IMFSE networking, Fact or a Myth?!

To continue my reviews regarding the IMFSE promotions which I have started in my last  Blog. This blog will be about Networking!

If I got to choose one of the best benefits of the IMFSE program, I will pick networking. After graduating, I understood what it means to build such a strong network in your field before the end of my degree. The IMFSE program will not only give you the chance or the contact of as many experts and members of the fire safety community as you need, but they will also bring these people right in front of you in different events. Literally, you will have to network even if you did not want to. For example, the fire safety days, every year the IMFSE program organize an event called the fire safety day. During this event, the following combination of people will gather:

  1. The first and second IMFSE students, they will be able to meet each other and communicate. From my experience, this is very important if you are a first-year student you will need to hear as many stories as possible not just about the coursework but also about how to deal with your next university, when to start looking for jobs and how to prepare for interviews…etc.
  2. The IMFSE alumni, despite the fact that it is sometimes too hard to have many former IMFSE students to attend the event because of their tied schedule, still you will find four or five of them attending. The former students will be like movie stars, every single student wants to talk to them and get to know how it’s like to be a graduate. Current students will benefit from their experience in job hunting and also some of the IMFSE alumni will help to pass CVs to their HR departments for those who are interested in joining their companies.
  3. Many IMFSE lecturers, every year the IMFSE program is held in a different country between the UK, Belgium, and Sweden. That gives the chances for the IMFSE lecturers from the three different universities to attend the event easily. This highly enriches the discussions during the day and also help the students who might not study in one of the three universities to still be able to meet the professors there and communicate with them.
  4. The industry representatives, based on the discussion topic some of the IMFSE industrial sponsors sends representatives to give a short presentation, take part in the discussions and also promote their companies to the IMFSE students. During the event, the IMFSE students can easily discuss the jobs and internships opportunities with them.

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This picture was taken last February in Lund university during the third fire safety day. The first and second-year students, IMFSE alumni, IMFSE lecturers and Industry representatives in one frame.

You can read more about the fire safety days in this Blog written by Darko.

Also having three other partner universities from Switzerland, USA and Queensland will stretch the communication web from America all the way to Australia. For example during the graduation this year we had prof. Jose Torero and Juan Hidalgo so those who did not have the chance to do their thesis in Australia will be able to meet with Juan as a representative of Queensland to discuss any opportunities.

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Our coherent were also lucky to have the IAFSS Symposium this year in Lund and attend it as volunteers which were a networking heaven. We were able to communicate face to face with almost everybody in our field. You can also read more about the IAFSS Symposium in this Blog by Darko.

One more example of the networking efforts, during our third semester at the University of Edinburgh; we were invited to two events to meet with Arup engineers to discuss their projects, the internship, and work opportunities. The first event was a casual breakfast with few Arup graduate engineers, this event was too valuable; we were able to have simple conversations with the graduate engineers and ask them all the questions related to the interviews and the application process. The second event was done by an Arup engineering team where they presented a couple of their major projects, after the presentation we were able to meet with the team manager and discuss all our inquiries.

After graduating, it is too easy to see the impact of these communications. If you are going to industry and doing interviews, don’t be surprised when you find an IMFSE alumnus (who you might already know him) or a manager who you know him personally is interviewing you.  If you will be looking for a Ph.D., you will most probably know the prospective supervisors and there is a very high chance that you met them before and an extremely high probability that they already knew your IMFSE master thesis supervisor, which will make the admission and selection process goes very smooth.

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IMFSE is a diverse International Program! Fact or a Myth?!

Dear Mohamed Beshir, You applied for a scholarship for the IMFSE program. It is our great pleasure to inform you that we consider you to be eligible for a scholarship. Congratulations.
With these awesome words, the most important email in my life started. I have received the acceptance email for the IMFSE program and the Erasmus Mundus + scholarship from the IMFSE secretary on the 22nd of March 2015. I still can remember this day as it was yesterday, all the simple details including the first shock and the happiness. From this day on the whole journey started.
I read on the IMFSE website a lot of interesting information and reviews, however, as I did not join the program yet and also I did not know anybody who already graduated from the IMFSE, I used to have some doubts about how accurate were these promotions.
Let’s take it step by step:

The IMFSE is a real international environment

Right after being accepted in the IMFSE program, my contact email was published on the IMFSE website so the old and new students get to know me. In one week I got emails from the former and current IMFSE students welcoming me into the program and wondering if I have any questions. These contacts were from Sweden, Egypt, Syria, and India. After few weeks I was added to our IMFSE class group, I was in one group with students from Ecuador, Colombia, Santa Lucia, Palestine, Italy, Malaysia, India, USA, Belgium, China, France, and Norway. 12 different nationalists in one group, International enough?!. Not yet, that is only our class of 2015, afterward, we get to know the 2nd year students who were studying their third semester when we started. So by the end of the 1st semester, I have friends from almost 20 different countries. Not only that but also when we started our third semester we met the new students from class 2016, that added new nationalities to my list, for example, Kazakhstan, Costa Rica and Indonesia. All in all, by the end of my IMFSE degree I can totally confirm that being a diverse and international program is definitely not a myth.
Literality by the end of the two years I have got friends from all over the globe, including but limited to the following countries:
Ecuador, Colombia, Santa Lucia, Palestine, Italy, Malaysia, India, USA, Belgium, China, France, Norway, Sweden, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Oman, Iran, Paraguay, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Costa Rica, Taiwan, Thailand, Serbia, Netherlands, Nepal, and Indonesia.
This photo from the 2nd Fire Safety day in London for class 2015 and 2014, Guess how many different nationalities are in this frame?

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22 different nationalities !!!

Being in such an international group is not only fun but also very beneficial, you get to know how others think and to believe that we are too different and similar at the same moment. That point helped me to accept others and respect their points of view and their beliefs. Right now, I can easily integrate myself in any new group no matter how different they are or how diverse the group is.

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.

Advanced Fire Dynamics course

During the second semester spent at Lund University, we had 4 courses: Advanced Fire Dynamics, Risk Assessment, Simulation of Fires in Enclosures, and Human Behaviour in Fire. Advanced Fire Dynamics was delivered only till March, and Human Behaviour in Fires “replaced” it, thus we had only 3 courses being taught at the same time throughout the semester, which had substantially reduced the exam stress at the end of semester.

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Fires in Buildings (credits to the Lecture slides by Dr.Nils Johansson)

Let me talk more about the Advanced Fire Dynamics (AFD) course that was delivered at Lund University. Both in Edinburgh and Ghent, students had Fire Dynamics course during the first semester, so all of us had background knowledge in this subject. AFD course mainly focused on the mechanisms controlling enclosure fires and their effect on the surroundings. It consisted of lectures and tutorial classes where we explained how the assignments had been solved. Interestingly, the assignments were not simple ‘set problem-one solution-same answer’ style, but we were given more ‘freedom’, and everybody had their own solution and answer. Similarly, we had to design and conduct in groups our own fire experiment. Our group had several ideas for the experiment, but after consultation with professors, we decided to determine the minimum concentration of alcohol that can be ignited at room temperature. Also, in case of the ignition, we studied how different concentrations of alcohol affect HRR, effective heat of combustion, flame height, and flame temperature. Since it was my first experience in performing fire test, I was very excited to visit the Fire Lab and to see all the equipment that we heard and read about.

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Free burning of ethanol

I believe that it was a valuable course which not only enhanced our understanding about the compartment fire behaviour, but also allowed us to be more independent and creative while working on course assessments.

 

A bit about evacuations, food and, rainbows.

One of things that I find really entertaining about moving around in big cities is using their metro stations. There is something about trying to figure out the correct directions that makes me excited all the times. It might be the possibility to get lost and the challenge it represents not to do it correctly, especially if it’s a different language from the ones I´m used to.

This experience was not different when we visited Stockholm and for me, it was particularly more exciting as my thesis topic is about fatigue during evacuations of deep metro stations; therefore, when it was time to ¨chase art¨ in the more than 110km of tunnels, I couldn’t stop projecting myself in the future trying to model the evacuation from deep underground.

We started by choosing the metro lines colors that had the most amazing underground art according to travel blogs around the web. It took us a bit more than two hours to visit a total of 8 metro stations, each of them with different themes representing different ideas. The one that consumed most of our time was Stadion, because it has a huge rainbow and it’s the perfect picture spot. We found one with peace and brotherhood messages on it, and even one with nuclear sign in the wall. If you have the time, and love pictures

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However, the most expected one was Solna Centrum. Why? Well first, during human behavior class we were learning about evacuations and the picture of this specific metro stations was show in the lecture. Second, as part of my thesis preparation, I participated in a laboratory experiment to learn a bit more about fatigue during ascending stair evacuations. I had the opportunity to experience how is to move against gravity in moving stairs and let me tell you… is harder than it sounds.

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After being part of the experiment, looking down and up of those stairs was almost overwhelming. I couldn’t even imagine how it would be to be down there in rush hour trying to move upwards as fast as I could to reach safety. So, my excitement about my thesis grew, and this particular traveling adventure motivated me to keep learning and reading about evacuations in order to prepare myself the best to develop my thesis in January.

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Oh! By the way, if you like food, two things are not to be missed while visiting Stockholm: Princess cake at Vete-Katten and meatballs at Cafe Trenan. There´re no words to describe our facial expressions when we tasted the cake. About the meatballs, we read that they were off-menu as they were so good that if they were in it, the café wouldn’t sell anything else than those meatballs. Again, internet reviews didn’t disappoint.

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What is panic anyways ?

If you remember my first blog you might remember that I didn’t know how to ride a bike. Well, seems that I have finally overcome a childhood fear and now I do know how to! But let´s go back a few months and remember when I said that I ¨panic¨ just with the idea to ride a bike… because, what is panic anyways?

One week before spring break, we started with the second part of our semester with a really expected course called ¨Human Behavior¨. Since last year, we´ve been hearing just good impressions about it, and let me tell you, we were not disappointed. The class is interesting and the professors are constantly challenging us to break our paradigms. For example, when I say that I used to ¨panic¨ with the idea of riding a bike, what do I mean? is it really panic? Does panic even exist?

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Before continuing with the reading, please take a couple of seconds to try to make a panic definition of your own, done? Ok, let’s go further into it.

It is said that panic is a reaction involving terror, confusion and irrational behavior, precipitated by a threatening situation (Goldenson, 1984) however, can you picture any other way out of the 5th floor of a burning or collapsing building that isn’t by jumping to the void when you have smoke all around you? If you can’t think of other way to save yourself, is it really irrational to take the only choice you think you have at the moment?

These sorts of ideas were discussed in seminars and classes, each of them with different points of view and examples of what panic means in the media, and why is not ok to use this term when referring to fatalities in fire scenarios. For example, in 1903 a fire at the Iroquois theatre in Chicago occurred leaving at least 602 deaths. The newspapers were stating the victims “panic state” for the deaths as when the doors of the theatre opened, they found bodies piled up behind doors and under windows, supporting the theory that “panic didn’t allow them to think rationally and look for secondary exits than the entrance door and windows” however, now we know that poor fire safety measures lead to the unnecessary fatalities, and regulations were improved after this tragedy.

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Iroquois theatre, Chicago 1903

During human behavior classes, we learn a lot about the decision-making process that people follow during fire situations, and now we have different persepectives on how safety measures in building designs should be implemented considering the most likely human responses in emergencies.

Its important to stress enough the significance of having a class like this through our preparation, but is funny how it does not only increases your knowledge in the fire safety field, but it also changes your communication skills. Now, every time I find myself about to use the world ¨panic¨I stop and change it towards a more appropiate way to define my state of mind. Instead of saying ¨I used to panic in front of a bike¨ now I say ¨I was afraid of falling off the bike and hurt myself, but now I´m even going to the beach with my friends by bike¨

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Interdisciplinary, Multicultural, Friendly, Significant, Entertaining – IMFSE

As the first half of my IMFSE journey has come to an end, I feel like it’s time to sum it up.

Before coming to Gent in September, I really had high expectations, and now when I look back, I can tell that they were more than fulfilled.

It all started mid-September, when I moved to Belgium, accompanied by my family for the first week. Having them around me during the first days of settling made my “moving from home” way easier. Already during the introduction week, I had the opportunity to meet my classmates, and seeing so many bright, proactive and interesting people from all around the world made me immediately happy for starting my Masters.

Among many other reasons, I loved attending classes at Gent University as the Engineering building where we had a lot of classes, irresistibly reminded me of Engineering Faculty building in my hometown of Belgrade.

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Perović family in front of Faculty of Engineering and Architecture – Gent

Apart from having engaging lectures given by great teachers and even more importantly amazing people, there was one thing that really made this program flow smoothly. It’s our two very well-known coordinators, Elise Meerburg and Lies Decroos. Highly professional and devoted, prompt in communication and really efficient in solving all student’s issues. Two of them are one of the key factors of making and maintaining the genuine quality of this program.

Regarding the courses, they are in general very well organized, and made in a way to slowly introduce the Fire Safety Engineering to people from various backgrounds. The semester was a bit more time demanding, but it was kind of expected as it lasted around 3.5 months with 6 courses covered. Another really interesting fact was that not only IMFSE students were an internationalized crew, but the lecturers in Gent also. Listening to teachers from Spain, Greece, Belgium, Serbia and other countries was really intriguing and gave a special touch to this semester.

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IMFSE students reunited at Lund University for IMFSE day

Eating delicious Flemish Fries, tasting limitless extraordinary Belgian beers, making friends from each corner of the planet, living in a beautiful, fairytale city as Gent and being in the heart of Europe, and at the same time studying a great and renowned program such as IMFSE will always keep my Gent semester in a beautiful memory.

Continuing the second IMFSE quarter in Lund was also special in its own ways. Surely the best thing about it was that finally the whole class met, and our amazing Masters crew suddenly doubled!

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1st and 2nd year IMFSE students having an “International dinner”

As Sweden welcomed us in January in its own special way, with snow storms and really cold temperatures, it was very interesting and sometimes even funny noticing how people from warmer parts of the world, e.g. Latin America or Eastern Asia react to this, for them unusual phenomenon. Many of them have experienced snow and subzero temperatures for the first time in their lives.

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“Warm” Sweden

Lund itself is much smaller than Gent, thus has less activities, events etc., it was a bit hard getting used to this change, but as the time passed by, Lund kind of “grew” on us and we all started to enjoy our lives more and more in this cute ancient city.

Thirteen students Nations, organizing life of around 45’000 students, made sure we made a lot of new friends and had some proper fun 😊! Also, whenever we fell into the “missing a big city” crisis, we just hopped on to 12 mins train ride to Malmo, or just continued on an hour ride to Copenhagen.

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Leaving IMFSE traces around Sweden 🙂

Another part of change was way of studying. Studies were way more relaxed, as we had 4 courses during almost 5 months long semester. Another thing was that we had majority of courses together with Swedish students, so it was really fun meeting them. On top of that, super friendly teachers and university staff made this semester a very pleasant experience!

Both in Gent and Lund, one of the most important parts of the program were visits to companies and fire institutes. Meeting people from industry, and getting a first-hand feeling of what awaits after we graduate is something many students around the world lack during their studies.

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IMFSE football crew

Finally, the semester in Lund was finished in the best theoretical way. We were lucky to attend the famous IAFSS symposium, that was held in Lund right after the end of exams, where we could learn so much and meet fire experts from all the places.

By and large, IMFSE has so far been one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I am super excited for starting the second half in Edinburgh in September!