Graduate Studies Coordinator, Graduate Program in Immunology

Hometown: Tampa, FL


Tell us about yourself!

 “I’m a lifelong learner – I’m curious about nearly everything and everyone.”

What is your favorite thing about working at/for the University of Michigan?

 “We are very fortunate to have access to many talented and experienced people who can put important resources that aid in our growth right at our fingertips.”

When and why did you decide to follow your current career?

“I’ve always been attracted to helping others develop to their full potential and surrounding myself with those who can teach me more. After a six-year career of teaching Language Arts to middle and high school students, I set my sights on working with more mature and educated trainees in an environment that was more intellectually stimulating and in a field that is more far reaching.”


Are you an introvert or extrovert? Does being either help you in your current career?

“I’m a natural introvert. Oftentimes, people misjudge those with my personality as being antisocial, shy, insecure, not a team player, or even less than bright. However, those with my personality tend to generally be better listeners, able to really focus, cultivate deep connections with people, independent, low maintenance, and are largely innovative and creative. In a world that is biased toward extrovert skills, the abilities of introverts are often overlooked, especially in the workplace. Introverts generally think before we speak or act, which leads to deeper and more conscious decision-making. I’m currently reading a powerful book by Susan Cain entitled “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. As Cain notes, “Make the most of introverts’ strengths – these are the people who can help you think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems, and spot canaries in your coal mine”. Maggie Kuhn, American social activist, has a great quote, one in which I strive to live by: “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.”


Are you involved in volunteer work?

“I am a volunteer member of U of M’s Women of Color Task Force – a staff organization founded in 1979 that provides professional development, networking, and training opportunities for employees, with a focus on addressing the needs of women of color staff. The WCTF also serves as a support network and a forum for the exchange of information about the status of women of color staff at the University of Michigan.”

How are you able to balance outreach or DEI work and your career?

“I am fortunate to be employed in a graduate program that sincerely values DEI. Our students identified a need for better access to inspirational role models from various scientific backgrounds (including professors from liberal arts colleges, scientists from industry, publishing, journalism and policy) and a need for expanded networking opportunities for trainees. As a result, we spearheaded a student-run seminar series to introduce scientific role-models from under-represented backgrounds and to expand mentorship circles for students beyond academia. I play a pivotal role in the organization of this seminar series.”

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?

“My father grew up in abject poverty in the deep South in the 50-60s with a very limited formal education, but he was able to do very well for himself by skillfully engaging in real estate, artist promotion, local politics, and retail. He was a masterful connector, easy conversationalist, and all around savvy entrepreneur. He taught me to be hardworking, industrious, productive, always open to people and opportunities, and unapologetically African-American, Muslim, female, and Me.”


What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?

“Never be afraid to ask for advisement – it’s human nature for us to want to help each other. It makes us all feel good to be on both the giving and receiving end of support.”


Do you have a secret for time-management and being productive?

“I create a weekly and daily to do list using my Outlook calendar. It contains all the details of what I need to accomplish, deadlines, and how to go about taking care of the tasks. I also immediately take care of small tasks as soon as it is tasked to me. I like to get the small stuff out of the way first.” 


What do you like to do when you have free time?

“I am fascinated by people, their behavior, relationships and the accompanying dynamics. I enjoy engaging in a great conversation – one in which both parties are open to learning and sharing of themselves on a non-superficial level.  I also really love reading, travel, music, theatre, suspenseful films, and flavorful food.”


Can students contact you directly?

If after reading my spotlight it encourages students and trainees to reach out to me, I would welcome their communication.

Connect with Zarinah on LinkedIn

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Spotlights are created with the help of Nnamdi Edokobi, third-year PhD candidate, Pharmacology Department.