Simon Kahn, acoustics technical director, Mott MacDonald, and chair of the Institute of Acoustics education committee, tells us about his role
How would you sum up what you do on a typical day?
A typical day is a mixture of answering technical queries, writing and checking reports, computer modelling, undertaking assessments and analysing survey results. I don’t get out on site as much as I used to and with new technology I don’t have to travel to as many meetings. The projects I work on vary from roads, railways and stations to schools, hospitals, offices and factories, concert halls, museums and galleries, music festivals and sports venues. I sometimes even work on sewerage schemes!
What would you say is the best bit about your day?
Working with my colleagues to solve challenges in a holistic way. There are many opportunities to make a difference while learning from other specialists.
And what is the biggest challenge?
Providing the best technical advice possible and delivering real value to our clients while maintaining deadlines and budgets. This is often more challenging for acoustics because the effects aren’t always visible. However they are critical for comfort, communication and safety, especially when involving building voice alarm systems.
What made you decide to become an acoustics specialist?
I became interested in sound when I was working in the theatre. I spent a period of time as a theatre sound designer recording music and sound environments and I now get to shape the sound environment of large projects. Hearing is a primary defence mechanism – we carry on listening when asleep! So acoustic comfort is important for relaxation and concentration.
What is it that you love about your job?
I love being able to make acoustic environments as good as they can be for our clients and the public. I love working with other professionals to solve a problem together.
What makes a good acoustics specialist in the environment industry?
The ability to use connected thinking and recognise the role of acoustics as one of a number of environmental concerns. Also, the capacity to understand the full needs of a project.
What qualifications are required for a career in acoustics?
A number of universities offer BSc and MSc degrees in acoustics, however many people initially take degrees in more general subjects before studying for the Institute of Acoustics (IoA) diploma which is offered at a number of centres and as distance learning. I did a BSc joint honours in physics and electronics, while my initial graduate training was as an audio engineer at the BBC. The diploma or a MSc meet the academic requirements for associate membership of the IoA, with continuing professional development leading to full membership and potential for chartered engineer status.
What advice do you have for people about to embark on this kind of career path?
To be a good acoustic engineer you need to be numerate, however acoustics isn’t just about the numbers. You need to understand how people perceive sound to make proper assessments and give good advice.