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November 29, 2012 - 2:18pm

Professor Profile: Thomas Lam


Where are you from originally?

I’m 100-percent Chinese, but I grew up in Sydney, Australia. It’s nice; it’s warm in comparison to here, but it’s very far away. I like Australia a lot, it’s a very nice place to live. I’ve lived in the states for 10 years now. I studied in Boston before coming here. I’ve lived in Ann Arbor for four years now, and this is my fourth year with the University.

Why did you choose to come to the University of Michigan?

It has a very good math department, in particularly with what I do, which is combinatorics. Before I moved here, I had no idea Ann Arbor actually existed. In fact, I may have known Michigan was a state, but it would be pretty unlikely that I would have known where it was on the map.

What exactly is combinatorics?

Combinatorics is the study of counting, usually discreet objects. For example, what are all the possible poker hands you can get, for five cards out of 52, what are all the hands you could possibly get? I do a type called algebraic combinatorics, so I’m interested in studying problems that involve algebra, which involves studying equations.

Why did you choose to become a professor?

Initially there is a lot of freedom with what I can work on and think about and with my working hours. So outside of the classes that I teach, if I want to wake up and go about my day and then really work and think about math at night, when I usually want to, I can do that … There’s also flexibility in what I can teach and how I do it so I like that as well.

What do you do on your days off?

Well, today, I’m going rock climbing … I (also) play hockey. Well I haven’t played all year so far, but I hope to start playing again this winter. I learned both of those things since I’ve come to America. In terms of exercise, I like running. Running is my main form of exercise. I also like to play this board game called Goal, which is played with black and white stones on a 19x19 board. I’ve spent a little bit too much time playing this, but it’s comparable to chess. I also play a lot of computer games.