When the 156 students of the first batch entered SSE, we were struck by a number of eccentricities that we developed a great fondness for: the idealism of our professors, the newness of the mission (when we entered, the building consisted of one large and two small auditoriums, was unpainted and the scaffolding on the building would take two more years to come off) and the singularity with which the SSE batch was treated. All our classes for the first year, and possibly more, consisted of the entire batch, with the eventuality that our true initiation into LUMS life began in our sophomore year. After four years, a large number of us still have no idea how to compare our undergraduate foray into science with other schools in Pakistan or abroad. We assume that if it’s just as good, it’s pretty darn good.
Did SSE succeed? On a purely superficial level, the accomplishments of the first batch would suggest that it absolutely did. Holding now the most coveted jobs and places to the best graduate programs, across the majors, our batch seems determined to capitalize on the promise of SSE. But on another, more important, level, we cannot know for a while yet if the experiment has succeeded. We have some evidence that it has. For the first time in 4 years, I truly feel like the complete integration of the SSE with other schools and departments at LUMS has been achieved. An integration that has attached very unique identifiers and qualities to the ‘typical’ SSE student, one that no doubt SSE students will take pride in for a long time to come. As the outgoing President of Publications at LUMS, I was interviewing candidates for positions in 2012-2013 council, and was astonished at the fact that most of the promising interviewees were SSE students. This is not as new as the reality that this seemed to be taken for granted by their non-SSE counterparts which seems like a tremendous change from the last 4 years.When me and my friend Nimra Asi joined PLUMS, it seemed like the biggest shock that science students would want to deal with art, literature, politics or really, anything non-nerdy. Now, SSE students charge in triumphantly and take what’s theirs.
None of this gets rid of the uncomfortable fact that SSE was for us and possibly still remains (although considerably less) one of the hardest experiences we can imagine enduring. The assessments were constant, the exams mind-boggling, the laboratories never-ending, and the number of courses that a great deal of people did not want to take never seemed to end. In retrospect, however, the fact that the first SSE batch studied Calculus like it was the only important thing we would ever learn or freshman Physics courses (I especially remember Electricity and Magnetism very fondly) with study groups late into the night collaboratively solving impossible problem sets, may just have trained us to engage with the extremely daunting. Not all classes were as elusive to understanding, but a good many were. This, coupled with the fact that the first batch was accustomed to taking six or seven courses a semester in contrast to the rest of LUMS, meant that our hardship was something we were immensely proud of once we made it through.
When we first entered SSE, we were told to create and invent, to revolutionize the way science is taught, perceived, and employed. We are still a far way from doing any of that, and four years of jaded experience have taught us that it will require a lot more than lip-service. But the tendency to create is present. We look towards Psi-Fi for instance, or any of the numerous events that SPADES initiated, or the many societies our batch managed to infiltrate (SLUMS, LUMUN, PLUMS, LMA to mention just a few). So is the capacity to do original research. A cursory look at the new LUMS website reveals the depth and volume of research taking place that involves undergraduate students, but more importantly, how it is changing teaching in the classroom. My own personal hope, something I expressed in the editorial of the first The Box Move magazine, is that the way science is taught can also change how the social sciences and the humanities are taught (Humanities 2.0) at LUMS. If History was taught with the same visual aids as our freshman Classical Mechanics course when Dr. Asad Naqvi filled the blackboards with large and complicated diagrams that we all delved into whole-heartedly, then maybe we can truly talk about the transformative nature of SSE.
A final word about the batch itself. All of you still remain, and may just always be, the same intimidatingly smart students that I was astonished to be part of when I first joined. Hopefully, through The Box Move, we can keep charting our journey as scientists, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, or any of the other diverse professions our ambitious class wants to go into. Before graduating, on June 23rd, The Box Move is being handed over to a whole new set of SSE students, while the blog will most likely not continue. This seems fitting. We can’t be the it students forever. But let’s try anyway.