Faces of IMI: Saima Zulqarnain


January 9, 2023

Saima joined IMI in December 2020 as part of the MBiotech team and transitioned to IMIx in May 2021 as Program and Business Development Manager. Prior to joining IMI, Saima worked at Rotman Executive Programs for seven years.  Her experience in non-degree executive programming expands beyond U of T, however.  Before joining U of T in 2008, Saima worked at LUMS University’s executive education department in Lahore, Pakistan, where she managed multiple programs and marketing initiatives. During her time there, she was at the helm of several large-scale international programs offered by LUMS with partners including INSEAD, the Darden School of Business, the World Bank, and the International Human Resource Development Corporation (IHRDC). She currently lives in Oakville with her husband and son.

You’ve been with IMI now for about two years – can you tell us what you enjoy most about your work at IMI, and specifically with IMIx?

Where do I begin? It’s a different experience altogether joining a new team without actually meeting anyone in person due to a global pandemic!  Work (and life) has changed in so many ways. Having said that, I think this experience has helped me pinpoint what I enjoy most about my work and about being part of IMI and IMIx - the people! Even through Zoom/Teams, it didn’t take long for me to feel incredibly lucky that I am a part of a close-knit community of energized, talented, and smart individuals.  I see great work happen daily in a supportive and collaborative way and that is what I enjoy most.

IMIx offers some really compelling courses for working professionals in a variety of industries and functions. What would you say is the most interesting/popular program in terms of subject matter? 

Having worked in executive education for more than 16 years now, I think the programs that are the most compelling are the ones that focus on topics that we already know about… strategy, leadership, decision-making, communication, critical thinking, etc. The reason for this is that those are precisely the programs where the most ‘aha moments’ take place for participants (I’m stealing Oprah’s term here 😊).  There is something special about sudden inspiration, insight, or recognition when learning about a familiar topic. It forces you to articulate something in a way that resonates with you and can be applied to your specific opportunity or challenge. That’s what I find working professionals are looking for when it comes to continuing education.

IMIx launched in 2019. What are the short- and long-term goals for the unit? 

I am incredibly excited to be part of IMIx in its infancy.  As a unit, IMIx has already accomplished so much.  We’ve welcomed over 200 people to our various certificate programs and engaged more than 35 instructors and industry leaders to facilitate our programs. Our short-term goals would be to continue to offer our current programs and also to add new programs that are brand-enhancing, create impact, and showcase UTM’s intellectual property and areas of expertise. In the longer term, we hope to offer multi-year, multi-tier programs that are scalable and attract a wider audience from across Canada and around the globe. We also hope to offer more skills-based certifications and credentialing. Though high-intensity in-person learning experiences have been challenged recently, the new model of online or hybrid programming is helping us redesign and reimagine.

The scope of your role is vast and you seemingly wear many “hats”. How do you stay organized and balance it all? 

I generally organize myself the old-fashioned way by prioritizing tasks and creating checklists along with making plenty of mental notes! I try to start and end my work day with the tasks I enjoy the most.  Having said that, I think my best friend through it all is caffeine. J  

What do you do for fun outside of work? 

I have always been very social but as I get older I prefer smaller gatherings with close friends and family to anything else. I’m blessed that my parents, siblings, and many of my friends live close by so I generally enjoy my time with them. I love traveling, though there hasn’t been much of that lately. I am usually the designated ‘planner’ so I try to focus on making plans that revolve around activities rather than food.  Having recently moved to Oakville, I’ve discovered a lot of great trails in the neighborhood so going for hikes has been a fun and therapeutic activity. However, a game night or movie night trumps it.  I’ve also recently started listening to true-crime podcasts. I guess I want to be the one to figure out whodunit…. Detective Saima! Haha.