Last week, some of our mid- to senior-level fire protection engineers and consultants shared their one piece of advice to those that are just starting out in the fire protection industry. This week, we’ll hear from Matt Connolly, a Fire Protection Consultant that has been with us just over six months and who started out in the manufacturing side of the industry in 2012. Here’s what Matt had to say:

As anyone would tell a college student, there are a lot of different ways to get to the same place. If you’re a prospective fire protection engineering student, the best advice one can give is to research the education you will receive. While this is common sense for most, here are a few points to consider when picking your future alma mater:

  1. Each school out there offers a different approach to an education in fire protection engineering. Depending on where you are in your life, you may be interested in a full-time or part-time education, distance-learning or on-campus classes. Are you looking to get a Bachelor’s Degree in fire protection (B.S. FPE), a Master’s Degree in FPE (M.S. FPE), or perhaps both?
  2. Certain schools are better known for their research, others for consulting, and some for their strong ties to the fire department. If you have an inkling of which direction in fire protection you’re most interested, this point is worth considering.
  3. Lastly, it never hurts to not only look up the faculty, but to try and have a conversation with some of the department members if possible. If you’re already a student, or a career professional looking to step into fire protection, consider also the prerequisite courses. There is a good chance that you will need to have taken courses from an accredited institution in heat transfer, fluids, and thermodynamics.

Once you’ve selected the best fit for you and been accepted (congrats!), it is up to you to start shaping your future.  These three steps will help you:

  1. Pick courses that support your interests: FPE programs often offer a blend of required courses and electives, and while your advisor should help you pick a curriculum that supports your interests and the timeline that you want to earn your degree, it’s important that you understand the options proposed and how they align with your values. If timeline is of particular importance and you’re pursuing an M.S. degree, consider also whether or not you want to take an all-course approach, or attain your degree by taking a number of courses and completing a thesis.
  2. Create a network: The fire protection community is a small one, and you will likely cross paths with professionals from various disciplines and companies multiple times. Always treat people with respect, and consider that your department head, professors, and even fellow students can have a tremendous impact on whether or not you get your first job at a fire protection engineering firm, or even more so, if you get the job at the firm one of them works at several years down the line.
  3. Find a mentor: While the department may assign an advisor to you and an advisor can serve the role of a mentor, these two roles do not always cross paths. Consider who in the industry you may know—for most, this starts with your professors. The most effective mentors are inevitably the ones with whom you can most easily communicate, and who have knowledge of the areas in which you have interests. Networking certainly supports efforts to find a mentor, and likewise, an effective mentor is often willing to introduce you to people in their network who can further your career when it’s appropriate.

I think our engineers and consultants have shared some great advice to those just starting out in the fire protection industry, but we’d also love to hear from you. What would you tell someone just starting out in their career?