“Detours are okay, and are an important part of your story”: Meet Professor Janet Lam

Janet Lam joins U of T Engineering as an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream within the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering. She brings with her more than 10 years of teaching undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. She was a Teaching Specialist for first year engineering students at Michigan State University from 2016 to 2017 and is a Fellow of the National Effective Teaching Institute and a Runner-Up Best Upper Year Instructor in the Skule Student Choice awards 2020-2021.

Janet served as a research associate at the Centre for Maintenance Optimization and Reliability Engineering (C-MORE) applying academic research directly with industry partners, including those in mining, utilities, transportation, and the military. Janet has a track record of cultivating strong relationships with industry partners and developing maintenance engineering resources that are both useful and current.

What attracted you to U of T Engineering and made you excited to accept a position at MIE?

U of T has such fantastic students that it makes teaching a joy. Many of the students I’ve worked with have impressed me with their professionalism, leadership, awareness of social issues and even simply being committed to understanding course content. I know that in my time here, I’ll be training leaders who will contribute to society and make an impact around the globe.

Can you tell us a little about your research and what you like about it?

My research area is in physical asset management; it’s about making better decisions on whether, when, and to what extent to maintain and replace very large, expensive equipment. This research area connects me to a lot of industry partners, helping me create very interesting and applied projects for students (usually MEng projects). The research that I do also informs and improves my teaching.

What do you hope to accomplish as an educator during your time at MIE?

As a teaching stream professor, my objective is simple: deliver compelling courses in a “sticky” way, so the knowledge doesn’t escape the students after final exams! I’m excited about having the resources and the authority to revise some of the courses I’ve been teaching as a sessional.

I’d like to establish a diverse and rich MEng project portfolio that builds relationships with a range of industry partners. I’m also interested in creating a workshop program for graduate students who are interested in developing their teaching skills.

Do you have a favourite spot on campus?

Not really a favourite spot, but I really appreciate the older Engineering buildings, where the women’s washrooms are obviously repurposed men’s washrooms. As a woman in engineering, it’s a very salient reminder that not very long ago it didn’t even cross architects minds that women would ever grace the halls of buildings like Galbraith or Rosebrugh. This serves as a reminder of both how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go in bringing equity and diversity to Engineering.

What advice do you have for engineering students to help them succeed?

Detours are okay, and are an important part of your story. As a student, I was so focussed on doing all the “right” things at the right time, and was terrified of going off track. I wish I had known that changing directions or backtracking was just going to make my life experience more rich, and be part of making me a whole person. This is the message I’d like to share with our students.


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