School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Two-time Alumnus Credits Queen’s Training and Alumni Network for International Success

April, 2016
By Sharday Mosurinjohn

Alumna Homy Dayani-Fard

Alumnus Dr.  Homy (HomayounDayani-Fard

“Getting answers is easy; the information is all there,” says Dr. Homy (Homayoun) Dayani-Fard. “Asking the right questions, that’s what’s hard.”

In graduate studies at Queen’s Homy Dayani-Fard says he learned how to ask questions. Some of those questions were of the “big names” in his Master’s field of computer science. At a defense preparation, his MSc internal examiner said: “you have the chance when you are here to challenge even the biggest expert in the field. My question is do you agree with him?” His expertise was already sought after and his work was award-winning, but that was the first moment he remembers someone inviting him to say what he thought and to think for himself.

As Homy (Professor Homy, to his students) progressed into his PhD, some of the hardest questions to ask were of himself. After devoting ten years to two graduate degrees, did he really want to be an academic? And if not, could he move sectors? Move disciplines?

During his first and only academic job interview – which happened to be at his favourite alma mater – Queen’s then-chancellor posed yet another question that turned out to help answer the ones Homy had asked himself. The Chancellor wanted to know what was his ivory tower? Homy replied that he “didn’t do ivory tower.” The Chancellor concluded that what Homy was describing, then, was not an academic life. “Ultimately, it was a very close competition but I lost and that losing was a wake up call for me about what I really wanted to do.”

Well, that, plus the fact that the political climate of Canada was cooling to first-generation Canadians like him. Simply travelling to the US for job interviews turned into entire days held up at the border. Though he loved Canada, he set his sights on the cosmopolitan centres of England. He had long wanted to go to England, knowing that “back in the 90s if you didn’t have a foreign experience you were in trouble” for academic and industry jobs alike. So in the mid 2000s Homy packed up his things and went to Oxford to get an MBA.

Why an MBA? Well, by that time, he had already been working for a while in industry at IBM Canada Centre for Advanced Studies. It had recruited him for his diverse skillset. But even there he found his pragmatic, out-of-the-tower side a little repressed. He was branded as too “techy,” or someone whose true potential was only research. “I liked the intellectual aspects,” says Homy, “but I was too pragmatic. And I think I have a short attention span. I’ve always been more of a broad generalist rather than someone who sought deep technical expertise, and I like time-limited projects.” Putting his MBA to use in management consulting for major organizations has revealed these idiosyncrasies as the professional virtues they are.

In the UK, where Homy still lives now, he has been able to leverage his multidisciplinary training as a strategy consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton and subsequently Booz & Company, as a director at his own company (YWH LTD), and as director (strategy & customer) at EY. “In Canada and the US we have diversity of people but not diversity of thinking,” he explains, citing an oft-repeated management joke: “in Canada we love dissenters like Gandhi and Mandela, but we would never hire them in corporate roles! In Canada people come to be Canadian. In UK they come to stay who they are. Until you come to London you’ve never seen diverse.”

Yet in the midst of difference, Homy still had his Canadian schooling with him: “Queen’s has probably the best alumni network in Canada,” he says. Wherever he met a Queen’s alum he found instant rapport. “I was part of a family. We would start talking about grad school, partying, sailing on the lake. That was one of the great helps that I got when I first moved.” Proving that the advice from the alumni network was sound, Homy recalls one particular conversation with a fellow who said: “Give it two or three years and I promise you will not go back. This is one of the biggest economic hubs in the world.” And indeed, he never did.

Lately in his role as a consultant Homy has been working with a number of banks in London and he is still asking the hard questions he learned how to ask at Queen’s. One question, for instance, facing banks in the UK is whether or not they should offer financial advice. So when one of his clients asked him: “how are we going to be cost efficient providing advice?” Homy replied: “That’s not the question.” Tackling first things first, he asked instead: “what are you hoping to accomplish by offering advice?” A subtle challenge based on critical, structured thinking – and one that took the discussion on an entirely different tack. No wonder Homy is in high demand across his professional contexts and as a mentor, too, for the universities of which he has been a part.

It’s clear that the training Homy got at Queen’s only brought out a sense of principle and strategy that was already strong in him. “Queen’s instilled a sense of curiosity to ask better questions,” he remarks. Stories and examples abound; even from his own convocation, where Homy had held back his dissertation submission in order to graduate at the small Fall ceremony where Romeo Dallaire would be a guest. “Dallaire had just published Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda and this was at a time that no one would dare asking questions that could be viewed as insensitive to the US terrorist attack of 9/11. He challenged the class of intellectuals with the question: is the colour of blood the same? He presented that around 6000 people died in 9/11 and over a million died in Rwanada, yet no one was talking about Rwanda.” Convocation is a moment, Homy says, that “you want to be cheerful” but it’s also a poignant one, as you step into the next phase of your life, when “you have to acknowledge the realities around you and the responsibility to ask tough questions.”

Homy has likewise been willing to embrace the bittersweetness of teaching – in one case, even after he had already moved on from Queen’s. When a student was caught cheating in one of Homy’s courses, the conflict slowly wound its way through to the point of the student eventually bringing litigation into the matter, by which time Homy was long gone. Nonetheless, he gave his own time to see the conflict through to a satisfying conclusion, standing up for what he knew was right. “It’s the principle,” he says, with a conviction that comes from having at least one previous student thank him, years later, for upholding standards in his classroom that taught the hard lesson that there is always more to learn. “These are the kinds of things that can change somebody else’s life.” 

So what is Homy’s advice for current Queen’s grad students who are contemplating their own research, teaching, and next steps after convocation? Whether you’ve come from another institution or plan on going to another for your next degree, “don’t think you’re going to another university to get a better education; what you’re getting is another perspective.” From Homy’s international and interdisciplinary perspective, perspective is exactly what you need. To learn more, Queen’s students and alumni can join the LinkedIn Group in which Homy participates as part of Queen’s alumni mentorship program.


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