Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Noise Control Engineer? What is all the Noise About?

By Jim Thompson

Editors Note: In our second contribution from Jim Thompson, he wonders why anyone would want to be a noise control engineer. As always, we’d like to hear from you, so please get in touch and share some of your experiences. . If you’d like to submit a response to Jim’s column please email me at kingea@tcd.ie.

This may seem like a dumb question coming from a noise control engineer. However, in talking to people it seems like there are a lot of different reasons. Many of the reasons have been a surprise to me. I am interested to hear why others chose to be noise control engineers. Why people started in the field and why they stay are often different responses.

I have told the story of how I got into noise control before. I was a coop student and my boss told me I was going to be the office noise expert. I got interested and pursued my master’s degree in room acoustics, and the rest is history. This was a matter of timing: I had decided I was not going to design engines and was looking for something else when this assignment came along. When I first graduated with my MS in mechanical engineering and began looking for a job, no one was looking for noise control engineers – at least no one I could find. I ended up taking a job with the one company that was excited to find someone interested in noise control.

Throughout my career when I tell people not involved in the business that I work in noise control or that I am a noise control engineer, I get a blank look or a question like “is that a real job?” The role of a noise control professional never occurs to them until they encounter a noisy product or are confronted with an environmental noise issue. People never think about the professional who made their home appliance quieter or the startup of the new plant that they did not hear about.

One positive experience I did have was several years ago. I was visiting a hotel and conference center with several professional society staff members to discuss an upcoming conference that I was chairing. This was a noise control conference, and the hotel and conference center staff were aware of the topic. When I passed out my business cards the nature of the discussions changed. At the time, I was the Hearing Loss Prevention Branch Chief at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This title caught all the non-noise control attendee’s attention. Several noted how significant it was that this was my job. In their minds, noise control had gone from an incomprehensible engineering topic to the protection of people’s health. Often, the concept or intent of what we do is more important to lay people than the technical details.

My reason for being a noise control engineer is the opportunity to have an impact on the quality of people’s lives. This is what motivates me and helps when customers seem unappreciative or the seemingly impossible is asked for with insufficient budget or time. I still feel that the noise control profession offers the opportunity to directly help people and that this is the major reason I am proud to be a noise control engineer.

Having worked for NIOSH on hearing loss prevention, I had the opportunity to interact with those impacted by hearing loss. It made me acutely aware of the reality of a reduction in quality of life due to hearing loss. The thing I remember most are the interactions I had with retired miners who talked about their inability to communicate with their grandchildren. To see these “tough” men with tears in their eyes talking about how much it hurt to not be able to converse with their grandchildren was all the motivation I will ever need.

So, what was your motivation for getting involved with noise control, and what keeps you motivated to pursue this obscure field we have chosen? I am curious to hear what noise control motivates you. Why are you a noise control engineer?