In Conversation with Dr. Adnan Zahid, Dean, Office of Student Affairs
Nearly a month and half into his deanship of the Office of Student Affairs (OSA), Dr. Adnan Zahid, Assistant Professor, Suleman Dawood School of Business (SDSB), sat down for an interview, answering questions, sharing insights—and even a little advice.
Down-to-earth, honest and emphatic, Dr. Zahid is a passionate teacher who came into teaching with very little preconceived ideas and let his teaching evolve through his students. Proud to admit that his students defined him, today he is a mentor, a founding partner cum investor for a student’s start-up, and a staunch believer that students should acquire both ownership and responsibility. “A bird has two wings; one is empowerment and the other is responsibility. If students want to fly, they have to use both wings,” he elaborates.
Dr. Zahid completed his MBA at LUMS, an MSc at Oxford University, and a PhD from City, University of London. Having served as the Director of Undergraduate Studies at SDSB, he recently returned to LUMS after working as the Director of the Namal Institute in Mianwali.
At Oxford, while he majored in Mathematical and Computational Finance, Dr. Zahid realised that he did not actually enjoy the subject. “The more time I gave to the subject and the profession of IT, the sadder I became. So, I decided to change my life completely,” he says. He returned to Pakistan and joined the MBA programme at LUMS where he was fortunate to come under the wing of Dr. Ehsan Ul Haque, recipient of the recently announced Professors Emeriti awards. Dr. Haque’s engaging style of case-based teaching and mentorship encouraged Dr. Zahid to pursue his PhD in Marketing in 2010 at the Cass Business School at City, University of London. From here onwards there was no looking back. He joined LUMS as a faculty member in 2011 and taught his first course, Principles of Marketing, to undergraduates.
At LUMS he came across many inspirational traits. “LUMS is an institute that has a lot of tolerance to all kinds of ideas. When I go anywhere in the world, I can confidently tell people that LUMS prioritises merit over all else, which really surprises them. LUMS also encourages everyone to strive for excellence—to work at a level which is higher than the level you see outside. We expect people to do their best and to try to make an impact,” explains Dr. Zahid.
Dr. Zahid pinpoints empathy as the most important trait that students and teachers need to develop. “Most of the faculty members I know were always confident of what they wanted to do. They knew the paths they wanted to follow, and ended up where they wanted to go. Students usually don’t have the same experience. Most actually go through a lot of uncertainty; because I went through similar experiences, I feel I have more empathy and I understand that this is very normal,” he adds.
He adds that an ideal student-teacher relationship needs to be close, and free of the old school thought that “one is a teacher and one is a student, one has knowledge and the other doesn’t”.
Dr. Zahid fully advocates students should be given more opportunities to contribute on campus. “Empowered students help the university grow. The increased involvement of a student council brings about transparency and builds trust. In the near future, the OSA will be identifying more areas where the Council can play a constructive role.”
Dr. Zahid’s ethnographic experience of being a student in England and Pakistan gives him insight into the problems and concerns of student life. He laughs at himself as he says, “A good thing is that I wasn’t a very great or hardworking student, so my student experience is very non-academic as well. LUMS is an amazing university and has an outstanding academic system. From the curriculum to the faculty and the research facilities, everything is top-notch. I believe that after a LUMS education, students need to be operating at their absolute full potential. And if they are not doing so, it is because the non-academic experience is somewhat wanting.”
With his business management experience oriented towards having KPIs, identifying strategies and then closing the loop, his structured approach will surely make things go in the right direction.
As Dean, OSA, there are several challenges that Dr. Zahid is facing due to the current pandemic. “While we are moving towards reopening the campus, the challenge remains that if a variant appears and we need to go online again, we need to constantly support the online learning experience and the psychological impact of that. We will have patches of normality and patches of online life. This may continue for years. That’s where we need to equip our students.”
In every class that Dr. Zahid has taught since the pandemic, the first question to his students has been, ‘How are you doing?’. He believes it is important to ask and to keep the conversation going. He also encourages his students to develop positive habits like reading, exercising, Zoom socialising and others.
Enthusiastic about restructuring the OSA, Dr. Zahid finds that his Office must primarily deal with life within the campus. Secondly, he finds that the housing system needs to be revamped. Apart from these, he plans to emphasise life skills. “I think it is important that students graduate with certain life skills and here is where OSA must play a major role.” He plans to bring in structured systems that would create these outcomes, such as workshops with Counselling and Psychological Services at LUMS, or introduction of compulsory non-credit courses that range from managing stress, dealing with emotions, or how to better understand people and be tolerant.
His hands seem full and a confident Dr. Zahid says, “I’m a fan of the structured approach and I’ll go step-by-step”. LUMS wishes him the best in his new role!