Interview – Grunde Jomaas

One of the key reasons why IMFSE is managing to maintain such a high quality are certainly all the people involved in making it happen – from professors and teaching assistants, to all the staff members and of course the students. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Grunde Jomaas at the University of Edinburgh, and we talked about IMFSE, fire engineering world and many other interesting topics.

Me: Can you tell me a bit about your background, and how you entered the world of Fire Safety?

Grunde: I was always fascinated by fire, by building fires and bonfires and things like that.

I had gone to Math and Science in High School so a lot of my friends were studying engineering. One friend was actually studying in Haugesund, Norway, where they have a program in fire safety. It seemed like a great program, so I applied, started there, and from there on it really caught me.

Already during the 1st semester in Haugesund, I met lecturer Bjarne Christian Hagen. He was very inspiring, with lots of energy and always being funny and easily approachable. He had studied at University of Maryland, and some friends and I started to look into studying abroad.

Having heard about University of Maryland being mentioned in many chapters of the literature I read, and following Bjarne’s example, I decided to continue my studies at the University of Maryland, and that’s when it really excelled.

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Back where it all started – Norway

In the 1st semester I had Jose Torero for one of my Fire Classes. After the first, very inspiring semester, I started working with Jose, and ended up working with him for 2.5 years in the FETS (Fire Engineering and Thermal Sciences) Lab until I graduated!  At UMD, I also took a class called Fire Risk Assessment Methods with Fred Mowrer. It was a lab class, where you conduct fire lab experiments and consequently write lab reports. Somewhere similar to the lab class IMFSE students have in Edinburgh. That’s when I really felt the “Oh I really love this” sensation. The feeling of being able to study things, and then apply and examine your theoretical knowledge and connect things was just great!

Me: How did you get involved with IMFSE?

Grunde: As I have known Jose for some time, I heard about the IMFSE already in the planning phase, and with time I met Patrick and Bart at conferences and through my job at DTU (Technical University of Denmark).

I have also recommended IMFSE to students. A student that I supervised for his BSc thesis at DTU, Rolff Leisted applied to and completed to program. It turns out that was a ‘good investment’ as Rolff came back to study for a PhD at DTU in Copenhagen. Then in 2016 I came to Edinburgh, and I became the local Program Director. I have really enjoyed getting more directly involved with the program and the IMFSE students.

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Welcoming lunch for the IMFSE students at the University of Edinburgh

Me: How was the IMFSE experience so far from your perspective and what do you expect from it in future?

Grunde: I’ve truly enjoyed spending time with the students. Currently, I do not teach in the program, but I have the privilege of being in charge of the welcome week. I meet the students, we have social activities. I am the personal tutor to all the students and I assist them with any issues they might have.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the interviews that we did, as it allowed me to interact with many of the very talented people that are applying to the program. And then graduation, I’ve been going to couple of graduations, where I also had the pleasure of giving the commencement speech. Thus, even though I haven’t been with all the cohorts seeing them trough, I have seen sort of both the beginning and the end already. Also, here in Edinburgh, we have PhD students from the program, we see that they succeed.

If you look at where the program is going, currently we are in the process of reapplying for the funding from the EU. We hope and think that there is space for growth in the program.

We have very good students and a very high graduation rate. So far students from approximately 60 countries have been in the program. So, it clearly shows that we attract talents from all over the World and that we’re truly a global program.

Hopefully we will continue to attract talent from all over the World, and we hope that many of the graduates go back to their home countries and contribute to improve and promote fire safety engineering there.

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Representing IMFSE high above the ground – conducting experiments in parabolic flights

Me: Where is IMFSE as a program in comparison to the rest of the world? How competitive and ready are IMFSE graduates for fire safety engineering careers after obtaining their degrees?

Grunde: The classic answer to that, which is also the true is: we’re second to none. It means that we are not necessarily saying that we are for sure the best, but there is no program that is better. We can compete in quality with anybody at the Masters level.

Obviously, Lund and Edinburgh have very long traditions for Fire Safety, and they have bigger fire safety groups. But the quality that Ghent has with Bart and his colleagues is also impressive. And it is great that they have hired the incredibly talented Ruben van Coile recently.

Furthermore, the universities themselves are all very old and prestigious, with the latter being constantly confirmed in international rankings. It’s important to mention that we were labelled as a success story by the Erasmus program. And this is something that all of us have received recognition for from our respective universities. Of course, we work hard to make the program the quality it is, but we get the support from our respective universities because they believe it is very strong.

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Signing the Professorial Roll at The University of Edinburgh

Given that the program is a top program, and being recognized as such, it is proven that most students have the job before, or very shortly after graduating. If you want to define a good quality program, you need to see how employable the program’s graduates are, because the students are the product, so that’s a real measure. And, IMFSE students get jobs, and the jobs are often secured before graduation.

Talking about jobs, after studying in 3 or 4 countries over 2 years and interacting with all these various people, you become more open minded and you are not so afraid to apply for a job in a new country – you have the world at your feet!

So, by nature of the program you see opportunities, you become explorers, you become confident in your abilities to manage new settings. And you seek opportunities that you might otherwise not have sought. Hence, it enables you to get a wider range, and quite possibly, more interesting jobs.

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

Grunde: Rather than just skills, I would say competence is the key.

In undergraduate studies (BSc), the focus is often on knowledge and skills. Once you get on to MSc program, we still teach you some skills – technical skills and knowledge you did not have, but we want you to have confidence in your abilities to face new, open problems. That’s how you implement skills and knowledge into making a good engineering decision and making it work, and that’s how you become truly competent.

So, it’s obviously a need to have this broad foundation that you can understand the problem, and then you can make a competent answer. So, all of the skills and the knowledge makes that you can see a problem from different angles, and I think that’s the strength you gain.

Furthermore, inherently in the program, as you are going to Lund, Gent, Edinburgh, you get different views on things, different teaching styles, and different ways of approaching a problem. Additionally, throughout the program we try to connect you with industry so you really have a feel for how to implement what you learned.

More and more people try to define what competence is. Our program has been developed, both in collaboration with industry and other academics, to ensure that we have the base to provide the competence that will enable you to provide unique, safe solutions to real challenges in the built environment!

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Prof Dougal Drysdale with Prof Grunde Jomaas and IMFSE 1st year students

Me: What do you think about the fact that IMFSE accepts students with various different engineering and scientific backgrounds?

Grunde: That has to stop immediately!! 😉.

On a more serious note, I think – feeding back to the previous answer, it’s a strength. The way it works in my impression is that the students work very closely in the program. You get to see the view of others, you get to see how all different people think and approach problems.

Fire safety is really a field where you have to work with different stakeholders at all points. You’re not there as a standalone person. You have to work with all the other branches of engineering. I think that coming from different countries and different backgrounds increases the flavour and it ensures that things are not overlooked. If you become more and more narrow-minded, you see only what you see and you can become too focused on certain details, and that’s the easiest way to overlook something.

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Celebrating Prof Jomaas’ Inaugural Lecture at the University of Edinburgh

I think this mix of people enriches the program and makes us question things and repeat constantly one of the important questions, I saw it at board of the dean at DTU,
Could it be otherwise? That’s a good question to think about. My way is not all the time correct. Somebody else with slightly different background might have a better solution.

Me: What do you think about where Fire Safety Engineering is nowadays? How acknowledged is it in the world in general?

Grunde: We’re still fighting to get the appreciation, status and the position that we should have. I’ve heard that in some languages Fire Safety Engineering does not even exist. Some say: “In my home language that would be a made-up word. People wouldn’t even know what that is.” From a global perspective that gives you an insight.
The statistics (http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/fires/by-country/) also show that there are countries, in different places in the world, that have a factor of 10-20 times (or even more) higher fatality rates than more developed countries. So, there is obviously a lot of work to be done.

Fire safety engineers are often seen as somebody that only adds cost and doesn’t add value. That could actually be seen as the definition of not getting the recognition. Many people don’t see the meaning of what we do until an accident happens.

However, if we weren’t doing our work, we would have accidents and huge fires happening much more often. Of course, some recent events have put a focus on fire safety as a field and that there is a lack of competence. It is our job to inform politicians and all stakeholders in the built environment that we have competence and we can supply competence. As such, we need to get recognition as the ones who provide the competence in Fire Safety Engineering. And that should be done through education at universities. And, as mentioned we provide a first-rate fire safety engineering education.

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Presenting the fire lab – where all the magic happens!

Me: Is Fire Engineering being developed and researched as much as it should be? What about the less developed world where fire engineering is on quite a low level. How could we impact that?

Grunde: The program is obviously trying to impact that, and any educated person has a responsibility to share his or her knowledge. Some of the knowledge we see as basic is not available in many countries. For example, the severity of fires in the textile industry in Bangladesh and in Informal settlement can be significantly reduced with existing knowledge. In fact, we have a project entitled “Improving the Fire Resilience of Informal Settlements to Fire” (IRIS-Fire) at the University of Edinburgh (https://www.iris-fire.com/). That’s a way to contribute. Actually, one of the PhD students in that project is an IMFSE alumnus, Mohamed Beshir. In general, when we are in education we pledge to share our knowledge. We should share it with the whole world, and research wise we should try to follow up. There is simple or basic knowledge that could go far in a lot of countries.

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

Grunde: Keep being the good ambassadors. Keep talking to people and mention the program. You also have the role to spread it to the world. Some of you are maybe the one of very few in your country doing fire safety. So, keep spreading the word about the quality that program has.

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1st year students celebrating successful accomplishment of the 1st semester

But also, do well and keep doing well. The program is approaching its 10 years anniversary; thus we’re getting to the point where some of the early graduates will assume leadership positions. Once you moved up in the rank, remember also where you came from, and that the IMFSE program probably played a small part in your success. Keep recommending the program to people because that’s how we build up the pyramid. We need numbers. We need more students and more graduates. Because there is plenty of fire safety engineering challenges in the world that is in need of competent fire safety engineers like the IMFSE graduates!

Me: Tell me 3 first words that come to your mind when you think of IMFSE

Grunde: Bart Merci, Jose Torero, and international quality education!

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And where would we be without BRE? 🙂

 

 

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One perfect day in Edinburgh

When you study abroad, you certainly want to make the most out of your time in a new country.  Therefore, whenever you have some spare time, you try to take a chance and explore some new interesting places. When you are lucky enough to study in the capital of Scotland, you don’t need to travel far. All you need is to set off and discover the numerous beauties of the city of Edinburgh. As the blog about the nice places to visit in Edinburgh would probably be 20 pages long, I’ll try to summarize how I think that a day in Edinburgh can be spent most efficiently, and what are the places I take my friends to, when they come for a visit!

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As the city is built on seven hills, among which the most famous is certainly the Arthur’s Seat, it’s always a good idea to start a day with a hike up to this 250m high extinct volcano. Although it might seem like a tough hike looking from distance, the peak is actually quite reachable with a lot of different paths approaching it from all sides. From the bottom to the top, in no more than 25-30 minutes you will find yourself having some spectacular panoramic views of the whole city and overlooking the region of Lothian. These views will certainly help you in comprehending the city structure better, and planning your day easier.

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As you get down from the hill at the northern side, you will come upon the famous Holyrood Palace standing next to the Queen’s Gallery. A lavish summer residence of her Majesty and the Gallery are open to the public for a “bargain” – £16.60, so me, as well as, I assume, many students, prefer admiring their exteriors (them from the outside). Luckily, right across the street from the palace stands the new Scottish Parliament building. Apart from admiring this impressive building from the outside, you can actually enter it for free. What’s even more interesting, also for free and without booking in advance, the public is allowed to attend the parliament sessions held in the debating hall. This can end up being really engaging, as the only time I went for a debate, a turbulent discussion about the Scottish Fire Safety Regulations was held, with reflections on the terrible Grenfell Tower fire that happened in June this year in London.

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The Debate is ON

After you’re done with the parliament, and you probably already start to miss climbing a hill, don’t worry any further, and head towards the Calton Hill! Although way smaller than the Arthur’s seat, this lovely hill in the heart of the city is equally impressive. Many great monuments can be found on this Hill, but that’s not what it’s the most famous for. This hill is actually called “The Birthplace of The Panorama”. Namely, Irish painter and a master of perspective from the late 18th century, Robert Barker, visiting the Calton Hill one day came up with the idea of the panorama. Using some self-designed apparatus, the artist managed to sketch out a 360-degree view of Edinburgh from the hilltop which happened to be the creation of one of the most popular painting forms at the time.

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Panoramic view from Calton Hill

After you get down from the hill, you will find yourself at the beginning of Edinburgh’s most famous shopping street – the Princess street. Even if you’re not into shopping, this lively street is always a nice place to walk through, especially when you add the magnificent views of the castle. If you happen to be in Edinburgh during the Christmas time, you will be lucky to experience the Christmas street at its finest – all immersed in the Christmas market.

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Just a small detour from the west end of the Princess street will take you to another “must visit” place – the picturesque area – the Dean Village.

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After you’ve seen all of this, a small circle below the Castle hill will get you to the Grass Market which is located next to several important “Harry Potter” related places. First of all – The Elephant House bar where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, then the Victoria street which served as the inspiration for the Diagon Alley, and finally the Greyfriars graveyard where grave of the notorious Thomas Riddell (Lord Voldemort) can be found.

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The Diagon Alley – get your Nimbus 2000 half a price 😉

If you still have some time and energy, in no time you can get to the Edinburgh’s attraction #1 – the Castle of Edinburgh. Although the entrance fee is £17, personally I’d say it’s worth it, and if like me you plan on staying a bit longer and visiting some more Scottish castles, than a £42 yearly pass to all the Scottish castles is absolutely the best option.

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Finally, as the night comes you can head to some of the various gin/whisky bars or just the regular Scottish pubs, and in the later hours make sure to end up in the famous Cowgate where all the nightlife secrets are kept!

Fire Science Laboratory Course

Being fire safety engineering students, clearly, we are all interested in the whole theoretical background of fire science, but more than anything we love actually conducting the laboratory experiments and thus seeing some proper fire live! That is the reason why probably the majority of the IMFSE students are looking forward the most to the course “Fire Science Laboratory” given by Prof Rory Hadden at the University of Edinburgh during the 3rd semester of our program.

The course consists of 5 laboratory sessions followed by a detailed report about the whole experiment. Another great thing that students usually like about the courses such as this one is that there is no exam, but the performance on the 5 laboratory sessions, together with the lab report, is assessed, and those scores combined give the final grade.

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IMFSE crew with PhD student and our lab supervisor Nikolai Gerasimov

The first lab deals with a particularly interesting, and maybe not that well known phenomena of “spontaneous ignition”. Basically, in simple words, some materials, if sufficiently porous can undergo an exothermic reaction (reaction of releasing heat) generating heat faster than it can be lost. If the process lasts sufficiently long and the favorable conditions have been met, the material can auto-ignite.

In our lab, we used Milk Powder as the sample and one of the interesting things we discovered was that the bigger the size of the sample was, the smaller the auto-ignition temperatures were. In fact, apart from the ambient temperature, the most important factors determining the auto-ignition temperature are the size and the shape of the body of material involved. That’s why when transporting or storing material prone to auto-ignition it should be kept in smaller packs, rather than piled up!

The second lab was dedicated to examining two interesting terms – firepoint and flashpoint. For all the readers who are not familiar with those terms (maybe even future IMFSE students) and that are wondering what these two might mean, I highly encourage you to look them up on internet!

During the lab session, an unknown fuel was given to us, and by finding its fire and flashpoints, we were able to identify the mysterious fuel 😊

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Laboratory number 3 was named “Ignition of Solids and Heat Release Rate”. It was an opportunity to work with the famous cone calorimeter! By varying the heat flux imposed by the heater to our PMMA sample, we arrived to the critical heat flux needed for our sample to ignite. Apart from being quite familiar with how a cone calorimeter apparatus works, which can be quite handy, we also saw some nice flames coming out of our PMMA sample which certainly put enlightened smiles on our faces 😉

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Belgium, Coasta Rica and Brazil having fun with the Cone Calorimeter

The fourth lab was dealing with the “flame spread”. By analyzing this crucial fire characteristic, we learned a lot about all the factors and conditions affecting the flame spread positively or negatively – orientation, thickness, width, thermal properties of the sample, environmental effects etc. And yes, as we used way longer PMMA samples for this lab – we witnessed an even bigger fire this time! 🔥

The last, but not the least, lab number 5 was dedicated to the Pool fires! By burning Heptane and Diesel fuels, we analyzed how well do the theoretical correlations and calculations for the average temperature, flame height, heat release rate and air entrainment actually meet the reality. P.S. This time the fire was so big that we even had a few PhD students stopping by to see it!sdr

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All in all, after taking the course, I can say that I feel like I have deepened my fire engineering knowledge, but also that I became quite familiar with working in lab and writing proper lab reports! All of that will be more than beneficial both for my Master Thesis, but also for my future Engineering career, and a potential PhD!

 

4th IMFSE Fire Safety Engineering Day

When something has IMFSE in its name, it’s clear that it has to be good, but when an event has IMFSE in its name and is happening only once a year, then it just has to be remarkable! 4th IMFSE Fire Safety Engineering Day this year took place in the city where IMFSE idea was born, and the city where I spent the first semester of my degree, in the city of Gent, Belgium.

Ever since we found out that it will be hosted in Gent, a few months ago, we were all more than happy for being given an opportunity of going back to the city full of amazing memories! Another nice thing about the trip to Gent was that it meant we would reunite with the other half of our class, but also it would be an opportunity to meet the first year IMFSE students from Gent. This especially made me happy, as my good friend from Serbia, Balša, started his IMFSE adventure this September in Belgium.

After a class on Tuesday morning, where everyone already probably had their minds in Gent, we headed straight to the airport, and after a couple of hours, we found ourselves surrounded by our dearest fellow friends!

The following morning, finally, the 4th IMFSE Fire Safety Engineering Day was about to start! This year’s venue was a beautiful ’’Huis van de Bouw’’, and the central theme of the day was: ’FSE: the road to resilience of critical infrastructure’.

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Programme started with registration and a lunch, which was a nice way to informally meet each other and prepare ourselves for the upcoming presentations. Our Professor Bart Merci gave an introduction speech and the presentations were ready to start!

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Serbian and Belgian IMFSE students meet again!

This time, the icebreaker was Hugh McNamara, from ARUP Edinburgh. He gave an interesting talk about “The role of fire safety engineering and protection of critical infrastructure”. Following him was a new, young lecturer at Ghent University, Ruben van Coile who presented his research on the topic of “Certain uncertainty – demonstrating safety in fire engineering design”. The last presentation for the first block was particularly interesting for all of us, as it was reserved for a talk given by two IMFSE alumnus Jan Vandekerckhove and Eduardo Sanchez from FPC Risk. It’s really a pleasure seeing how our older IMFSE fellows are having fruitful careers, and really interesting thinking that not long from now, some of us will also be giving lectures to future IMFSE students!

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Hugh McNamara, Ruben van Coile and the IMFSE duo – Jan Vandekerckhove and Eduardo Sanchez giving their lectures (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)

Lectures were “interrupted” by a first coffee break, which was a great opportunity for some networking and meeting representatives from all the sponsoring companies, but also PhD students, IMFSE alumnus, lecturers and many other interesting people! Having a chance to meet engineers from some of the leading fire engineering companies is a rare and great opportunity for each one of us. On the event, representatives from the core financial partners of the IMFSE were present, namely: ARUP, IFIC Forensics, UL, BRE, FPC Risk, Fire Engineered Solutions Ghent (FESG), Promat, Kingspan and WSP. What a notable list!

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Time for networking! (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)

The second block started with a presentation on “How fire safety design can impact critical infrastructure” given by another IMFSE alumni, Arne Inghelbrecht, working in FESG. Following was the lecture our very well-known teacher from Lund University, Enrico Ronchi on “Large-scale fire evacuation modelling in critical wildland-urban interfaces”. The closing presentation for the day was given by Bart De Pauw from Tucrail, and he was giving a talk on “The need for a performance based design approach in smoke evacuation in Belgian railway tunnels”.

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Enrico Ronchi, Arne Inghelbrecht and Bart De Pauw delivering their talks. (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)

Another coffee break after the second block was followed by a traditional panel discussion. Among the participants were: Hugh McNamara (ARUP), Ralf Bruyninckx (FPC Risk), Arne Inghelbrecht (FESG), Kees Both (Promat), Roy Weghorst (Kingspan) and Romain Hourqueig (WSP). Moderated by Bart Merci, the discussion was based on the topics brought up by the attendees, including the students, which made it especially interesting with topics such as: use of artificial intelligence in fire safety engineering, or future of fire modelling etc.

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The panel discussion members (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)

At the end of the day, a small celebration was organized. The reason was 10th birthday of Fire Safety Engineering at Ghent University. A big day for our profession, and I could not say I am not proud of being a part of this whole extraordinary fire world!

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Professor Bart Merci, emeritus professor Paul Vandevelde and one of the first Gent University Fire Safety Engineering diploma holders – Bart Vanbever (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)

All in all, 4th IMFSE Fire Safety Engineering Day fulfilled the expectations, taught us some new things, allowed us to meet some great people, and certainly strengthened the bond between IMFSE students even more!

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The shining IMFSE (Photo credits: Elise Meerburg)

Fire Safety Engineering Industrial Engagement Evening

There are plenty of benefits from studying a program such as IMFSE, but one of them is certainly quite important for all the students – having regular and well-tailored contact with industry throughout the studies. It’s being done in various ways – organizing special fire safety events, conferences, talks, guest lectures, visits to companies and institutes etc.

It is known that one of the most common questions being asked to students around the world is: “How employable will you be after obtaining your degree?”. After seeing how IMFSE alumni are doing, and what chances are being brought to us, current students, I realized that all of us can happily answer to the employability question with just one word – Great!

One of the anticipated events during our 2-year program is certainly Fire Safety Engineering Industrial Engagement Evening organized at the University of Edinburgh each autumn.

It was a chance to get in touch with the real-world industry and academia, meet in person professionals from some of the most renowned companies and potentially find an internship, a full-time job or even a PhD.

The event started by professor Luke Bisby’s introduction speech presenting the timetable and explaining the details of the event.

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Representatives from 6 companies were present in the room ready to meet all the interested students, tell them about what companies have been involved in and answer any possible questions. To name them, we had the honor with engineers from BRE, Arup, Olsson Fire and Risk, Trenton Fire, BB7 and Design Fire Consultants. Apart from those six, we also had the opportunity of talking to guys from Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and hearing their side of the fire story.  It was really nice meeting all those inspiring people, learning about how our knowledge can be implemented in solving real problems, and basically already envisioning ourselves in near (or far) future. Listening to experiences from the people working in big companies, or in very tiny ones, or from the people that switched from a big to a small company or vice versa, was really helpful and gave us a good idea of all the advantages/disadvantages of each option. It was quite exhilarating finding out about great variety of options and paths waiting for our careers, and again the good employability thesis was proved!

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Khai – Arup Singapore representative meeting his Arup Glasgow colleague

Another really good thing about the whole event was that it was organized in an informal way, with food, wine and beer provided, which certainly allowed all of us to be more relaxed and enjoy it even more.

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Friendly vibes

After the first block of the evening was over, it was time for University of Edinburgh Fire department PhD students to present their works. As some of us are quite interested in continuing academic careers after masters and pursuing PhDs, this was an excellent opportunity to get deeper insight into our elder colleague’s fire researches. As the University of Edinburgh is highly ranked in both structural and fire engineering, there is a lot research done in Structural & Fire Safety Engineering, which is definitely an extremely important topic and a big field of interest for many IMFSE students.

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Timber is the future

After some time spent with the industry representatives, it was also nice chatting to the PhDs and hearing their stories and getting some wise advices.

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PhDs Simon Santamaria and Benjamin Ralph presenting their interesting researches

As expected, the event ended up being very beneficial for everyone involved. A day of valuable networking, brainstorming and many new ideas and plans created!

 

Welcome to Edinburgh

As it is always the case with summer vacation, it simply passed too quickly, but luckily what was about to follow was something even cooler than the vacation – the third quarter of my IMFSE. This chapter takes place in the capital of Scotland, at one of the most prestigious and best ranked universities in the World, the famous university of Edinburgh. (ranked 19th in the world according to 2016–17 QS Rankings)

Reading about the Uni, and even more hearing the stories from older students that used to study in Edinburgh, I only had high expectations from both the city and the school. I’m happy to state that so far this place went even beyond my expectations and hopes!sdr clone tag: 3987922764148943438

Moving to a new country is never an easy job. All over again you need to find your way around the city, meet new people, get used to new studying environment with new rules and methods in ways of teaching and organizing studies, get a Sim Card, find the cheapest grocery shop etc. But the most stressful part by far was searching for accommodation. As we are staying in town for only one semester (4 months), vast majority of landlords don’t want even to hear about signing a contract shorter than 6 months. It took me cca 10 days of going around the town and doing the so called “viewings” during which I already felt I got to know the city really well and literally thought that all the bus drivers already remembered me. The thing that basically saved me for those 10 days was my friend Christine who is living in Edinburgh and selflessly offered me to host me before I find a place to stay. It’s a great thing having such amazing friends.

On my 10th day in Edinburgh, just before the classes started, I finally got lucky and found a place for myself. To make things even better, I found a place to stay with my fellows Arjan and Khai.

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Classmates reunited 🙂

Monday was the day to start the school and to finally move in! It smelled like a good start 😊!

First day was reserved for the “welcoming lecture” held by professor Grunde Jomaas. The purpose of it was giving a broad picture of what fire safety engineering is all about, some more details about IMFSE program – especially about the University of Edinburgh part with a short presentation of the lecturers and PhD students involved in the Fire department, and finally giving us some first insights into what we can strive for and expect from both our future careers and life and studying in Edinburgh.

After the lecture, we were given a short “Tour of John Muir and William Rankine buildings“ showing us where all the professors and PhD student’s offices were, and even more importantly where the famous fire lab was 🔥. In the end professor Jomaas took us to a great burger place at campus where we could finally meet the first year students and enjoy some delicious food!

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Meeting the young IMFSE freshers immediately reminded me of me after meeting the 2nd year students last year. It was really interesting with all their curiosity and questions about the program, life, our experiences and advice etc. Another group of brilliant, smart and bright people just started our program. What can I say, it turns out again that IMFSE selection committee really does a great job 😊.

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Bridging the “lecturer – student” gap

While we were still digesting the lovely burgers from Monday and talking about the good welcoming day we had, fire group treated us with another yummy social event – already on Thursday at the Southern. This time we had the pleasure of meeting two more lecturers, Ricky Carvel and Rory Hadden, than a PhD Simon Santamaria, and of course meet again with prof Jomaas. We all agreed on how nice it was meeting the lecturers in an informal and friendly way.

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And as the first week was coming to an end, and we couldn’t imagine it being better, professor Jomaas invited us for a potluck dinner at his flat. It was a great opportunity to meet each other even more, this time in a slightly different way – through the various (inter)national dishes. Pictures as usual tell more than words.

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Freshmen getting some words of wisdom from Mr Dexters

By and large, the first week was truly remarkable and surely gave a good incentive to all of us to give our best during the semester – but also never to neglect the social side of life!

Luciernaga Project

As I’ve always liked spending my free time actively, and doing something meaningful, so it was the case this July. After a small research, I found out about Erasmus+ youth exchange called “Luciernaga Project” located just north of Madrid. The main topic of the exchange was Defense of the Human Rights, number of participants was 20, age limit 18-25, and participating countries were Italy, Spain, Ukraine and Serbia. The only requirement was a good motivational letter. Since I’ve always found this topic interesting, and I became quite experienced in writing such forms of letters, getting accepted, at least for me, wasn’t too hard.

Luciernaga Project

The project started on July 10th, in a beautiful camp located near Gargantilla del Lozoya in the national park Sierra de Guadarrama. From the moment I arrived to camp I immediately fell in love with it. Surrounded with beautiful nature, sleeping in cute tents with a view of the iconic Taboada bridge.

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On top of that, meeting cool people from various countries, including surprisingly Philippines, Basque Country, Belgium, France and Turkey made me feel really excited about the whole exchange.

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We spent the first few days preparing the workshops and making the plan for the upcoming days, discussing various topics related to the theme, and getting to know each other better. And after a few days the activities have officially started. One of the best things about this project was that each day we traveled to another village. In each village, we met local teenagers and did workshops with them. It was really interesting discussing about solidarity, tolerance, equality and different human rights related topics with young and proactive people.

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A thought-provoking thing about this workshop was that two of the participants were actually people with special needs. It was my first time having a chance to live, talk to, and even become friends with autistic people, and it was really something moving. When people don’t know about social norms and act purely as their emotions tell them to, then you get to see and experience many beautiful and touching moments.

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As usual, one of the best nights during the exchange was definitely the international night. All of us did some funny sketches and told stories about our countries, but more importantly we put some effort in preparing some nice national dishes. Although team Serbia had put a lot of effort in preparing Serbian meatballs, I have to admit that Ukrainian team did the best cooking job. Famous meal soup called “Borsch”, then Salo and many other delicious things.

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Ukrainian food 🙂 

In the end, we spent our last day in Madrid exploring this wonderful city. From “The oldest restaurant in the world” and “Museum of ham” – in the pauses eating fresh Gazpacho and Paellas, to the never ending fiesta, in this crazy party town.

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Gazpacho and Alhambra beer

All in all, exploring Spanish villages and nature, meeting great people, doing a useful project with great weather and super tasty food for the whole time was surely the best way of spending 11 days in July.