Welcome / Overview
What can I DO with a physics major?
McMurry Admissions
Am I ready to major in physics or engineering?
Financial Aid
Tell me about the physics department.
Campus Tour
What's the difference between a Physics and Engineering and why would I prefer a smaller school to the engineering power-houses? Who do I contact for more information?
What's the difference between an Engineer, an Engineering Technician, and a Technician?

Welcome Aboard!

McMurry's physics department is reorganizing and growing. We offer a physics major (with math minor) and a physics minor. There are three concentrations (Physics, Civil/Mechanical Pre-engineering, Electrical Pre-engineering) available for the physics degree. Please see the Registrar's Office for the most current University Catalog and our Curriculum Page for details.  We have several additional opportunities that we believe will be of interest to you as an incoming physics major:

What can I DO with a physics major?

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) is an organization of physicists around the world.  Among many other things, they keep track of trends which relate to physicists.  They have a helpful Statistics Webpage, which may help you see some of the benefits of the physics major.

In general, the physics degree teaches you problem-solving skills which are applicable beyond the field of physics.  As a physicist, you will be in demand because of the skills you develop as well as for the knowledge you will possess. 

In the context of engineering, the physics degree is the liberal arts of engineering.  Whenever a situation arises (as it often does) in which several different engineering fields (electrical, mechanical, civil, chemical, etc) are needed, it is typical to call in a physicist to oversee the project and keep the science consistent across the specialties.

Cool Info:  The Career Services program of Student Affairs has put together a web page with information about what can be done with a variety of majors. They also provide a series of links related to employment in physics.

What's the difference between a physics major and an engineering major?

The context for comparison:

Well, there are really two contexts in which to consider physics:  Physicists in the world of physics and physicists in the world of engineering.  On the one hand, if you are inclined to think of the practical art of engineering as the end-all-be-all of technological development, then you can think of physics as a liberal arts engineering degree - a physicist is The Renaissance Engineer.  In the engineering context, there are electrical engineers, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, petroleum engineers, industrial engineers, etc etc.  Each of these fields trains people to solve problems in their discipline; they are quite specialized and sometimes have trouble crossing over to understand the difficulties and subtleties of the other disciplines.  A physicist is trained broadly enough to be familiar with each of these fields (although not in the detail of the engineer).  With this background, a well-trained physicist should be able to communicate on a technical level with any of the engineers after a minimum of translating the notation.  That is to say, physicists in the engineering world make excellent go-betweens, managers (technically-saavy managers, not Dilbert managers), or even proto-engineers with a little extra training in a specific discipline.

How our program reflects this:

To this end, we offer the dual degree programs where a student takes the first three our four years of the physics major and then either transfers to an engineering school for a an egineering Bachelors degree or graduates and goes to graduate school in engineering for dual Bachelor-Masters degrees.

Why study Physics at a small school rather than Engineering at a big school:

The large engineering school: The larger engineering schools generally have more money and more cool equipment. They have graduate programs and their professors are more involved in cutting-edge research. They have stronger ties to industry via funding and collaboration. They also have rigorous, focused curricula that is designed to produce focused, skilled engineers. However, in order to have all of those things, their focus is necessarily on their graduate students. (It is quite common for undergraduates to switch schools when they are ready for graduate school.) The equipment is generally for graduate students doing research with occasional exposure to undergrads. The professors teach fewer courses and are less connected to undergraduates because they have "more important" work to do with their graduate students and industry partners. The large undergraduate classes leave you to fend for yourself (which is good in some regards) and may be mediated by a graduate student (which has good and bad aspects).

Physics at McMurry:  At McMurry, our "more important" work is to teach you. Our goal is to prepare you for a career with a bachelors and/or for that specialized attention that the larger schools will give you in graduate school. Our curriculum is broader based to give you more options and to allow you to work with people from a variety of other disciplines even if you already know where you want to be. We have connections to graduate programs and encourage summer research for our undergraduates. Since we don't have graduate students, we focus that energy on our undergraduates. Our smaller class sizes allow us to speed-up or slow-down our topics to meet the needs of the specific students in the class. If one person needs extra help and another needs to stretch their wings, we can design projects on the side for some students without burying others. Without graduate students, we regularly take our undergraduates on trips to conferences and research facilities. Because our largest class for physics majors is about 10 students, we know you, your strengths, your weaknesses, and your personality. We enjoy working with you to find a path that suits you best, whether that is physics, engineering, mathematics, or some other field.

A physicists' physicist (what you will study):

As to the curriculum, a physicist who is going into a physics program sees the following courses:  In your 1st two years, you study mechanics (how things move), electricity and magnetism (the static and dynamic interaction of electrical charges and currents), and modern physics (relativity and quantum mechanics).  In your 2nd two years after you have had a little math, you study classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and quantum mechanics. When you get to graduate school and have had a good bit of math, you study classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and quantum mechanics. And then you get to study your specialty discipline.  Every time you revisit a topic, we go into more depth and more involved problems; it just gets cooler and cooler until one day you can answer questions you never even thought you could ask!

The goal of a physicist is to understand why some type of  phenomenon behaves in a particular way so that you can generalize this and apply it to other behaviors.  Engineers tend to be more practical-minded and focus on solving specific problems for a specific goal.

The Engineering Disciplines:

Electrical engineers know all things electrical.  They design circuit boards; they lay-out wiring for buildings, aircraft, machines, robots; they know which types of wires to use when; they apply new materials for transmitting electrical signals and electrical power; they know how to zap things that need to be zapped and how to not zap things that need to be insulated.

Mechanical engineers know all things mechanical, such as robotics and machinery in general.  Obviously, computer-controlled robots need electrical wiring and you must work closely with electrical engineers for some aspects, and be familiar with electrical properties for your own work.  You might work on improving the moving parts on automobiles or airplanes. 

Civil engineers know all things structural.  Structural engineers are specialized civil engineers.  These are the folks who design bridges and buildings.  They consider wind sheer and amount of sway in tall buildings.  They decide how close the bridge supports should be, if we can use concrete or steel.  They have competitions to build the most durable tooth-pick bridge.  You might also design car-frames for minimal-damage on impact or airplane shells for either minimal stress in high-performance jets or maximal safety and comfort in passenger planes.

Industrial engineers combine these concepts and design factories and complexes. 

We could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.

What's the difference between an Engineer, an Engineering Technologist, and a Technician? (This was copied from the College of Engineering at SDSU.)

The context for comparison:

The answer to this question is critical for a student to be enrolled in the correct major. Many people do not understand the differences between a degree in engineering, a degree in engineering technology, and a degree leading to a career as a technician, especially since there are degrees offered in all three for some disciplines. For example, at SDSU they offer the B.S. degree in both Electrical Engineering (for an engineering career) and Electronics Engineering Technology (for an engineering technology career). They are not the same, so what’s the difference?

4 year Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Engineering: These careers involve the application of science to the design and manufacture of something (automobiles, aircraft, computers, software, buildings, highways, dams, machinery, etc.). The engineer is a professional whose principle duties are research, development and design. The product of engineering work is usually a new product or an improvement of an existing one. The most fundamental tools of engineers are mathematics and physics, and engineers typically make extensive use of computers.

You should also be aware that to get a job as an engineer, you should become liscensed by taking the FE and PE exams. For more information, please visit the Texas Board of Professional Engineers.

4 year Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Engineering Technology: These careers focus on application and practice, and so emphasize laboratory experience. Engineering Technology programs include specialized technical courses that emphasize rational thinking and applying scientific principles to find practical solutions to technical problems, as well as courses in mathematics and science that support the technical courses. The product of an engineering technologist is a new process or a new and better way of making products. Engineering technologists also specialize in day-to-day problem solving.

2 year Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree leading to a career as a Technician: These careers involve the application of science to the technical service of something. The technician is a professional whose principle duties often involve installing, repairing, upgrading and servicing things that have already been developed. They also play important roles in product testing and certification.

Example: A simple example can illustrate the difference between these three different career areas. If your computer breaks down, the proper professional to take it to is the technician. The technician is trained in the service of computers, while an engineer and engineering technologist may not have this training. Engineers designed and developed the computer into a successful product, engineering technologists developed the process to manufacture it in the best manner, but it is the technician who will service it after it is sold. Engineers research, develop and design the many new improvements we see in computers these days; engineering technologists continually discover better ways to manufacture computers so they are of higher quality and less expensive; while the technicians must continuously update their training in order to provide the necessary service of these changing technical products.

Conclusion: A student considering a career in engineering, engineering technology, or as a technician should carefully investigate these differences and make a career decision based on what sounds like the most exciting and rewarding choice.

Am I ready to major in physics or engineering?

If you are going to major in physics, there are a few questions to ask yourself by way of self-evaluation.  (You can also read the advice of the American Physics Society.)

1. How do I know if I want to be a physics major?

If you are curious, enjoy solving problems (even if there is no guarantee that a solution exists), struggling through puzzles, playing with math, working with your hands (and feet), working with computers, tend to find yourself so absorbed and focused that you forget what time it is, or any combination thereof, then you want to be a physics major!

2. Do I have the background to be adequately prepared to be a physics major?

Technically, you do not need to have studied physics or pre-calculus in high school, but these would be tremendous assets.  We strongly recommend that you take these courses (especially the AP versions) if at all possible while in high school.  Taking other science, math, and computer courses also helps your problem-solving skills.  (That's a good thing.)

3. Can I get credit for any of my academic work taken prior to attending McMurry?

There are several methods of receiving credit for prior work. 

Please see the Office of Admissions about transferring college credits to McMurry University from other colleges or universities. They can give you a general idea of what transfers.  When you submit your transcript to the Registrar, they will give you the actual credit.  Our department has the final say if there is a problem.

For Advanced Placement (AP) courses and College Level Equivalency Program (CLEP) exams, see your high school counselor.  Your grades and scores should be sent to McMurry and (for a small fee) you will receive the credit after taking twelve hours of course credit at McMurry.  Please see the Office of Admissions about these as well.

4. Do I have the skill to be adequately prepared to be a physics major?

It is generally hard to say with certainty.  Physics is a profession which takes a focused effort, determination, and it never hurts to have some insight, which comes from experience.  Physics is essentially solving word problems and/or working (playing) with equipment.  Converting a physical situation into a mathematical expression and converting a mathematical expression into a physical situation are significant portions of physics.  If you love the concepts, but get stuck with math, prepare to either switch to philosophy or to take several math classes to bolster that skill.  If you love the math, but get bogged down by the interpretation, then prepare to either switch to math or spend many hours struggling with your homework -- we'll of course, be there to help you through it.  If you like working with your hands, then you should have natural intuition; prepare to learn how to apply that intuition mathematically.

We are specifically here to teach you how to refine your existing skills and how to develop your trouble areas.  We encourage you to develop all three aspects of your abilities: the math, the theory, and the applications.  That is why we require the courses that we do.

What do I need to know about the physics department?

If you are going to major in physics, there are a few questions to ask us to evaluate our department.

1. Who will be teaching me physics?

The physics department currently has three professors. All of our classes are taught by one of these three professors:

Dr. Tikhon Bykov received his BS in Physics from St. Petersburg State University (Russia), received his MS in the Physics of Kinetic Phenomena at St. Petersburg State University (Russia), received his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has been employed at McMurry since 2004.

Dr. Wayne R. Keith received his BS in Physics from Tarleton State University, received his MS and Ph.D.in Space Physics from Rice University, and has been employed at McMurry since 2006.

Dr. Timothy Renfro received his BS in Physics from Tarleton State University, received his MS from Steven F. Austin State University and his Ph.D.from The University of Texas at Dallas, and has been employed at McMurry since 2008.

2. What computer facilities are available?  Do I need to bring my own computer?

See the McMurry MOVE page for information on our laptop initiative for all incoming students. There are also several computer labs available on campus. The science building has one lab and physics majors have additional access to computers in the department. The departmental computers are equipped with Microsoft Windows, the Microsoft Suite of programs (including Word and Excel), etc.

You will be expected to gain a computer fluency during the course of your studies at McMurry.

3. What classes will I be taking besides physics?

Because we believe that a varied education promotes a broader perspective and therefore a more understanding populace, we offer a liberal arts education. The general education requirements for a B.S. degree can be found on our degree plan page.

4. Are there scholarships available for physics majors?

Please see our Ward-Bottom Scholarship Page.  There are also scholarships available through the Financial Aid Department.

5. Will I have the opportunity to work on research projects?

Why, yes, you will!  In the spirit of investigation, we encourage every student to observe the world around them and question how it works.  The central perspective which we would like to encourage is curiosity.

Students present the results of their projects on campus. We also like to have these students present their work at a regional APS meeting.

6. Is there a campus honor society?  Is there a physics honor society?

McMurry has begun a campus-wide honors program.  It involves a scholarship as well as various honors courses.  There are, of course, eligibility requirements.  Please see The Honors Program Website for more information.

The McMurry Physics Department hosts a chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) as well as the associated honors society Sigma Pi Sigma (SPS).

7. What have your previous graduates gone on to do?

Please see our Alumni Page.

How can I get more information?

More information???  Well, ok, if you have additional questions or would just like to chat with somebody  to see what great personalities we have, you can reach the faculty by email or phone. Please see our contact page.

We invite you to contact us for individual tours of the department or to sit in on any of our physics classes.  Further down on this page, there is information about financial aid, admissions, and official campus tours.

If you would like to contact a student physics major, please look over the student page.  If you prefer to grill an alumni about their McMurry experiences and how it has helped them to succeed in life as well as in their career, please contact people on the alumni page.  (The alumni on this page who have links to their email have agreed to answer questions from prospective students.) If you have interests that range widely and would like to see what else is available on campus, these folks (both current students and alumni) are the people to contact.

Sounds great! Sign me up!

You may also consider a few questions about our campus life. 

1.  What kind of financial aid packages does McMurry have?

Besides the Ward-Bottom Science Scholarship, which will cover 50% of the expenses related to attending McMurry University for one student during his or her years at McMurry, you may refer to the Financial Aid department for additional, detailed information. These nice folks can be reached at:

Financial Aid
Box 908
McM Station
Abilene, TX 79697
(325) 793-4713
(800) 460-2392 Ext: 4713

More specific information can be found on the Office of Admissions' scholarship page.

2. Are there social clubs? fraternities? sororities?  honor clubs? sports clubs? intermurals? 

Why, yes!  There are.  Actually, we do not have nationally organized fraternities nor sororities; however, we do have local "social clubs" that fill these needs quite well.  Generally established in the early 1900's, these clubs are not simply Friday night gatherings; rather, they are organizations which bring the members together and actively pursue noble (and fun) endeavors... usually.  More information can be found on the Student Life website, which links to the websites of the clubs.

3. What do I need to do to apply for this fabulously amazing opportunity to attend McMurry University??!!!???

First, check the Admissions Checklist.  Then apply online or by mail. The admissions office can be reached at:

Office of Admissions
McM Box 278
Abilene, TX 79697
(800) 460-2392
(325) 793-4700
Fax  (325) 793-4718

4. Can I get a (virtual or live) tour of the campus?

There is an online Campus Map.

Every semester, McMurry hosts "Student Preview" days during which prospective students can visit campus and meet professors. If you would like to visit the physics department specifically, please let us know. We would love to meet you and show you around.

Of course, you are also welcome to stop by at your convenience. Feel free to give us a call or drop an email to let us know when you'll be on campus and we'll schedule some time to show you around.