Read as Michael Schwob talks about his career as an Architectural Acoustics Consultant.  Find him at www.michaelschwob.com and on the Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?

I provide consulting services in the field of architectural acoustics.

How would you describe what you do?

A consultant is a professional with expertise that advises others.  My field of expertise is architectural acoustics, which is an engineering discipline concerned with sound and vibration in buildings.  Sound and vibration profoundly affect the occupants of buildings.  I help my clients to design or improve buildings to provide a good occupant experience.

What does your work entail?

Most of my work is related to designing new buildings.  Each of these building designs is a different project.  I work on a number of projects simultaneously for different clients.  Each project is usually at a different phase of development.  For each project my work generally follows these four steps in a cycle:

  • Review the project documentation (Owner’s requirements, drawings, specifications, etc.)
  • Perform acoustical analyses
  • Advise design team members on what acoustical criteria should be achieved and how to achieve it
  • Coordinate with the design team to implement efficient and effective design solutions

Some of my work is related to testing/measuring existing buildings or future project sites for various acoustical characteristics.  This work requires the use of instrumentation and is performed according to standardized test procedures.  This work also includes analysis of measured sound data to determine the results of the tests.

Some of my work is related to troubleshooting noise or vibration problems in existing buildings.  This work requires me to visit the site, make observations and record sound measurements.  I then determine by analysis and past experience how to correct the problem.

All of the work described above is documented in some form (emails, letters, reports, drawings, specifications, etc.).  In a sense, this documentation is the physical form of my deliverable to my clients.  It records and transmits my advice and recommendations to clients.  Production of this documentation requires a fair amount of time.

What’s a typical work week like?

I work regular business hours.  Sometimes I work early or late to accommodate the schedules of international clients.  I attend meetings with clients (in person or via the internet) and I perform the tasks described above.

How did you get started?

My career started in college.  I obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering.  All of my elective coursework was focused on acoustics and vibration.

Like most college graduates I got a job in my field of study.  Those first few years I spent learning everything I could from experienced engineers about how to apply my theoretical knowledge and how to work with clients.

What do you like about what you do?

I like to solve problems; especially new problems.  I enjoy researching and analyzing.

What do you dislike?

In many ways a consultant, especially a successful consultant, must market their expertise and services.  I am not comfortable with this aspect of my career.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I work for a consulting firm and so I am salaried, like most professionals.

How much money do Acoustical Consultants make?

Average salaries for beginning consultants with a bachelor’s degree and little experience will likely be around $45,000.  Average salaries for senior consultants are likely to be around $85,000.  Senior consultants with management responsibilities will typically have salaries exceeding $100,000.

How much money did/do you make starting out?

I believe I had an annual salary of $45,000.  I make considerably more than that now.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

Acoustical consultants have various backgrounds.  Most of them have a degree in physics, engineering or architecture.  There are some university programs in architectural acoustics.  I would recommend seeking one of these programs if you are interested in this profession.  Wikipedia has a current list of programs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_programs_in_acoustics.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Troubleshooting existing noise and vibration problems is typically the most challenging aspect of my work.  Existing problems have many constraints and some are not practical to modify.  In new building design, conditions are more fluid and problems can be avoided.

What is most rewarding?

These troubleshooting problems are also more rewarding.  Not just because of the challenge, but because I am more intimately involved with the process and witnessing the result.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Get a good education at a university offering a degree in architectural acoustics.  Participate and network in the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) while in college.  Apply to the best acoustical consulting firms in the geography of your choice.

How much time off do you get/take?

At this stage in my career I accumulate 160 hours of vacation time yearly.  A consultant at the beginning of their career will typically accumulate 80 hours of vacation time yearly.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

There are many myths and misunderstandings about acoustics.  Although hearing is an everyday experience for most people, the actual phenomenon of sound is not well understood by most people.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I have been involved with some large international projects in the UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, China and Australia.  I would like to increase the number of projects that I work on in Asia.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

More information about acoustical consulting and architectural acoustics can be found at NCAC and ASA TCAA.