Katherine Lam ’00
Director of Cultural Immersion, Infinia Foresight
Open to adventure
Having grown up in the tiny island-nation of Singapore, I was determined to go to college somewhere far away, and somewhere big. When an unexpected acceptance from Princeton arrived in the mail, it was swiftly celebrated with an ice-cream bar, and a few months later, I was off on a 22-hour flight to the other end of the world.
For my major, I had a broad list of possibilities in mind, from economics to ecology and evolutionary biology, and after my freshman year, I was convinced that I should follow in my parents’ medical footsteps. I signed up for an organic chemistry summer school program—but on the first day there, I realized that something didn’t feel right. While I knew that medicine was an amazing occupation, I had to face up to the fact that I didn’t love science the way one embarking on a multi-year scientific journey should. I switched to a course on financial planning for nonprofits.
By the time sophomore year was in mid-swing I was eager to join the sociology department. I realized that it was people that I was interested in, as well as movements in culture and how we as humans shape the world we live in. Spending a semester in Paris confirmed this choice, and as I negotiated existing in yet another foreign country, I grew acutely aware of the similarities, differences, and nuances of the various people and communities I encountered.
Mapping human behavior
Sociology gives you many tools—from understanding human motivation to charting demographics and statistics—ultimately arming you not only to decode, but also communicate persuasively and effect change. In 1998, I became aware of a quiet social revolution that became my senior thesis topic: the social networks of Princeton’s gay men were realigning through the Internet. The research gave me fascinating windows into a community: the shadowy world of chatrooms and the intrepid one of online advocacy.
My thesis work caught the eye of an alum who was in the research field, and my first job was as an “experience modeler,” one who maps the emotional and tactical variables that affect a person’s experience with a product or service. Projects were vastly different—ranging from how moms think about peanut butter to how patients thinks about clinical trials—but “making sense of things” was my constant guiding principle. Making sense became somewhat turbo-charged when I subsequently had the opportunity to manage the consumer trend department for futurist Faith Popcorn, where we had to focus not only on “what” and “why,” but also, “what next?”
I have recently embarked on a new adventure—as a principal at a start-up marketing consultancy called Infinia Foresight. We’re focused on predicting cultural shifts by reconciling large macro forces like economics and politics, with the very human component of what drives us as people. It’s wonderful to have the freedom to think about the future. And while we won’t be able to find all the answers, I’m confident that we will not only discover but also be active participants in shaping the future.