Consider a career in building science

Why you should consider a career in building science

By Dominique Lefebvre
Research Associate, National Research Council Canada

Dominique Lefebvre, Research Associate, National Research Council CanadaThroughout my time working in the building science industry, there rarely has been a dull moment. Each day, I am faced with challenges such as current climate change adaptation initiatives and material advancement. As a chemical engineering graduate, my work at the National Research Council Canada (NRCC) in the Construction portfolio involves the understanding of material and component interface under weather elements. This multi-disciplinary investigation leads to the development of solutions to ensure that structures are safe, durable, and fulfil their intended use.

With environmental challenges such as climate change putting increased stress on the built environment in Canada and beyond, engineers focused on building science are in higher demand than ever before. Building science is a combination of several engineering disciplines that focus on the analysis and control of the physical phenomena affecting buildings and architecture. It traditionally includes areas such as building materials, building envelope, HVAC, natural and electrical lighting, acoustic, indoor air quality, passive strategies, fire protection and renewable energy in buildings.

The most exciting part about this dynamic field is that, while a large knowledge base exists, there still is a lot of work to be done and a lot of room for contribution and advancement through the development of new methodologies and improved technologies. There are few fields where one’s designs will have such a significant impact on the future.

Building science engineers help form society’s backbone: the built environment. Cities are made up of a collection of buildings, and how we construct and maintain these structures have profound social and environmental impacts.

If you’re a student who loves problem-solving and being constantly challenged, building science could be the career for you. To be successful in this field, you will need strong analytical skills, be comfortable working as part of a team and know how to effectively communicate your ideas so that they can have the desired impact. Math, science, and language courses are all great for helping you to cultivate the knowledge and skills you will need to succeed.

The best part about a career in building science is that there is no such thing as a typical work day. On one day I could be correlating laboratory experiments with real world scenarios to obtain an understanding of a particular element, and on another be on building roofs collecting data to better understand the impact of the environment on engineering designs and systems. One of the benefits of working in this industry is that there is a wide variety in the work and types of projects undertaken. An engineer could be executing client specific investigations or contributing to a major government initiative such as the current climate change project mandated by the government of Canada.

At the NRCC, my role as a Research Associate is to conduct engineering research for industry clients and government partners to have a positive impact on the roofing community. I am always excited to address real life problems and provide solutions to advance the industry as a whole. For example, I might work with Dow on their roof systems to evaluate their in-field performance, which is linked to the Canadian Building Code requirements.

So how do you break into this field? As a young engineering graduate, I would say that as the industry is constantly evolving and innovating, you need to work to enhance your learning and professional development to be successful. The field is not static, but dynamic. If you focus on developing the engineering fundamentals and embrace a sense of curiosity, you will surely find breaking into the engineering field extremely rewarding.

One great way to build your resume and experience base is through student design competitions. The skills you develop in these competitions will make you more attractive to employers, as they value engineers with a greater understanding of the complete product lifecycle. Often, students involved in competition design projects find themselves reaching forward into the curriculum for analysis tools that they need to accomplish their task. This reaching helps build lifelong learning skills that are difficult to get in the standard classroom environment.

For aspiring Canadian engineers, the Vancouver Building Envelope Student Video Competition is a great opportunity to showcase your abilities and share your thoughts with current building science leaders at the upcoming 15th Canadian Conference on Building Science and Design November 6-8 in Vancouver. It’s open to all students of educational facilities such as a college, university or high school. To enter, you must create a video no longer than 200 seconds covering a topic related to construction, the building envelope or building science by Tuesday, October 31st. Learn more about how to put together a successful submission here.

No matter where you are on your professional engineering journey, I encourage you to keep at it. The opportunities for a rewarding career in building science and beyond are only limited by your passion and imagination.