Alumni Spotlight — Dr. Rex Gandy
Featuring Alumni from the University of Memphis
Department of Physics and Materials Science
Dr. Rex Gandy earned both his his BS and MS degrees in Physics from the University of Memphis. He received his PhD in Physics at the University of Texas at Austin, after which he worked as a Research Scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Gandy held various positions including serving as Professor and Associate Dean at Auburn University, as Professor and Physics Chair at the University of Idaho, as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Texas A&M University--Kingsville, and later in the same capacity at Austin Peay State University. His research interests include experimental plasma physics, magnetic fusion energy, plasma diagnostics, and educational transformation.
In the following interview with Dr. Rex Gandy, his many contributions and successes become evident. Dr. Gandy shares that his course of study and mentors at the UofM influenced his career path, and we celebrate the achievements of an alumnus of the department. These insights into Dr. Gandy's thoughts about physics before, during and after his time as a student at the UofM provide helpful perspectives for students interested in or currently pursuing degrees or careers in physics.
Gustav Borstad: What piqued your interest in physics?
Rex Gandy: From an early age I had a talent and fondness for mathematics. When I first entered college, I considered being an engineer, but in my freshman Physics class I realized that nature spoke the language of mathematics through physics. I was hooked.
GB: When did you know you wanted make physics your life's study?
RG: Through my BS and MS, I studied physics because I enjoyed learning how nature works. It was only near the end of my MS studies that I started considering a career in Physics.
GB: Were your classes and experiences, particularly at the undergraduate level, what you expected? Or were you surprised by what you learned and experienced?
RG: I was always surprised when I learned how nature really works, especially special and general relativity and also quantum mechanics. As macroscopic, slow moving masses we only sample a slice of nature’s wonders, yet we are able to explain much of nature using the laws of physics.
GB: Did something from the Physics program at the University of Memphis impact you positively and have an effect on your life decisions?
RG: One year into my MS degree I realized I needed a plan for my future. I considered being a blacksmith (that’s another story). Through long discussions with Dr. Robert Marchini, who I consider to be my mentor, I decided to pursue a PhD in Physics at the University of Texas.
GB: How has studying physics helped you professionally and even personally?
RG: Physics is about problem solving and understanding the outcome from multiple inputs. Whether you are doing research, teaching or practicing administration; these skills help you be successful.
GB: Did your preparation as a physicist equip you to succeed in your desired career path? Did you integrate physics with other skills and disciplines in a way that may be an inspiration to our physics students ?
RG: I am currently retired but in my career I was a physics researcher, physics teacher and university administrator. Obviously as a physics professor one is immersed in physics, and I thoroughly enjoyed my twenty plus years in this area. As an administrator I enjoyed employing the scientific method to study university problems. For instance, when I was a Dean at Southern Miss, we studied several different techniques for teaching basic math and came up with a computer-assisted approach that helped more students learn math.
GB: Do you have any advice for a student who is considering physics as a major?
RG: I would recommend that anyone who loves physics consider majoring in physics. The discipline associated with learning physics will be an asset no matter what field one goes into.
GB: Do you have any guidance or encouragement for students already in the program? Or suggestions or strategies that helped you succeed and overcome obstacles in your career path?
RG: I would recommend to pursue your passion. Physics is a great path to pursue. My three years studying physics at the University of Memphis really laid the groundwork for a long and successful career in physics and administration.
GB: Thank you for your time and for the thoughts and experiences you have shared.