Faculty Spotlight: James Sanders

Zenith Shrestha photo

Assistant professor of physics James Sanders began working for Troy University in 2014.

Lirona Joshi

Staff Writer

What do you like about Troy?

“I do like a lot of the students. We definitely have a lot of students who try very hard in their classes, and it’s nice to see that.

Even if they come from a background where they don’t have much of a physics background when they come take my physics course, many of them they say this is the first physics course they’ve had. S

ome of them like it, some of them don’t, but most of them try very hard, and I appreciate that.”

What is your


to teaching?

“I have a mixed approach, to be honest. I like to keep it to where there is some sort of interaction in the class, and so there is a bit more discussion.

I have been leaning on demonstrations this semester as much as I can.

I can’t do it in every class because it takes time to do it that way, but I think people tend to retain more of what they do learn if we do it this way.”

What is your

area of


Well, I basically did my Ph.D. in high-energy optics and plasma physics.

I built a very high-powered laser system, I build a component to it that was also very high powered. There was a stand-alone laser system, as well, that I did not build.

Then, I combined these two systems inside of a plasma and basically see what happens. The idea was to control and see the stabilities within the plasma. Did it work? Well, some of it did.

What classes do you teach here?

What I teach here is a little bit of everything.

Our department built the way it is, not having a lot of faculty on the physics side but having a major, basically meant that we tend to teach a little bit of everything.

Each one of our faculty here has an upper-level class that’s been given to them. I have three upper-level classes: two quantum mechanics sequence, and then I do the waves and optics class.

I usually try to have at least one general physics course – either lab or lecture – just to keep one foot in that because I enjoy working with those students, too.

Which is your

favorite class to teach?

Hard to say, but probably my optics class because that one is my specialization, or is out of all the classes that I have – it ties to what I did in graduate school.

It is the one class that has been ‘my class’ since I arrived here. Most of the students who are in there are pretty dedicated, not just as students, but as physics students.

Everybody in there is engaged and interested in the course.

What is your

biggest pet peeve?

I know that a lot of people use Chegg, and I don’t have anything against Chegg. I don’t have anything against people using Chegg. I just don’t like that people use it as a crutch.

I assign some homework assignment. Forty people in the class have this assignment.

The same maybe five people will show up to my office to ask me about it. I hear from the tutors that the same five to six people will show up to them and ask them about how to work through it.

And then some people just don’t homework at all, and I can see that too.

Then I also hear report that, ‘Oh well, this person just used Chegg to do everything. They just watched how to do every single homework problem.’

That kind of defeats the point of homework. I get that people are getting a good grade. You get a good grade on the homework doing it that way, and then you take the test and get a terrible grade, and they say I don’t understand why I got a bad grade after doing so well on the homework. Well maybe because you used Chegg on the homework and didn’t get to have Chegg on the test?

It is surely not how I would recommend doing homework.

What hobbies

do you have outside work?

Outside of work, I have got two small kids that I have who I spend a lot of time with them. I have a little electronics kit that I bought for doing a demonstration in classes here, but I have to find time to work on it, so I usually take it home to play around a bit. And my son, especially, loves doing electronic stuff, and that’s a lot of what I end up doing – showing him how to make a circuit and seeing if he will show me how to make circuit.

Why did you study physics?

I studied physics because it is fun. I kind of like the challenge of it sometimes, but I also kind of like that joy of discovery that you get from it.

You are learning something about how the universe works. With circuits for an example, you’re not only learning how can I build a circuit to do something, but also you are looking at why does the circuit work to do something.

The ‘why does it do’ is the physics side of it and that to me has always been more interesting.

Why should I study physics?

You should study physics because you enjoy studying physics. It may seem like a circular answer, and it is a lot of work, but it’s a rewarding work only if you enjoy it.

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