For the past semester, the second years have been given a short dose on what it feels like to be involved in fire safety research, having dedicated our final semester to our individual thesis. Curious to learn more about life as a fire researcher, Kate and I decided to sign ourselves up for The Great Fired Up of London on the 16th and 17th of May hosted by Imperial College London. The event follows the inaugural Fired Up hosted by University of Edinburgh in 2018, and is a chance for the UK academic fire community namely post-graduates and postdocs to come together to network, share ideas, and have fun. What I found particularly interesting about this event is that it is essentially a conference organised by students for students. This provided a platform for budding fire researchers to present their work to their peers in a seemingly relaxed environment.
The day started with a warm welcome from Imperial College London which came with a really awesome door gift (It’s a fire extinguisher shaped portable charger!!! How cool is that?!?!)!!! At the same time, it was weird to see Kate and I representing different institutions for the first time but I guess having an identity crisis is part of being an IMFSE student (but I am proud to be part of Team Edinburgh! And I am sure Kate is too for Team UCL!).
However, as the conference went on, it seems like institutional divisions did not matter as the community came together as one driven to push fire research. I was impressed at the individual presentations of the PhD students and post-docs which showed not only the hard work that goes into each project but the potential of each project in making a difference to the way we study fire. However, the main highlight for me was observing how the audience, being PhD students and post-doc themselves, interacted with the presenters. There was a sense of camaraderie within the room despite institutional allegiance as ideas were bounced around which I am sure each presenter would take away constructively to further refine their work. Even from our thesis projects, I came to realise that research could be a lonely affair having to work relatively solo on projects. However, even through the informal chats during coffee breaks/lunch, the FiredUp event is a testament that they are not going through this alone and are all in this together!
There were some presentations which really caught my attention. (Disclaimer: These are just my personal highlights. I truly appreciate all the presentations during the conference though). The few presentations by the Imperial College HAZElab caught my attention as it particularly hit home… literally. The presentation by Yuqi Hu from Imperial College even highlighted the significance of their research on haze emissions in Singapore (which is where I am from). It is quite astounding to know that an environmental issue that is prevalent in the Southeast Asia region is being studied halfway across the world. Keep up the good work guys!
We also got the opportunity to witness Jens, a PhD student from University of Edinburgh, present on fire related risks of PV installations. Previous participants have told me that his presentation last year was awesome and he did not disappoint again! Kate even thought it was the best presentation of the conference (I personally can’t comment as I would be extremely biased). It was also great to see how the experiments I carried out with him for my own master thesis could contribute to the larger scheme of his PhD. (I even got my very first “citation” on one of his slides! Woohoo!). Go save the world, Jens! There was also an unorthodox presentation by Benjamin Ralph (or should I say Dr Ralph) from the University of Edinburgh which took the audience out of our little fire box. Instead of presenting his PhD work, he highlighted the insights gained from his experience working as a Fire Safety Engineer for Foster+Partners. Outside the confines of our area of expertise and put in a situation such as building design where we are only a small piece to a puzzle, are we “true collaborators or (merely) technical enablers”? Dr Ralph gave us some food for thought there….
Although we may seem like lost IMFSE students during the event, it was great to be reunited with fellow IMFSE alumnus. Cui Wuquan, from IMFSE cohort 2015-2017, currently a PhD candidate in Imperial College London was a great host and made us feel at home. We also got to meet the IMFSE poster girl, Carmen Gorska Putynska from IMFSE cohort 2013-2015, currently a PhD candidate in the University of Queensland (UQ). (Yes! Our IMFSE associated partner, UQ (though technically not UK), was also present with a few of their PhD students including Carmen presenting their work!) Through our interactions with both of them during the event, it was inspiring to see how IMFSE provided them a solid foundation for them to grow into accomplished PhD students. With the right attitude, all of us IMFSE students are more than equipped to pursue a PhD should we aspire to. We truly wish both Wuquan and Carmen all the best in their PhD endeavours. We will be closely following your development and rooting for you!
I would like to extend my gratitude to Imperial College London and HazeLab for organising this event and doing so with such warmth, as all of you were really welcoming and friendly, making a point to check-in on all the participants no matter who we are. The two days of presentations was really a great exposure into the fire research world. It was my first taste at how an academic conference was like and it helped that it was carried out in a relaxed environment. It remains to be seen where the next FiredUp will be held. Other than University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and University of Queensland, it was great to see other universities represented during the event with participants from UCL, University of Newcastle and University of Greenwich so maybe one them will take up the reigns next year. Either way, I would strongly encourage all future IMFSE students to attend or even better, present your Masters thesis as it is really a great experience as a taster into the world of fire research. So look out for the next Fired-Up and if the time is right, go for it! You will not regret it. 🙂