Surviving SSE – Semester 1

Edit: Also, Happy New Year! ūüôā
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†~”Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Last five verses)
I’m studying at the School of Science and Engineering (SSE) of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). I haven’t technically emerged as a survivor yet since I haven’t taken my final exams yet but I’m almost a survivor (assuming I don’t fail the final exams and drop out). LUMS, and university journeys in general, are different for everyone. Some sail through pretty easily, others struggle. Some even abandon the journey half way. So an account of the first semester of my personal journey won’t really be of much help to other people and their own journeys through college life, but one can always try to relate and make analogies.

 

So I arrived at LUMS in August and attended the first day of the orientation. The speeches by the vice chancellor and the deans were nice. Then began what is called the “O-Week”. Lots of people say the o-week is their best time at LUMS but to be honest I didn’t enjoy it very much.¬†Luckily, if I recall correctly, after the second or third day I realized I wasn’t having much fun and kind of dumped my o-week group. THAT is when the fun started. I explored the LUMS School of Science and Engineering¬† (SSE)¬† and emailed Dr. Amer Iqbal, a Theoretical Physicist in the Physics department who I respect and look up to, requesting an appointment. He told me I could come the very next morning to his office in the Physics department. I met him there, discussed the development of Physics and the prospects of becoming a Theoretical Physicist and had a great time. I even took a selfie with him.

 

I spent most of the rest of the semester roaming around and studying in the Physics department  (I also roamed around the physics labs until I was thrown out twice by one of the lab instructors. She was scary. I still roam around the physics labs on days when she is absent). Ironically, by the end of the semester I realized that, even though I ultimately want to become a Theoretical Physicist, what I really want to major in as an undergraduate is Mathematics. I can always minor in Physics, of course, (and maybe even Computer Science or Economics, which might be helpful in taking Actuarial Examinations) but the field of knowledge I really really want to pursue right now is Mathematics.

Here’s some advice for surviving the first semester:

  1. Don’t go to a lot of parties and don’t join a lot of societies. Trust me. I personally didn’t go to¬†any party or join¬†any society all semester but that’s only because I’m a lifeless loser. But keep it minimal. Seriously.
  2. Don’t listen to fellow classmates. Take whatever they say with a bit of salt. If your friend tells you to enroll in a course he or she thinks is cool, don’t enroll in it unless you’re actually interested. Taking a course just because your best friend is taking it is the very definition of stupidity.
  3. Listen to your faculty-advisors. They give awesome advice because they’re faculty members and have gone through the same struggles and know the system. Whenever you need guidance on something, email them and arrange a meeting. Also help them guide you with deciding your major. Ah, and speaking of majors…
  4. Don’t make a biased decision, choose intelligently. When I came to LUMS I was interested in Physics and had a lot of exposure to computer programming.. Yet, I don’t think I’ll blindly choose either Computer Science or Physics as my major. In fact I’m more leaning towards majoring in Mathematics.
  5. Don’t give in to peer pressure. There’ll be LOTS and LOTS of people asking you why you’re doing this and shouldn’t you be doing that and you should try this and you’re an idiot for trying that. Don’t listen to them. Make your own decisions.
  6. Make friends with the Bossman of SSE. There’s this cool bearded guy with an American accent you might see roaming around SSE. His name is Furqan. He’s the bossman of SSE. Make friends with him. He’s intelligent but also very nice and humble.

One thing I learned after coming here is that to be successful, you have to be humble. You have to be humble enough to consider the possibility that you could be wrong and the other person could be right. You have to be humble enough to objectively consider the evidence and form an unbiased conclusion. That is the key to the scientific method. Realizing that you could be wrong and changing your hypotheses when experimental evidence conflicts with it. In Mathematics especially, being receptive and humble is important. As Paul Dirac said,

If you are receptive and humble, mathematics will lead you by the hand. Again and again, when I have been at a loss how to proceed, I have just had to wait until I have felt the mathematics led me by the hand. It has led me along an unexpected path, a path where new vistas open up, a path leading to new territory, where one can set up a base of operations, from which one can survey the surroundings and plan future progress.

And finally, don’t lose your passion in the journey. Always remember why¬†you’re studying whatever you’re studying. If you do anything, do it with conviction and motivation.

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