Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About LUMS — Junior (Third-Year) Edition
Freshie edition: https://medium.com/@khoonsurat/things-i-wish-someone-had-told-me-before-lums-started-37bc317d3d10
Soph edition: https://medium.com/@khoonsurat/things-i-wish-someone-had-told-me-about-lums-sophomore-edition-372950125801
As always, a disclaimer: I’m from HSS (humanities) and I’m a socio/anthro senior (rising). LUMS has changed a lot since I started, so all the advice may not apply. For instance, the recommendation to have taken a math course may already have been met for first-years joining the university from 2019 onward, who must take one course from the STEM bucket. Those first-years (and others incoming) must adhere to a bucket system for first year, which involves taking one course each from the STEM bucket, the Social and Behavioral Sciences bucket (think Psych, Anthro, Socio), and the Arts and Humanities bucket (think Philosophy, CLCS, etc). In your second year, you’ll have an assorted bucket of various 200-level courses from within your own school; you HAVE to choose one to study or you’ll be force-enrolled.
This is why it’s important for students to create their own tips and tricks for their peers each year. The more people doing this, the better, because each major has its own challenges.
A second disclaimer: the list is never truly complete. I’ll probably recall something later and come back to add it. You can also message me your queries or hit me up on Twitter.
It’s junior year! December of junior year also marked my first year in therapy so I’m gonna sound like a real hippie in this. I have learned a lot about myself and that has altered the conclusions I come to, thus affecting the advice I dispense. This is why I want to clarify that everyone has different goals and priorities, which is why it’s important to seek out advice from people who have what you want or have come from similar circumstances. Asking a professor who comes from generational wealth whether academia is a good idea for you, a girl who wants to run away from home, isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to find someone who is closer to your age, who is coming of age in the drastically different economy of 2020 (as compared to 20 years ago, which is when your professor probably graduated), and can tell you the trends they see in the workplace (if income matters to you). Ask someone who’s leading a life of your choice for advice.
Getting a therapist in my second year of uni was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was the reason I was able to have a 20 CH course load in my 5th semester and a 19 CH in my 6th semester, with a TA-ship in each and two tutoring gigs always running. Go to the LUMS counselor if you’re struggling. Hit up Hafsa Yaseen’s Waqfiyaat for pro-bono services. Care about yourself enough to get help. The sooner you reach out, the better. Most kids in LUMS are struggling with mental health, even if it doesn’t show; they’ll tell you which faculty is friendly enough to be approached with these concerns.
Larger goal 1: you need to look at junior year as the year to bulk up your imaginary LinkedIn profile. Heads-up: a lot of your peers will be talking about corporate internships and multi-national companies and networking this semester. Don’t let that freak you out, especially as an HSS kid who’s wondering if they should participate in a L’Oréal drive just for their CV.
Some people pursue corporate achievements because they plan on going into the corporate sector after graduation. If you want a more creative path for a career, your journey will be less predictable. For instance, if you’re looking into journalism, this may be the year to start writing and pitching pieces to LUMS publications and then to local newspapers. You can also repurpose your academic essays for zines or write about your experiences researching a certain topic, share any insight you couldn’t put into your essay but felt like valuable information. If you’re an artist, this may be the year to start building your social media presence, seeking commissions, refining an interactive platform to gain followers, etc. Once you’ve done that, you could enter art competitions, send your pieces for publication. It’s also perfectly okay to not want to let the world have access to your creative output. It doesn’t mean your work is worth any less. I’m only giving these ideas because unis are corrupt institutions that care about awards and shit.
If you’re nervous, consider putting it up under a pseudonym so no one can recognize you.
Even these creative pursuits can be coupled with professional experience. Writers can find journalism or copywriting/copyediting work. Artists can find graphic design/illustrating work. Tbh, I can already tell you that online skills are becoming much more important and impressive to have, so save up for a secondhand tablet (or crowdfund; there’s no shame in asking) and start learning Photoshop, Illustrator, Canva, etc., during the summer break.
You can do an internship for the experience in freshie/soph year and use that to make your resume more competitive for that postgrad/future-career relevant internship in a firm or an industry you can see yourself work in. Junior and senior year internships matter a lot more because firms are looking for young grads to hire straight out of uni or to keep in mind. When you come back after graduation to apply, they’ll be pulling up the work you did during your internship. So you can get a soph internship that you don’t particularly care about to learn the ropes. Your junior/senior year internship should preferably be more seriously handled; you want to do a good job to network with your colleagues (who will recommend you to other recruiters) and with your bosses (who might hire you after graduation).
I know that freelance work pays much better than even the best internships in Pakistan, which is unfair. A lot of kids don’t get internships because it’s a waste of time, and a lot of recruiters just don’t respect freelance work as much as internship experience, unless you’re a celebrity freelancer on Fiverr with 5 years of rave reviews (most of these people delegate the work to others, pocket most of the pay and benefit from the reviews when all the hard work is done by newbies). Freelancers who get most of their work through word-of-mouth recommendations often don’t have much to show for their hard work; the burden is entirely on recruiters to change the ways in which they evaluate ability.
It’s okay to feel nervous when you hear business kids talking about Nestle. You may not have the same path but when so many people are all repeating the same strategy for success and postgrad, you start feeling like you didn’t get the memo and are neglecting some invisible looming deadline. That’s a normal fear to have but I can tell you that it’s not the be-all end-all of success. Does it make the path easier? I can’t lie: it does. Most people are impressed by MNC work experience because that’s the capitalist world we live in. But that doesn’t mean there’s no chance for you.
Alternatively, HSS kids often end up feeling like there’s nothing they can do with their degree except academia. Apart from the fall of the tenured faculty due to COVID-19 and the global teacher layoffs, it’s easy to feel lost if you don’t want to become a professor.
That’s where shamelessly emailing professionals in the field of your choice comes in handy. Talk to your seniors about life after graduation to find out about their experiences. Those people will be able to tell you what skill-sets are in demand (so many wish they had taken some data analysis courses and learned to use the software because of how in-demand they are), whether the field will still be relevant by the time you graduate (a pandemic does funny things to the economy), how tough it was in the beginning (so you don’t feel like the only person in the world who struggles after graduation). Spread your email far and wide because many people are too busy to respond. The wider your reach, the better the chances of a response. For me, my therapist has provided me with great insight on what being an adult in your mid-twenties feels like.
Here’s the advice most of them gave me: master software because most jobs require some form of quantitative expertise. They said pol sci/socio degree programs were woefully inadequate because they didn’t teach kids Excel, R, Stata, etc. If you can’t take a course at LUMS (unsurprising, given the terrible planning), teach yourself by watching tutorials and downloading it for free. Even the best courses will only teach you the basics. You will need to teach yourself the rest. You can structure this by taking MATH 101 (Calculus) first because it’s a pre-req to some of the courses I’m about to mention next (like econometrics and SDA).
The other courses you can choose from are: Econ 230 (Statistical and Data Analysis — SDA), Econ 330, DISC 203, Math 230 (Cal 1) + Math 231 (Cal 2). You need to take at least one of these courses to qualify for Econometrics.
You can also take DISC 321, but take Probability and Statistics first because it’s a pre-req.
The majority of corporate jobs require some form of data analysis expertise but if you’re a qualitative kid, that’s fine. If you’re also attached to your GPA and bad at math, you can try teaching yourself. Some kids just do better when they have a structured course and a teacher. Some people prefer to learn on their own without the pressure of timed tests.
Employers have been employing people long enough to know that one handful of uni courses doesn’t ensure expertise. You will have to demonstrate your abilities in front of them anyway, so you don’t need to worry much on the job front.
This only becomes a hurdle when you’re looking for a postgrad program. Some degree programs may require you to have taken a math course per semester for a year. Some may only want one course. Some may want some introductory science courses that are the equivalent of theirs (like by covering the same topics).
This brings me to my second point: you need to start figuring out where you wanna go and what you wanna study in your junior year, so you have 1.5–2 years to take the courses your dream program wants.
Larger goal 2: you need to start looking into your postgrad plans, if you can afford to. There are several caveats: many kids need to jump straight into earning, because they’re their family’s main breadwinner. Some kids are fleeing parents trying to coerce them into early marriage, so they go for the first and/or the easiest program they can find. I will be honest: Pakistan’s economy is severely exploitative and pays for the stamp on your degree, which means students from public universities end up with 30k as their first salary, while private universities (such as IBA, Habib and LUMS) often end up in the 60k-70k bracket. Men will be paid more than women. English speakers with an accent will be paid more.
Some pigs will try to justify it because they think they spent a lot on their degree, without bothering to think about the theft and tax fraud their parents engaged in so they could pay the fee. The point is to highlight that even in an economy that loves to drain young people of their strength and ideas while paying them pennies, kids from LUMS get the most pennies. The least we can do is to point out this injustice in our workplaces and help other employees negotiate for a higher pay.
However, if you only have an undergrad degree, your pay will stagnate very quickly. Promotion is only possible up until a point. That’s why many people recommend that you work for a year or two and then leave for higher ed. Even some scholarships, like DAAD or Chevening, require a couple of years of work experience (2 for DAAD). It makes your application more competitive too, because work experience is a valuable contribution. It gives you insight as a student, making you a good candidate.
It also gives you a break from studying (if you’re looking for one). Lastly, it teaches you what skills are valued in the workplace — or, at least, a very specific segment of the Pakistani workplace that you’ve experienced. I’m adding this because people often think their experience is a blueprint for every workplace environment ever. However, some people want to go straight for higher ed, and that’s fine too. The popular way to do something is not necessarily the right way to do it. Your needs will be very different from your peers’.
So, do you want to pursue higher education? Is it going to be a Master’s or a PhD? This is the time to grill your seniors and your faculty advisor for advice. Go to professors who did work you’re interested in (many of them have probably done this part-time or know someone in the field). For me, personally, the questions went in this order. First, do I want a Master’s or a PhD? I want a Master’s because academia is crumbling right now and postgraduate students are running out of funding, striking to be paid more and training for an industry that’s killing tenure, so their chances of employment are pretty low. In fact, many TAs are being put under even more pressure, because their unis are expecting them to take over for the fired professors and teach their classes. Do I want to go someplace where my living stipend is tied to my TA job? Nope. Do I want to spend some of my best years researching, cooped up in a building? Do I want to go back to an environment that’s made me feel unseen and unheard and bind myself to it for 5–7 years? Resounding no.
Then, what program do I want to apply to? A Master’s is only a step-up from your undergrad, so I was under way less pressure to decide. I wasn’t stressed out about spending 5–7 years (my entire youth) in a field only to find out that I hated it. Then I had to find a university that would let me do a Master’s in my field because many universities allow a Master’s only if you’re planning to do a PhD right after with them.
This is a lengthy process, which is why you need to start early. You can go about it two ways.
Either you can do it uni-first. In this process, you choose a dream university you want to attend and a list of backups (with the right program ofc). You make a list by focusing on certain characteristics like: if it has a student union (a requirement for me after the shit LUMS pulled on its students), if the faculty are to your liking. You can check the climate if you can’t stand extreme heat or extreme cold, because you’re going to be living there for two years. I personally look into statistics of sexual assault, racial violence, class discrimination, etc. Many care about accommodation and the facilities.
That approach works better if you have the money for higher ed. If you need a scholarship to attend, you need the scholarship-first method. First, you choose the degree program you’re interested in. Then, you look for scholarships that cover that area of interest. Let’s say you want to pursue South Asian studies and realize that both Fulbright and Rhodes offer funding for this. You’ll apply to those scholarships. For this category, the money is more important than the uni you’re placed. I’m not saying this because you need to settle for a mediocre university or something to just get done with your degree. Many of these scholarships are partnered with phenomenal institutions. It’s just an idea of where your priorities lie, because for this group, securing funding is of utmost importance. If your dream university doesn’t offer funding, you simply can’t attend.
Some of us only look into scholarships because we can’t attend without funding, so we go where the aid takes us. By summer break, you should have a list of universities and/or scholarships you’ll be applying to.
Whenever I talk to my friends, I predict we’re about to have an intellectual shift from the US to Europe, the same one that pulled the center from the UK to the US (that’s why so much of your older faculty is educated in England). The USA’s visa, migration and deportation policies are making it for students to attend universities, let alone settle there (which is why so many people go graduate from there in the first place). Europe is an affordable option with a much longer history of scholarship and prestige. A significant portion of the Global South will soon be pursuing education in Europe (many already study in Germany).
Larger goal 3: those of you applying for the US need to start studying for your GREs (for postgrad and if the university/scholarship you’re applying to needs the scores) so you can sit for the exam in the summer break before senior year. Some of you will need to save up the money; some of you can crowdfund it. The GREs costs $190 for those outside the US for, which is PKR 32000 (last I checked), so you will need to save up during the year or find a sponsor to afford the exam. There’s also the cost of actually sending those test score reports to the universities you’re applying to — a whopping $27 per recipient. Let’s add the application fee per university to this, which vary but often average around $150. There are waivers but I don’t know how easily they’re available.
The preparation itself takes 1–2 months (that’s what I’ve heard), so don’t risk your grades by ditching your studies for something you can learn during June and July. However, that depends on your own abilities. If you’re weak at Eng/math, you may want to practice slowly all year.
Others will need TOEFL/IELTS (PKR 24k in Peshawar, Abbottabad, Quetta, PKR 27k in Khi and Hyd, PKR 28k in Isl, Lhr, Fsl, Sargodha, Multan, Bahawalpur, Sialkot and Gujrat, as per the British Council website) scores.
TOEFL costs $195: https://www.usefpakistan.org/Testing/TOEFL.cfm?Tab=Testing#:~:text=You%20can%20register%20for%20TOEFL,States%20Educational%20Foundation%20in%20Pakistan%22.
As you can see, standardized testing is a racket and we’re all being duped. But every university doesn’t require these tests. They’re just harder to find but I promise, they’re out there.
Larger goal 4: pre-COVID, students must submit a proposal for their senior year project by April of junior year and start meeting with their chosen supervisors. The project itself is not mandatory but it’s useful as a writing sample and as a demonstration of your research skills when you apply for postgrad. Just remember: it’s 10k words and 6–8 CHS, so you can’t half-ass it. That’s why I suggest that you start thinking right now. For a good SPROJ, it’s important to find an instructor who has either done research in the field you’ll be exploring or is a good mentor to you and understands your priorities (preferably both). Find an instructor whose teaching style gels with your learning style. For instance, if you’re doing an SPROJ in education, you’ll need an instructor who can recommend literature, connect you to relevant people, possesses the know-how because they’ve been working in the field long enough, is willing to hear your feedback about their guidance so they can work with you better, etc.
You will also need all this time to choose the topic itself. Are you conducting research in your hometown or Lahore? Is it feasible, accessible (women aren’t allowed access to a lot of places), affordable? Is the research even possible? Does it require some skill you don’t possess (such as translation)? Why not team up with a partner? The idea of research is exciting, and we often get carried away and set unrealistic goals. Use junior year to take courses that encourage independent research. It might be hectic but it will answer a lot of questions. Am I built for sweating in the heat in marketplaces for 5 hours a day? Am I better suited to primary research or secondary? Have I developed my ability to converse enough to do an ethnography?
Who knows? You might start a project in those courses that might intrigue you enough to flesh it out as an sproj. Just remember, it’s a 30-page project. You want to make sure you pick up something with enough data (quantitative or qualitative).
In my year, we were emailed that anth/soc majors (at least) needed a 3.2 CGPA and to have taken Qualitative Research Methods (because Quant hadn’t been offered for a couple of years but Qual had been offered consecutively) to take an SPROJ. They clarified that exceptions would be made if deemed fit, but it’s better to be safe.
Here, I want to transition into smaller goals. Speaking of converting a course project into an sproj, you can always do a Directed Research Project (2 CH) or Independent Research (1 CH) with the instructor you’d like to have as your supervisor. Try doing this in your fall semester, because you may need to finalize an idea and submit the proposal during spring. This DRP is only pass/fail so it’s much safer and lets you check for compatibility. You can even do a version of the sproj idea you’re considering to test the waters.
However, be careful. Your sproj should be your passion project, because it will require hard work and lots of reading. Some professors might try to use you to do their grunt work. They may suggest a topic you’re not particularly excited by but one they want to explore for themselves, because they want to use your data for their own research without crediting you as a co-author. The best of us still want to please authority figures, so we don’t have the necessary conversations about how our teachers can sometimes exploit us for free labor and make senior year miserable. No matter how much we love a teacher, the power dynamics don’t go away. Make sure you choose someone that is worth your time, attention and insight. Choose someone who understands your expectations of yourself and guides you towards meeting them, instead of someone imposing their own standards of excellence on you.
In university, intellect is capital. Ideas and experiences are currency. Do not underestimate what you bring to the table, the importance of your unique perspective. The instructor also benefits from being your sproj supervisor (it gets added to their resume), so you’re not burdening them.
2. Frankly, ECAs are the least important part of your CV anywhere. If you want to bulk up your ECAs, apply to be a PAL or an O-week coach (I’d recommend PAL because it pays 10k a semester for a year and some of us need the money). Keep your eyes peeled for the application from May onwards. Careful: you’ll have to show up at least ten days before LUMS actually opens. The dorms were not cleaned up or fumigated or fixed in 2019 (and it appears to be a pattern of neglect). You’ll be doing a lot of sweeping and wiping on your own.
This is also useful because your PAL work can count as work experience. The same goes for your society, so don’t be afraid. Apply for that executive level position without any fear. You’ll know you tried. It’s better to get into smaller societies because you’ll have more control and way less bullying. No corporation or postgrad uni will care about the scale of your society anyway. The idol worship will wear off after graduation, so just pick someplace that’s hospitable to you and hears you out, instead of the Music Society or LAS.
3. This is the time to land an RA-ship, if you’re looking for a career in research, thinktanks, etc. Obviously if LUMS has slashed its budget (because it’s too busy decorating 😊), it’ll be much harder to get a spot. Put your feelers out and ask professors to recommend you to those conducting research (be they local or international). LUMS has multiple grants and they are refreshed after a certain amount of time has elapsed. Approvals are sent out during late Sept and early Oct, late Oct, winter break, etc. This is the time to ask around.
Hunting for an RA-ship will teach you a valuable thing that it’s never too early to learn: if you want something, you need to ask for it. Tell all your professors that you’re looking for an RA-ship and if they’re conducting research, you’d like to be considered. Tell them if their peers or their international colleagues are conducting research, you’d like to be recommended. I went to Sir Naseer-ud-Din to ask who had received the grant so I could go talk to the relevant people (people I had studied with or were in my dept).
Merit is a myth. Very few teachers, if any, will come up to you and drop an opportunity in your lap out of nowhere. It’s not enough to stand out to your teachers; you need to tell them you’d like to be an RA. Try following up politely and asking for an answer because they’re likely to forget. This is by no means encouragement to go harangue them. Just don’t give up because there are multiple cycles for grants (Sept-Oct, Jan-Feb, etc.).
A 10–15 hour (per week) RA-ship pays 30k per month but it will take up your weekends. It will be harder to manage — or get — an RA-ship with a packed schedule that keeps you busy from 10 am to 6 pm because most libraries and archives close after 5 pm. If, like me, you’ve also taken on 20 credits during junior year (my condolences), you may have to wait until senior year to bag an RA-ship. Again, many people overhype a LUMS RA-ship. You will not be regretting not getting an RA-ship for very long, especially because many of them don’t teach you much beyond what being an errand-runner entails.
Being a TA will impact your chances for an RA-ship though. A LUMS student is allowed to put in a limited number of work hours per week, so choose wisely. Many full-time TAs are straight-up denied the chance to do a full-time RA-ship alongside.
If you don’t get an RA-ship, that’s okay. Get a research internship during the summer. There are many, but the ratio of unpaid to paid is skewed highly in the former’s favor, so that might be a deterrent. Another fun fact: many internships favor junior and senior year students because they’re hoping to find potential employees, which is why this is a good time to start applying.
4. It’s also the time to land a TA-ship. All TA-ships are not built equally. A 30–40 student TA-ship pays 42k per semester (full TA-ship, 20 hours a week). A 20–30 student TA-ship pays 31k per semester. A 10–20 student TA-ship pays 20k per semester. Writing and Communication pays 42k no matter the class size. My experiences taught me very quickly that only the 30–40 one comes close to reimbursing you for the exhaustion of TA-ing. This may be breezy for people who are not juggling a full course load and off-campus jobs though. The workload also depends on the instructor you’re working with. Some don’t quiz their students, so you won’t have to check the papers.
Some people will make you feel like you need to email professors or talk to them personally to TA a course. Sure, if a professor has been that impactful for you and if you’ve loved their course, go ahead. But TA-ships will open automatically in the third or fourth week of August for you to apply. You just need to be a junior and have a GPA of 3.0+ to apply.
Your TA cheque is split into two. The first half is halfway through the semester (Oct: fall, March: spring). The other half arrives at the end of the semester. This can be Jan for fall and June for spring. The end is much less structured. Do not base all your expenses around the TA cheque; you aren’t issued one every month.
Random tip: whoever is the best speaker (and has the strongest understanding of the concepts) in your presentation group, make sure they do either the introduction or the conclusion (the latter is preferred). They can mention everything everyone else might have missed out and strengthen all the links anyone might have neglected to establish.
5. Jbtw, the admin is untrustworthy, so if you’re filling out a fridge/heater registration form for the dorm, make sure you keep the receipt AND GET A SCANNED COPY. Take a picture and save it in your CamScanner app (or whatever your phone’s default scanner app is). If there’s a random check (and they email you in advance to warn you) and they find an unregistered appliance in your room that you did register but they have no record, you’ll have to show your receipt to be taken seriously.
6. This is the time to start asking questions about life after graduation, because of how quickly it’s approaching. Ask your fresh graduates about living expenses, commute, food, etc. Ask them what they wish they had known. Take careful notes of the job postings on the Facebook group and remember what skills they usually look for. You’ll see that graphic design and social media management are taking off, usually as a combo deal. This is the time to start learning the necessary software like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, etc. Excel is usually a must.
7. A lot of people right now are doing courses on Coursera for their future jobs but frankly, I think employers have browsed the catalog too and know exactly the kind of actual learning being imparted through those courses. Sure, a certificate is always nice but that qualification alone is not enough. It takes one slip-up for the level of skill to show. Regardless of whether you’re taking those courses, see if you can set aside time even once every two weeks to brush up on the software and keep learning (after downloading it for free, of course, because those prices are exploitative).
I just want to remind people that if they’re not doing Coursera round the clock, that’s fine. You don’t need to be amassing achievements 24/7 to be secure in your work or your ambitions That’s just a problem I and other people have. You could ask your seniors for interview advice instead, because that matters more.
8. I know I’ve said your first year is the most important in terms of GPA and that’s true. The GPA in your first semester weighs the most, so play it safe. You’ll already be learning a whole new way of life, so stick to what you know and ease it into foreign territory araam se. But for postgrad, the letter GRADES from your last two years matter the most. Postgrad unis give more importance to those grades when reviewing candidates.
Lastly, there will always be things no amount of advice could have prepared you for (like studying during a global pandemic). That’s fine. The point of this isn’t to test how prepared you are but how well you can adapt, how well you can take a hit and keep going. There’s not a lot to learn in junior year. You’ve already figured most of uni out. Now you’re preparing more for postgrad education/a job than for your uni. Just remember to finish your out-groups asap because you will be turned down the older you get. Always take your 200 level courses first. If there’s a course that intrigues you, take it now.