Undergraduate Student Manual

In response to our recent strategic planning meetings, we have decided that a new undergraduate student manual for physics majors would be helpful.  This wiki page is a placeholder for the future manual. Until it is written, current faculty, students and staff are encouraged to contribute material here. Just login and click the 'add child page link'.  Be bold! share your thoughts! Any material that is added can always be edited (or deleted) as needed for the final manual.

Declaring a Physics Major/Minor

Applying for a Physics Major

Students usually apply for a physics major during the Sophomore or Junior Year.  Your application will be approved if you have successfully completed PHY 213/PHY 221 and PHY 214/PHY 222.

On-line major application form

Applying for a Physics Minor

You can apply for a minor whenever you like. The requirements for the minor can be satisfied anytime prior to graduation. It is helpful to let the department and your advisor know know if you are planning to minor. 

On-line minor application form


Finding a Major or minor advisor

When your application for a physics major is approved, a faculty member of the physics department will be assigned as your advisor. You can also request a particular faculty member to be your advisor.

Getting Involved

At Creighton, Undergraduates are actively involved with Physics Department faculty and staff. Don't hesitate to get involved as soon as you can. Here are some ways to do this.

  1. Contact faculty regarding their research and ask to participate in undergraduate research. Nearly all Physics majors are involved, often receiving a stipend, scholarship, or course credit. Don't be shy, the faculty are eager to get you involved in undergraduate research.
  2. Come to the weekly Physics Seminar on Thursdays from 12:30 - 1:30.  Its a good way to get to know Physics folk, and the talks will broaden your perspective on current research in physics. It may also give you an idea of what kind of research project you would like to be involved in. As a bonus, snacks are provided!
  3. Subscribe to the physics_majors mailing list to receive department announcements, and learn about scholarship and research opportunities.
  4. Get involved in Physics Club (Society of Physics Students)
  5. THE PHYSICS CLUBROOM (Hixson-Lied G55) is available for all physics club members by keypad access. If you would like to join the physics club see one of the club officers or faculty. The clubroom is a place to hang out between classes, eat (breakfast) lunch (dinner), do homework, use the computers or just be social!
  6. Participate in yearly physics department events like service projects, Physnics, Field Day, Evening of Reflection, and Departmental Retreats.

Preparing for Medical, Dental, or other professional school

  • Students interested in the health sciences should get involved with the CU Premed society. From that page you can subscribe to their mailing list to receive announcements of activities of interest.
  • Review the material on the CU Prehealth sciences pages to find information on choosing courses, applying to medical school, finding a pre-health science adviser at Creighton, extra-curricular activities, letters of recommendation,  and other resources.
  • Students who are not majoring in biology should be sure to take upper-division biology courses (in addition to BIO 211 and BIO 212).  Particularly useful courses include BIO 317 - Genetics and BIO 449 - Animal Physiology. It would be best to take one or both of these courses prior to taking the MCAT in the spring of your Junior Year.
  • Some medical schools now require Biochemistry for admission. The chemistry department offers CHM 371 - Biochemistry of Metabolism for premed students. They also offer CHM 381 - Fundamentals of Biochemistry (by instructor consent) that may be of interest to those seeking a more mechanistic approach to Biochemistry.  Both of these courses can be taken after CHM 323 - Organic Chemistry Lecture II. These courses are also helpful in preparing for the MCAT.

Pre-Medical Education (PMED)

Starting in the fall of 2009, Creighton will offer a non-credit, Pre-Med Educational Seminar (PMED) series to students planning to attend medical school after their undergraduate careers. The co-curricular program and its activities are designed to complement the student’s academic and scholarly achievements.

  • A five-semester series of weekly seminars and other activities designed to strengthen the candidacy of Creighton students as they prepare for the medical school application process.
  • The series begins in the second semester of the freshman year and ends in the second semester of the junior year.
    o Seminar activities will include workshops on interviewing, preparing an AMCAS application, writing personal statements and developing solid shadowing experiences among other important topics.
  • PMED will allow students to develop and maintain quality relationships with advisors and those providing input to the committee letter (see below). The impact will be visible across the University.

Creighton will be joining many other top-ranked universities in offering students university-level committee letters to include in their applications to medical school.

  • Medical schools are looking for these letters as an important part of an applicant’s dossier.
  • The letter is not required, but does help to give the student an edge in the admissions process.
  • Students who register for and successfully complete all 5 semesters of the seminar offered during their 4-year undergraduate program will be eligible to have a committee letter sent on their behalf.
  • For the 2009-10 academic year, rising sophomores will need to complete 4 semesters of the seminar and rising juniors will need to complete 2 semesters of the seminar in order to apply for the campus letter.

To obtain more information about pre-medical education and/or to be put on our email distribution list, please contact Tricia Brundo Sharrar, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, at pmed@creighton.edu or 402-280-1845.

Please remember to sign up for the correct section of PMED. In most cases, that's based on when you plan to graduate (even if by credit hours you already have the next year's class status). So in most cases, that means the following:

  • If you plan to graduate in May 2011 (and thus will be a junior in fall 2009), then ...
  • sign up for the junior section, which is Pre-Medicine Seminar - 73196 - PMED 301 - JR
  • If you plan to graduate in May 2012 (so will be a sophomore), then ...
    sign up for the sophomore section, which is Pre-Medicine Seminar - 73195 - PMED 201 - SO
  • If you will be taking a "real" (for credit) class that meets at the same time (from 3:30 - 5:30 p.m. on Fridays) which conflicts with PMED, you might check with Ms. Sharrar.


To learn about the profession, admission requirements, the OAT exam and application procedures, consult the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) Website

"GENERAL REQUIREMENTS for all schools include at least one year of Biology or Zoology, General Chemistry, General Physics, English and College Math."

In addition, most schools require students to have successfully completed Organic Chemistry (1 year), Biochemistry (1 course), Anatomy, Physiology, Microbiology, Psychology, and Statistics. So you should review the list of School- Specific Course Requirements.

GPA: In 2009, the average GPA of students entering 16 of the 20 reporting optometry schools varied from 3.10 to 3.61.



Preparing for the GRE

Graduate programs in most fields use the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) as one component of the admissions process.  Expect to take the general GRE exam regardless of the type of graduate program that you will be applying to.  This is a three hour exam that tests verbal, math, and writing skills (see http://www.ets.org/ for more details).

Many Physics graduate programs also require the subject (Physics) GRE, which specifically tests on knowledge of undergraduate-level physics.

The pages below offer study suggestions from students who have recently taken these exams.


This site has free GRE practice questions and study tips: www.greprepinfo.com



Studying for the GRE (Sandra M. Behncke)


Studying for the GRE
Sandra M. Behncke
General GRE
 This test may be scheduled in advance pretty much any week day/weekend day.  The test cost $140 to take and may be taken at UNO’s Testing Center.  Schedule your test far in advance and choose the best time of day for your. As soon as you register start preparing!
I prepared for the general GRE by using the giant test books available at local bookstores.  There are many different versions, Baron’s is good, or anything that Kaplan or ETS recommends…   I purchased the most recent book and read all the testing strategies that it recommended.
I attacked studying systematically, studying one subject at a time.  I took a couple of weeks to work out all of the quantitative problems, another couple of weeks to familiarize myself with the structure of the verbal section, and lastly I concentrated on the essay section.  ***During the entire test preparation, study flash cards of all the GRE vocabulary!!!!!!!!!!!! Study a lot, and if you can, sign up for the free Kaplan practice test offered at Creighton or your school.
Quantitative – Get familiar with the different TYPES of questions they ask and all of the sneaky stuff that they try. i.e. don’t automatically assume that figures are drawn to scale, and tricky comparison questions.  The math here is NOT difficult!  However, the GRE wants to see if you pay attention to what the problem is asking and it will try (and many times succeed) to trip you up.  My biggest recommendation is to just work out as many example problems as possible, and brush up on your geometry and algebra!
Verbal – First and foremost, MAKE FLASHCARDS of the recommended vocabulary that you are not familiar with.  Study them A LOT!  Bring them with you everywhere and start using them everyday, incorporate the new words into your life!
The rest is easy…familiarize yourself with the TYPES of questions that they will ask you.  Don’t confuse what the question is asking, some are antonyms, some are synonyms.  Here again, they will try to trick you!
Writing – For this section the most important thing to do is to keep track of your time. You will be writing two essays, one where you present your perspective on your choice of two topics, and one where you critique the author's essay (no choice here).
To practice for this first sketch out your time schedule, I did it like this:
Essay 1 – Your perspective (you have 30 minutes total):
Write all brainstorming words – 2 minutes
Write your thesis statement, evidence, conclusion – 3 minutes
Write body of essay – 10 minutes
Write intro – 2 minutes (state your thesis statement)
Write summary – 3 minutes (restate your thesis statement)
Proofread – 10 minutes
For the essay where you critique someone else's writing the judges are NOT looking for your opinion. Keep it objective. Usually each essay for you to critique is about 4-5 sentences, and usually 3-4 of these sentences have a problem hidden within. I numbered each sentence and systematically discussed them in my critique.
Essay 2 – Your critique (you have 20 minutes total):
Identify and number each problem in the work – 2 minutes
Write the body – 5 minutes
Write the introduction – 5 minutes (state in order the problems with the writing)
Write the summary – 5 minutes (restate problems and offer 1-2 alternatives for the writer to improve their argument)
Proofread – 3 minutes
The problem here is that there is very little time to think about what you're going to write. I actually wrote down the above time schedule before I started the GRE on my scratch paper. You have to take a short tutorial at the beginning of your session. Afterwards they ask you if you are don and as soon as you press the button the real test starts. Before I entered the actual exam I jotted down my time schedule to refer back to. The time is in front of you and is ticking away…its easy to get distracted and lose focus. This way you have something to guide your thinking.
After you finish all three subjects on the GRE they will surprise you with an extra subject. Mine was another verbal section, but it could be any of the three. You should expect this to happen. You will be tired and will not want to go through another section, but TRY TO DO AS WELL AS THE ORIGINAL SECTION! The extra section is for statistical purposes and you don't know which of the two taken the judges will grade. You want to do as well on the second in case that one is chosen for your score!
Physics Subject Test
This test must also be scheduled far in advance, but know that it is only offered on specific dates of the year (about 4/year). Choose the date that works for you and register early. It costs $130.
To study for this test I recommend knowing everything there is to know in your General Physics book, as well as a lot of Classical Mechanics, some E&M, Thermo, Quantum, and Statistical Analysis…easy, huh?...its an incredible amount of physics to know like the back of your hand…but start with reviewing everything from General Physics. This will give you a broad, refresher on many physics topics. I also recommend going to the fabulous site offered by Ohio State University’s Physics Dept.: http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/undergrad/ugs_gre.php
Here you can find TONS of problems with their solutions to work out. 
DO AS MANY PROBLEMS AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN!!! Know how and WHY they work – DO NOT just try to memorize the answers.
Make flashcards, sing songs to remember formulas…
One of the truly most helpful ways to study is to go to OSU’s site (above) and print out the 4 copies of past Physics Subject Test exams. I worked them all out, about 1/week. The answers are on the back to refer to. If you don’t understand some of the problems, ask our brilliant faculty to help you!
When I took the subject test I had never taken Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics, and had just started taking Quantum and E&M. It would have helped tremendously if I had a better understanding of all of these courses. If you can take all these courses before taking the Physics Subject Test it will help your score, but if you review your Gen. Phys. Stuff that should get you by.
As with all tests the most important things to remember are:
  1. GET A GOOD NIGHTS SLEEP!!! This is the most important
  2. Eat something nutritional the week of your tests like salmon, brown rice, broccoli, blueberries, red bell peppers – any power foods.
  3. Don’t fry yourself out with massive amounts of caffeine! Drink lots of H20…your body and mind becomes tired when it is dehydrated.
  4. Don’t stress out! Exercise, dance, do yoga…do what you like to do to relieve stress.
  5. When you take the test don’t panic! Remember to breathe and stay calm…you know this stuff...don’t beat yourself up! 
  6. Wear comfortable clothes to take the test. If you're always cold bring a sweater, etc. You can also chew gum to stimulate your head...studies show that students who chew gum during tests score 30% higher than if they weren't chewing.
  7. Lastly, if your test scores come in the mail and make you cry, don’t fret…you can always take it again in the future! One little standardized test score does not represent the entire intelligent person YOU ARE!


Suggestions for Math Classes

The following proposal is tentative, and should not be considered final until this sentance disappears!  Be sure to discuss your plans with your major advisor, or a faculty member in physics if you have not yet declared a physics major.


  • Year 1 (Freshmen, or first year in the Physics major)
    • General Physics (PHY 211 and 212) are calculus-based physics classes, so you need to have Calc I (MTH 245) as a co- or pre-requisite for these classes.  
    • After PHY 212, some sophmore-level courses like Modern Physics (PHY 301), and Optics (PHY 331) require require Calc II (MTH 246) as pre-requisites. 
    • The best practice is to take Calc-II (MTH 246) along with PHY 212.
  • Year 2 (Sophomores)
    • Upper division Physics classes rely heavily on a firm mathematics background. It is often the case that mathematics is best understood in the applied context of Physics. And since Physics requires practical application of  math, you'll also be learning through direct practice in upper division Physics courses.
    • The two classes that will help you the most are Calc III (MTH 347) and Mathematical Physics (PHY 551).  
    • Best practice will be to take Calc III (MTH 347) concurrently with Modern Physics (PHY 301) in the Fall of your sophomore year,  followed by Mathematical Physics (PHY 551) in the Spring. 
  • Year 3 (Juniors)
    • Students going on to Graduate school in Physics or Engineering should plan to take Linear Algebra (MTH 529) and Differential Equations (MTH 545).
  • Year 4 (Seniors)
    • Additional courses can help round-out your mathematics preparation for graduate programs in Physics and Engineering. There are many possibilities, but two of particular relevance include Partial Differential Equations (MTH 546), and possibly Complex Analysis (MTH 593), though other Math courses could also be recommended.
    • BONUS! Students completing all of these classes will complete the requirements for a Mathematics Minor!