The LUMS Daily Student decided to have a conversation with the always smiling, yet sometimes intimidating, Dr. Mohsin Bashir. Needless to say, there never really was a dull moment during the interview. He views himself as the villain in the classroom, but he is more than wiling to help his students outside the class, and was kind enough to bear our questions, discuss his own CP struggles, his childhood shenanigans, his love for motorcycles and his most embarrassing moments, all with incredible honesty, genuine humility and a sense of humor that stems from a level of self contentment that few really achieve in life.
So lets start from the beginning, what was your childhood experience like? Were you the youngest?
I was the youngest, in fact the baby of the family. I was extremely spoiled growing up. But those were good old times, so part of being spoiled was also being beaten up. I was disciplined a lot physically, my mother, my siblings, my uncles, my aunts and even my teachers used to beat me up [Smiles]. Whenever I went to school, and I went to a mission school, so the nuns and priests would always ask me to stand on my knees as punishment for one thing or the other, sometimes I would just walk in to the assembly and they would ask me to kneel down on my own.
So you weren’t really a disciplined student at all?
I wasn’t really a disciplined student, but I was a very good student academically. In terms of extra-curricular activities, I used to play sports but not at an inter-school level. I used to do a lot of debates, in fact my Punjabi was really good so I used to do a lot of Punjabi debates.
But it’s important for you to understand that this isn’t a school like LGS or Beaconhouse. We’re talking about a school that is English medium in name, but Urdu-Punjabi medium in reality. The fee was around 150 Rupees per month, so the richest and the poorest children were all together. Even our English classes used to be conducted in Urdu, so it was a very ‘desi’ environment. I used to top my class, but then I also created mischief, so there was that.
Can you create an academic timeline for us? What you did after School and how you ended up with an MBA, and then a PhD?
Till the 7th grade, I wanted to join the Pakistan Air force. And then later, I wanted to join the army. But by the time I took my Matric exams, I was on the typical ‘doctor or engineer’ track. I did an FSc in pre-engineering, since I couldn’t really study biology, so becoming a doctor was out of the question. And like all good engineering students, I wanted to become an electrical engineer, since that was the highest merit at UET Lahore.
But I was also really fascinated by computers. Since the 3rd grade, I used to visit the Children’s Complex Lahore and do some computing work there. I thought this was something I could pursue. And then I met someone who was a Computer Science major from FAST, and I was so impressed by the guy that I thought this was something I had to do for sure.
But when I started my Computer Science degree, people around me were completely dumbfounded. No one even knew what CS was at the time and they thought I was committing a huge mistake by not doing engineering, also because I had the marks needed to get in to an engineering program, so it really didn’t make sense to them. And FAST Lahore wasn’t even a university at the time; it was an affiliated college of the Punjab University that was only authorized to run one degree, which was a 3-year Bachelor in Computer Science.
So I went and I got that degree, but I was an extremely bad student there. DC, probations, F grades, you name it. I graduated third from the bottom with a CGPA of 2.15. But I was one of the first to get a job since I was really good at programming. I wasn’t very good with my core courses such as Math or Physics, but I was very good with CS courses. So I would usually have 2 F’s in a semester and then an A.
I landed a job while I was completing my degree, so I finished my last two semesters in the evening and began working full time in my final year. But around 6 months in to the job, I realized while I loved programming, I hated working as a programmer.
So a year and a quarter after I started working, I met an instructor who had taught me the one management elective I had taken while in FAST. I found out she did some corporate social responsibility work, and I thought it seemed like something good to do. So I resigned from my job a few days later, and went to her office. She told me she didn’t have a job for me, but since I had already resigned from my previous job, I said I’ll just hang around for work anyways. She said please don’t, but you know. [Laughs]
I would just go and sit there, and she would get really annoyed, so she would just give me some trivial work to do. I would do some basic peon work, organize a few files and later fix a few virus-ridden computers. Within 3 months, I became an essential part of the organization, unpaid though. 6 months later, I was an employee there, getting paid around 11,000 Rupees when the minimum wage in Lahore was around 8 to 9,000 Rupees.
This organization worked for Nike, and conducted social audits at Nike vendor factories. When they were asked to switch over to a computerized system, I was asked to check it out since I knew computers, and that’s how I learnt how their entire system worked.
Now when they couldn’t find someone to accompany them for one of those audits, I volunteered. Since I already knew how everything worked, I completed the entire audit by myself. They were pretty happy with it, so I was then advised to become a social auditor.
When I started working as a social auditor, I was being paid a lot of money. At a time when a LUMS MBA would have been lucky to get a 30-35,000 Rupees salary, I was being paid around 40-45,000 Rupees, so I was really excited initially.
But then I ran in to a roadblock, I realized that I couldn’t go anywhere with that job. I had a CS degree, whereas this was an out and out social science or business management type of a thing. I then thought of getting a business degree, but I didn’t even enroll in Punjab University’s MBA program, I thought that would be too hard. [Smiles] I enrolled in the easiest program they had to offer, it was an evening Masters in IT or something. But then people around me kept saying I was wasting my time, and I should apply to LUMS, but I had no money so LUMS seemed like an impossible idea.
I belong to a lower middle class family, so I grew up in a small house in Allama Iqbal Town. My father retired when I was in college and he didn’t have a job or a business to go to, so we pretty much grew up giving tuitions and his pension also played a major role. So at that time, my family was in a critical financial situation and I had to do one thing or the other to support my education.
I was supporting my Masters through my salary from Nike, while I was also contributing to the household expenses. A LUMS MBA was absolutely too expensive and out of the question, as I would have had to leave my job for it.
But then I received an acceptance from LUMS, along with a full scholarship and a monthly stipend for their MBA program, so I thought why not? Then I switched to LUMS after 2 months at Punjab University.
During my 2nd year at LUMS, I became really fascinated by my professors. They spoke like ‘goras’, they dressed the way they wanted. They could wear jeans or even a tracksuit to class and then go to a meeting. They could say whatever they wanted, they could crack an adult joke in class and that would be okay. That level of freedom really fascinated me, so I began hanging out with my professors more. One person in particular, Dr. Imran Ali, who is now dean of KSBL told me and Dr. Shehryar Shahid, who was my batch mate and was in the same boat as me at the time, that we’d both be good at researching and should definitely do a PhD.
I graduated in May 2006 from my MBA, went back and completed the Nike assignment and came back to LUMS as an RA on a 35,000 Rupees per month salary in December 2006, to the scolding of my entire family. But the idea was to get in to a university the next year. I got accepted to Oxford’s Social Policy program, but they only exempted the tuition fees and the living costs were too expensive. I applied for an HEC scholarship, but I didn’t get it. At the same time though, I received my Fulbright scholarship for my PhD, which is when I gave up the idea of going to the UK and geared up for the US.
So while I was finishing my PhD in Public Administration, Dr Arif Butt, the Dean of SDSB, called me up and told me to come back to LUMS when I finish, and so I came back.
You were working unpaid for 3 months at one point in time. Didn’t your parents advise you against it, considering you left a pretty stable job for something pretty risky?
Yes, so they were against me leaving my job as a programmer, but my parents have been very supportive of me. Even though they really needed me to work and support the family, but they did whatever they had to do to ensure I didn’t have to compromise on my dreams.
So when I told them I want to leave my job, they did say it’ll difficult for me to manage, but once I told them I was ready to face everything, they said alright, go ahead, we’ll support you.
I only had a small pool of savings for those 3 months, but I really didn’t have much to spend on. I dressed like I dress now, so one jean and a couple of shirts can last me a month. My only real expense was buying petrol for my bike at the time.
How was your MBA experience at LUMS? Is this where the love for CP came from?
Yes, so before I came to LUMS, I could hardly speak two sentences in English. I could write decently, but I couldn’t really communicate at all. I was good at the non-serious type of communication, I could crack good jokes but I was unable to communicate anything serious. I really didn’t think of myself as someone who could be taken seriously. So I guess you can say, I was shy in terms of sharing what I knew.
But when my MBA started, CP was something that was very new for me, and I was forced to read and contribute in class. When I started making CP, I would say “aaaah”, and then the first word, and another “aaaah” and then the second word. People would make fun of me saying “ yeh raag suna raha hai.” [Laughs]
But by my second year, I began participating in class rather smoothly. And for the first time in my life, people seemed to take my point seriously every now and then, and that was a really nice experience. I used to say it didn’t matter at the time, but it did. When I saw that happening to me, I wanted that to happen for other people as well. In fact, I wish someone had done that for me while I was an undergrad. I wish someone had pushed me to speak eloquently or hold my own in an argument. And it paid off really, really well when I was in the US for my PhD. I could easily argue with, and sometimes out-argue, even the “theetas” at my school. [Smiles] So that is where the love for CP comes from — you’re kind of right.
But I wasn’t really the typical LUMS MBA. Most of my friends from LUMS are the people who were undergraduates at the time. A lot of my MBA batch-mates would probably not even remember me. Undergraduates would always ask me where I got all the time from, but I applied Pareto efficiency, so 20 % of the effort to get 80 % of the results. Which is why I never got an HP, which was equivalent to an A, except in my MBA project. I was usually a B or B- kind of a student.
Did you do any extra-curricular activities at LUMS? I know you’ve made a lot of contributions to a few societies at LUMS as well?
Yes, so I was one of the few people who completely reorganized Culture Society. It was relatively inactive, so Shehryar and I were the ones who started organizing their trips. Most of the trips we organized were to villages and such places. We basically wanted culture society at LUMS to be an opportunity to actually understand culture, so I have actually contributed a lot to Culture Society.
Then I also created the first ShARE LUMS, the first ShARE Pakistan for that matter. I met a French guy who came to Lahore and I hosted him, he told me of this international organization called ShARE and how it was then only in China and India. I asked him to start one in Pakistan, and he said, “Why don’t you do it?” So I selected 5 people in batches 2007, 2008 and 2009 at that time, and led the first trip to India in November 2006. It was a massive success, and the Pakistani team did really well.
I wasn’t really in to the music society but I had a bunch of friends and we used to jam in the music room, so that was one purely extra-curricular activity I used to do.
Anything you would do differently if you could go back in time?
I would probably apply for my Fulbright earlier, instead of wasting a year waiting for schools in the UK. So if I had applied earlier, I would have graduated earlier. But other than that I wouldn’t really change anything.
How was the culture shock for you when you went to the US for your PhD?
Interestingly, I found many similarities between Pakistanis and Americans. Especially people in Arizona, they like to chill and they are loud, they are very similar to Punjabis in fact. They care about small things, they like to have open spaces and sit outside, so I actually enjoyed being there
Food was a problem for me, but I love Sushi so I could eat it for all three meals if I had to. But there were no Muslim showers, so the bathrooms were really bad for me. I remember coming back from the US for the first time, checking out the bathrooms at Dubai Airport, and running outside where my friend, Sana, was waiting with my bags, and I shouted, “Sana, there are Muslim showers here!” and then I ran back inside, because I really had to go. [Laughs] But other than that, I really enjoyed my stay at the US, I had many, many friends there and my apartment was always full of people.
How was the transition phase when you came back to LUMS as a professor?
Well, LUMS had completely changed since I was a student or an employee. SDSB was a new building, all the memories I had as a student were in the academic block and the DRs. All of the people I was close to had left LUMS to join the Karachi School of Business and Leadership. The quarter system had changed in to the semester system, so for me it wasn’t really a transition, it was a new job with new people.
How important do you think office hours or outside the classroom interactions are in creating a better learning environment? I know you as an instructor make it a point to emphasize that you want to be a part of your student’s personal development. But with larger classrooms, isn’t it getting harder to provide that sort of a support system?
I think outside the classroom interactions make all the difference. So even if it’s getting harder due to a larger number of students, but especially in the context of LUMS, it’s still very important. There isn’t a counseling mechanism for students, there is no academic counseling or personal counseling, so instructors are the only ones there to support the students. So it’s of utmost importance that instructors communicate to the students outside the classroom.
For people like me, there is a vested interest, since I am a public administration and a non-profit’s person in a business school, so I have to convert a lot of people and drag them in my direction. But honestly speaking, the only contributions I can remember since I have joined LUMS, or the only things that have any meaning at all, have been the students I have helped outside the class. Class is a very structured activity, and students are more concerned about their grades than their personal development.
So yes, the only thing that has mattered so far, has been my outside the classroom interaction with my students.
This is a question a lot of people would be interested in, how different is the add/drop period Dr. Mohsin Bashir, to the one post the drop period? Since we know you prefer smaller classes.
The add/drop Dr. Mohsin Bashir is scary, but I think I stay that way till the end. I think people just get used to me a little. They meet me, they interact with me, and they understand me a little better so I become a little bearable by the end.
Describe yourself in 3 words
Happy go lucky
How would your students describe you in 3 words?
Big bad wolf
Do you have any secret hobbies or interests? Can you cook?
Yes, I cook, but that’s not a secret, all my friends know I love cooking. But very few people know that I used to be an accomplished martial artist. I also, absolutely love motorcycles. Most of my time on the road has been spent on a two-wheeler. I also like to restore old bikes. So yes, you can say I am a closeted biker.
The most embarrassing moment you’ve ever had?
Umm, well some moments that might be embarrassing for some people are actually quite enjoyable for me. So given my appearance, sometimes when people enter my office, they ask me where Dr. Mohsin is. [Laughs] This happens especially if I am sitting on my sofa instead of my chair in the office. So the other day, I went to a meeting, and I told them I am here to meet someone, and they said please wait, he has a meeting. When that person came out, he said, “Dr. Mohsin isn’t here?” I was sitting there all along, but they made me wait since they expected someone else to come as Dr. Mohsin and meet him first. But I actually love such moments, and I really enjoy them.
But the most embarrassing thing about me is the fact that I keep forgetting my signatures. On average, I waste about 6-8 cheques when I’m trying to sign one. Even when I remember them, I cannot match one signature with the other. It is total misery when I try to fill out forms where they require more than one signature. So seeing me sign my Nikah Nama was quite a spectacle for everyone present. [Laughs]
What has your most annoying student been like?
There is a specific breed of students that annoys me. I generally get annoyed with students who have entitlement issues, so students who feel that they ‘deserve’ this or ‘deserve’ that. I hope they realize sooner than later that the world does not give you what you deserve, it gives you what you earn.
What is the best part about being you?
The best part is not caring. [Smiles]
A highlight from last year?
How many countries have you travelled to? And which one has been your favorite out of those?
I’ve travelled to around 8-9 countries. But see, I have travelled a lot inside Pakistan and I consider myself to be a completely shameless unreasonable patriot. So I am really biased towards Pakistan, like very, very biased towards Pakistan. If someone says Muhammad Ali Jinnah said this, I say okay, so what did Quaid-e-Azam say? So I am absolutely madly in love with Pakistan. I am not madly in love with the mountains and northern areas, since I am not a very outdoorsy person but I just love Pakistani people. I like visiting villages and congested cities, and just sitting with people and talking about their customs and traditions. So Pakistan is definitely my favorite.
But the country I have liked the most after Pakistan, has to be the Bahamas. Everybody there was kind of like me, no one cared. [Smiles] I used to pray Maghreb right near the ocean and nobody cared. And no one cared what anybody else did, everybody did their own thing.
What is your Zodiac Sign?
I am a cusp between Capricorn and Sagittarius.
What did you have for breakfast today?
Cheese Omelet, my begum made it. So I am very boring in that sense, I can eat the same thing every day, my breakfast almost always is either cheese omelet or egg and toast.
From a scale of 1-10, how much do you miss your longer hair?
Really? Why didn’t you grow it longer again?
Because I am getting bald, so longer hair exposes my bald spots.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
That’s interesting. So wherever I go, it’s very hard for me to go to a bathroom that is not my own. I am in love with my bathroom, so much so that my close friends call all bathrooms in the world, “United Kingdom of Mohsin.” [Laughs]
Which Friends character do you resemble the most?
I would probably say I am a cross between Joey and Ross.
Describe yourself at 80
I think I would be a very ‘Yo!’ baba.
If you could switch lives with someone at LUMS, who would you be?
Hmm, that is… an interesting question. But I don’t think I would switch lives with anyone. I love my life.