on IMFSE, career, industry etc.

Me: Can you tell me a bit about your background and when did you hear about IMFSE for the first time?

Vladimir: My background is in Civil / Structural Engineering and I practiced it for several years before opting to make a career change. I stumbled upon the IMFSE programme while browsing through the Erasmus Mundus master programmes from pure curiosity.

Me: How did you feel about the programme before enrolling, and how do you feel now being an alumnus? Did it meet your expectations?

Vladimir: It is very hard to say whether it met expectations as I cannot claim that I had an extensive understanding of what Fire Safety Engineering is in its entirety and how it can be widely applied in industry.  I would rather say I had an idea, a limited idea, about few fields of application. But the spark that Prof Jose Torero initiated during the application interview was a tipping point for me to go ahead.

Only now when I became an alumnus I realised how great foundation for further development the programme offers.  I would not exaggerate saying I am really honoured to hold an IMFSE degree in Fire Safety, and moreover to be thought by the exceptional lecturers.

Me: When you remember IMFSE, what thoughts come to your mind the first? Some course, professor, university, lab, fellow friend, trip or maybe a party?

Vladimir: Hard choice… It is rather few.

Riding a bike on snow and -15°C, barbecues on 10°C, falling off the bike after the first encounter with Belgian beers, Edinburgh skies (i.e. rare blue ones), Karla’s confessions on childhood experiences with fire, showing IMFSE colleagues my city, fantastic lectures by Daniel and Rita, the messy all-nighter in Copenhagen, cruising deserted Ghent old city on a bike in the night, and the email Patrick should have never seen 🙂


Me: How important is it that IMFSE is such an internationalized programme? Are you still in touch with your fellow friends?

Vladimir: I believe that IMFSE alumni (while probably not being entirely aware) are collecting one exceptional bank of knowledge. They are researchers or practice FSE in consultancies, they reside in 20+ counties where they can apply state of art Fire Safety Engineering, and they have an opportunity to further learn from leading lecturers/engineers in the field.

And they are still fairly well connected through the alumni Google group where they can discuss any issues or seek for an advice. That is absolutely fantastic! Personally, I am in contact with few of my colleagues on a more frequent basis, while with others through a passive contact such as Facebook, etc.

Me: What do you do now, and how useful was having IMFSE degree for finding a job and consequently working? Did it provide enough relevant education?

Vladimir: I practice Fire Safety Engineering in Australia at the moment. I was told during my application interview something like “Finding a job can be problematic only from a geographical perspective – in some regions FSE is less and in some more developed; but finding a job in regions where FSE is practiced on a very high level is a piece of cake” and that is absolutely true. As I worked only on the Australian market I can confirm that technically we are exceptionally well prepared for the industry.

The last part of the question I answered under 2. I would also add that besides the technical foundation that programme offers, it also highly nurtures critical thinking – a very important aspect in this relatively new area of engineering.


Me: Can you make small comparison between studies at universities of Gent, Lund and Edinburgh? What about living in those cities, what are main advantages of each?

Vladimir: Ghent – demanding with assignments schedule through the semester and rather short period for exam preparation; on the other hand, a lot can be learnt and the exams weren’t too difficult though.

Lund – all perfectly organised and scheduled. Proper exams with very fair marking (with relatively unfair conversion to the programme marking system 🙂 ).

Edinburgh – a bit too DIY teaching approach which can be somewhat distressing when one kicks off as a newbie in the Fire Safety world, but in contrast it stimulates research skills. Exams of a reasonable complexity, however time-wise very stressful.

Me: How did you find moving to different country each semester? Was it too dynamic and maybe even a bit hard, or you just enjoyed it?

Vladimir: Absolutely enjoyed it! But it becomes a bit too much after 2 years and it is perfect time to settle down a bit J I did not find it particularly difficult.

Me: Where is IMFSE in comparison to professional fire safety globally? Does it keep up with industry?

Vladimir: I dare to say it is much ahead of the industry.

Me: If you had to choose one thing you learnt during your IMFSE master studies, that you are the proudest of, what would it be?

Vladimir: How candle works.

Me: What is your message for the future IMFSE students?

Vladimir: You are about to embark on a beautiful journey!

Interview – Patrick van Hees

IMFSE exists for almost 10 years now, and one of the key factors in making it happen is definitely professor Patrick Van Hees from Lund University. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for my blog post about IMFSE.

Me: Can you tell me a bit about your background? And also, how do you see the fact that IMFSE enrols people with various backgrounds, e.g. engineers, architects, physicists, etc.?

Patrick: I have a degree from Gent University. It is under the department of Civil Engineering, but I studied electromechanical engineering. Afterwards I did my PhD in Fire.

The programme is made in such a way to lead people with diverse backgrounds all the way to the finish. Having people with different backgrounds is also really good because than they can see other approaches to solving problems, and they can learn a lot from each other. Some may face minor difficulties with one subject, some others maybe with another course, but in the end with some group work it all ends up being mutually beneficial both for the students and for the programme!

It’s good for students to have diversification in backgrounds, but of course it shouldn’t be too wide. And so far, it worked like this just well! Also, it’s important that we do all those various courses since fire safety engineering is rather multidisciplinary so the basics should be there.

Me: Where is IMFSE in comparison to the rest of the World? How developed is fire safety in general, and is it taught at many of universities?

Patrick: I am biased of course, but I think that our education is one of the Top in the world, because it has this synergy with three major universities and also three more associated partner universities that are all extremely good ranked and are respectful institutions. I am sure the program is in the top 5 in the world.

On the other hand, there are not too many education programs in this field. In fact, in Europe it is quite limited, that’s why it is important to join forces because you need to build the critical mass.

Fire safety engineering is an area which grows a lot, while we think that we have everything under control, but we still have to learn much more. I could call it a young engineering science. In general, in the world there are not too many places where it is taught. The power of good education is having good research. Our universities surely have it.


Me: What do you think is important for the future career of a fire engineer? Which skills and abilities?

Patrick: Apart from a good technical and theoretical background, he or she has to work in multidisciplinary environment, with architects, building engineers, fire engineers, etc.  The challenge is to be able to have enough knowledge. I think our program covers all of the important topics in fire engineering (From fire dynamics and turbulence over risk assessment to human behaviour in fire)

Me: What are the “hottest topics” in fire industry at the moment and what will they be in the future period?

Patrick: Buildings get more complex, technologies get more complex etc. So, the complexity of threats. How to deal with them and be able to keep up with all those complexities.

Me: What are the differences between the education nowadays and back in the day when you were a student?

Patrick: There is one thing, I think today that student these have more insight and influence on the studies. They have input channels. It was almost impossible back in a day. You could not question anything. It is really a good thing. You could not access the professors. This interview would not be possible 😊

Now students have a huge influence and that is really important!

Another thing is of course technologies and the resources that students have nowadays are way better. That’s great. We had to have books, and we had old calculators that could hardly calculate sin or cos.


Me: Are there any major differences between us and the students from previous generations?

Patrick: Now it is much more international. This programme brought a lot of internationalization. We barely had any students from abroad both in Ghent or here. It enriches people a lot, so they can try to grow together and pick the best from each other.

Me: Can you tell me some interesting anecdote or interesting story from previous IMFSE students?

Patrick: There was a student who went to fire training to “Revinge” and burnt his foot. It was funny that us as fire safety engineers couldn’t even take care of all the precautions and protect ourselves. There were amusing reactions from the administration 😊

Me: Any message for the current and the future IMFSE students?

Patrick: Spread the word about the program!

Also, it is important to keep the good work and develop yourselves either on PHDs or in industry but to keep doing fire safety on the highest possible level and push the boundaries of our field constantly.

IMFSE final

Finite Element Analysis for solids course (U of Edinburgh)

As I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, which you can read it here, the University of Edinburgh offered us four courses during our third semester.  In this blog, I will write about the Finite Element Analysis (FEA) course. As I did not have any experience with the FEA before during my undergraduate degree, I was always wondering what the FEA is and what`s the fire application for it. In this blog, I will briefly present my experience with the FEA course at the University of Edinburgh last semester.

Finite Element Analysis is basically a numerical method for solving engineering problems; the main engineering areas that use FEA are the structural analysis, heat transfer and fluids. The main concept of the FEA is to divide the domain of your geometry of study into simpler parts which are called subdomains, then to write a global system of equations with each subdomain represented by a set of equations. This global system of equations has some techniques to be solved based on some initial values of the original problem to end up with a numerical solution.

FEA can be a useful and critical tool in fire safety applications, for instance, using the correct FEA software to conduct heat transfer analysis, is an effective way to determine the temperature development of a specific structural element during a fire. Usually, the heat transfer analysis is done with stress analysis to understand the mechanical response of the element in the case of fire. After doing the heat-stress analysis, the fire engineer will have most of the information needed to find the best protection for this structural element. Doing such analysis will highly support the design and the risk analysis decisions.

During our course, we were taught how the FEA software works theoretically and then we had hands-on tutorials on Abaqus software which is one of the main FEA software packages. At the end of the course, we have to make a small individual project to analyze a simple structural element using Abaqus, which effectively enhanced our understanding to the software and will definitely help us later to independently investigate any FEA software needed in our professional career. In this photo, you can see Pasquale happy after getting some good results using Abaqus during our trials at the university of Edinburgh`s computer labs.


Many thanks are given to the course’s teachers prof. Pankaj and prof. Karamanos, who spare no effort with us last semester.

**To read about the fire lab course (which was also one of the courses offered at the university of Edinburgh during the third semester) please press here


How do you feel about dinosaurs?


As a 90’s kid, I grew up with the idea that if I was in Steven Spielberg’s world of “Jurassic Park” I would have done different things than the characters in the movie. I would have overcome the situation just 10 minutes after it all went down because… who is afraid of a giant lizard, right? Not me. However, last week I found out that actually, I would have frozen in front of them so probabilities say that I would have been eaten in about 10 minutes… tops.

How do I know that? Well, I was a part of a virtual reality experiment conducted by Francisco Rosero and David Mayorga for their master thesis in Lund. My colleague’s thesis wasn’t exactly about dinosaurs, it was about new ways of taking advantages of new technologies for Fire Safety Engineering purposes, in this case, virtual reality.

Virtual reality is a technology that uses headsets to recreate different virtual environments resembling any place or situation you want. The basic idea is to help the user to immerse in the scenario completely as they can see all the surrounding in 360 degrees. It has been used for video games (look this cool video of Skyrim) and also to help elderly people to experience being out of the care house, they can “go” to a mountain or “walk” in front of the beach, here is a very touching video of this amazing project.

For fire safety engineering purposes, Francisco and David had different approaches. Francisco for example based his thesis in using virtual reality as a learning tool on how to identify if you can extinguish a fire or if you need to run out of there because the fire is completely out of control. On the other hand, David focused on setting different scenarios of exit signs along a tunnel to know which ones where easier to identify by the users in case of evacuation.

Both thesis had different objectives but in the 2 of them the participants of the experimental phase were thrilled. The details of the fire in Francisco’s scenarios were impressive as while you were standing right next to it you could feel kind of afraid to get burnt with the largest fire scenario. In David’s set up, the details of the tunnel were outstanding, you could think you were inside of the tunnel looking for an exit sign just to get out of there. As a bonus, they also showed a series of pre-stablished scenarios for us to experience a bit more on virtual reality (this is where I discovered my dinosaur phobia)

As first-year students, we are two weeks away from choosing our master thesis topics and with this decision it also comes in which city we´ll spend the 4th semester. A lot of options have been set for us, all of them interesting and applicable to the fire safety engineering field, hopefully all of us will get a topic that make us passionate to be able to develop it in the best possible way, just as Francisco and David did with virtual reality. I can only add, that I am definitely considering making someone discover a dinosaur phobia next year.


Field trip to DBI

Field trips can be very useful as they give an insight into the industry and increase awareness about career opportunities along with developing network of contacts. Last week, we had our first field trip: a visit to Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology (DBI) located in Hvidovre, a suburb of Copenhagen. We were kindly welcomed by Karlis, an IMFSE alumni currently working at DBI. He had planned a program full of activities to introduce us to DBI.

First, we were welcomed by Mr. Damgaard, the Head of the Research and Development Department at DBI, which is one of the important divisions at DBI as many resources are invested into research to meet the needs of clients. After that Karlis introduced us to a number of DBI services related to fire safety and prevention such as consulting, certification, fire testing, inspection, and fire investigation. However, non-fire related services including safety and security consulting  are also provided by DBI.

After familiriazing ourselves with DBI services, we were given a short presentation about Fire Safety Consultancy at DBI: one of the projects was introduced where performance-based design had been used to ensure that appropriate level of fire safety can be achieved without the code compliance. Then, during the next presentation we were introduced 2 important questions that should be asked to deal with the challenges of fire safety: What is the problem? Who has that problem?


After delicious lunch, we had a visit to Fire Testing facilities at DBI. We were impressed with the scale of fire resistance laboratory which is well-equipped to determine specimens compliance with the required test standards. The laboratory has two furnaces for classification tests and a model furnace for exploratory tests. Doors/windows, coverings, horizontal dividing structures, and even the ship components up to 4.48 meters high can be tested at DBI.

The presentations about Facade Fire Safety and Modelling of Pressurized Staircases with FDS were in particular interesting as they correspond to some of the thesis topics offered by universities and sponsoring companies.

Overall, we had a great day with full of activites, and on behalf of first year IMFSE students, I want to thank the Fire Safety Engineering Division at Lund University and DBI for arranging and organizing this interesting and informative field trip.