Sixty Minutes with Osaama Shehzad: Professor Terrance Murphy
by All Around CMU-Q
Today, we walk you through a journey of life with Dr. Terrance Murphy who is a proud father, a husband, and a mentor. He is a man of experience and integrity, who believes in love, loyalty, kindness, and equality.
I approached you last semester for an interview, and as I came to you again this semester, I finally got the response I wanted. Why did it take you so long to say yes?
“I think there are probably other people here that students know more about… and why would you want to choose me? You have never even been in my class.”
When I asked him for the interview, Dr. Murphy did not decide quickly. Unlike the preparation time with my previous interviewees, it took me more than two months -and a lot of convincing- to finally have the honor of spending sixty minutes with Dr. Murphy. So, why did it take so long? A busy schedule might be one of the first answers to come in mind, but when I asked him, he simply expressed his surprise at why a student he had never taught would want to interview him. Also, he was surprised because he has never been interviewed before.
Dr. Murphy’s personality sparked my curiosity during the first week of orientation when he invited me and the rest of Biological Sciences department for an annual dinner at his house. I was so touched by the hospitality offered by him and his wife that I instantly became a fan. Ever since that evening, whenever I see him, he always greets me and converses in a very friendly manner.
Is it because of your innate cleverness that you make very tricky exams?
“Maybe I was clever,” Dr. Murphy says.
In some classes, we usually get extra credit for doing out-of-class activities or for solving bonus problems. But in Dr. Murphy’s class, you’ll always have a chance to get extra credit if you’re paying enough attention. When he is solving problems on board, he might make very small, unnoticeable errors. But if you get to point them out, you will get that extra credit.
When Dr. Murphy was a kid, his parents realized that he should start school early, but to be enrolled in an elementary school in Seattle, he would have to be born by the 1st of November, which wasn’t the case. To make odds turn into Dr. Murphy’s favor, his parents changed his birth certificate from November 16th to November 1st.
From a very young age, Dr. Murphy “had a propensity for working with mechanical things,” as he says. He would fix the washing machines, the cars in his house, simply because he loved to. But mechanical work has nothing to do with Chemistry – his profession. When he enrolled as Electrical Engineering student in University of Washington for his undergraduate studies, he realized that Engineering was “too theoretical” for him. So, he switched to Chemistry upon his advisor’s advice since he was doing well in it.
Did you try to burn down your house?
“Oh no, I was just doing an experiment, showing my sister how a match gun works.”
Children almost always get in trouble. There is no doubt about that. However, Dr. Murphy never expected that the troubles he would be involved in would result in huge leaps of fire. During sixth grade, Dr. Murphy learned how to make match guns that shot out flaming matches. Amazed at his new talent, he went to his sister’s room to impress her, but things did not turn out well. While he was firing the flaming matches from the second floor into the driveway, one of the matches was caught by the wind and blew into the four Juniper trees outside his house. Instantly, all trees caught on fire, and no matter how hard little Terrance tried to extinguish it, the fire would just grow bigger and bigger. Fortunately, the fire brigade arrived soon and extinguished the fire, and young Terrance had a serious talk with the fire warden.
Since nobody from Dr. Murphy’s family liked those trees, Dr. Murphy claims that the whole fire incident eventually became a “blessing in disguise” as they were cut down after the fire was put out.
Your high school crush made you connect with God?
“She helped me understand that (the relationship with God),” Dr. Murphy says.
Many teenagers go through the period of teenage infatuation. Dr. Murphy was no different. While this time period might simply be a “good memory of past,” it was a life-turning event for Dr. Murphy.
Dr. Murphy met his high school crush, Marleen, in his chemistry class, but it did not develop into a relationship. However, Marleen did make him aware of building a relationship with God. Dr. Murphy was a person with a disengaged relationship in God… until he listened to Marleen’s faith perspectives, which made his life take a steep turn by devoting him to God.
After his high school graduation, Dr. Murphy enrolled in the University of Washington, whereas Marleen enrolled somewhere else and they maintained a good friendship.
“Her [Marleen’s] going-off to one university that… you know… things just developed differently. And then I met Mary Anne in my second year of university,” says Dr. Murphy.
Was it a love-at-first-sight when you first met Mary Anne?
“Mary Anne is my best friend. If anyone wants to get married, my advice is marry the woman who is your best friend,” Dr. Murphy says.
If we see a happily married couple together for more than 45 years, we would probably assume that it was a love at first sight, but Dr. Murphy did not like his wife’s first impression when he met her at the University of Washington, where he received his Bachelors Degree in Chemistry in 1967.
“She was from a private school. She just seemed like… maybe out of my league,” he says.
Regardless, the first impression did not become the last. Dr. Murphy and Mary Anne became better acquainted, which later progressed into a deep friendship. In Dr. Murphy’s family, there were a lot of arguments and domestic fights, which is why they never talked deeply about things and shared their feelings. However, Mary Anne belonged to a family where they would talk, share, and discuss things more deeply. So, becoming friends with Mary Anne revealed to Dr. Murphy the delight and bliss he was unaware of: sharing thoughts, problems, and ideas. It was not long before the two became best friends, and after knowing each other for 6 years, they happily married in 1970.
Mr and Mrs. Murphy
What was the saddest moment of your life?
Dr. Murphy describes his parents’ death as the saddest moments in his life. In 1980, when he was a graduate student, Dr. Murphy’s father died, creating a big loss as he realized it was the first time in his life without a father nearby. In 1992, while he was living in Oman, he received a call sharing that his mother had unexpectedly died and Dr. Murphy took it very hard because he was not able to say goodbye to her.
Are there any regrets in your life?
“I look at life a little differently than that. You make mistakes and things like that… I don’t have any lingering regrets,” Dr. Murphy says.
Dr. Murphy is a believer of forgiving and forgetting. Thus, when I asked him about what was his most regretful moment in life, we had four seconds of silence. However, Dr. Murphy gladly shared his sad moments from his childhood with us. When he was a child, he used to own a female dog named “Boots,” but his father decided to give her up. So, he dropped her at the dog pound. Several days after dropping her off, Dr. Murphy was still missing Boots when he heard a noise coming from his porch. Curious to know what the noise was about, he opened the door and to his surprise, it was Boots standing outside in the pouring rain.
“She had somehow escaped and came all the way across Seattle ten miles away. I don’t know how she did it. She came back to our house. So I begged my father to be able to keep her but he said no, so we took her back. And then she was adopted by somebody who had a lot of acreage further outside Seattle,” Dr. Murphy says.
Dr. Murphy never saw Boots again, and losing her remained one of the sad moments of his life as a child.
Why did you continue teaching during civil war in Beirut, Lebanon?
“I felt like I needed to complete my commitment.”
After completing his Masters degree from the University of Washington in 1973, Dr. Murphy and his wife applied for teaching jobs at the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon to get some overseas exposure. Fortunately, they were accepted, and he and his wife moved to Beirut in the summer of 1973. Settling in a country of a different culture and environment was a challenge, but it was not the only one the couple faced. Soon, the Lebanese Civil War started, and Mr. & Mrs. Murphy had to move to Jordan until the school reopened.
The war was still going even after the school reopened, and the situation was still life threatening. Dr. Murphy had seen rockets flying over his house. During the civil war, he and his wife had slept in their kitchen, or stayed in the basement, or moved to safer places in order to survive. In April 1976, Mrs. Murphy returned to the United States but Dr. Murphy opted to remain in Beirut to complete his contract regardless of the fact that the graduating class of the school decreased from 80 to 6.
Why did you decide to teach in the Middle East, and not in the U.S.?
Following his teaching commitment to Beirut, Dr. Murphy went back to Seattle to pursue a Ph.D. degree from the University of Washington in 1976. After six years of working as TA and a Ph.D. candidate, Dr. Murphy received his degree in 1982, and a job offer from Ithaca College. While Dr. Murphy was applying to Ithaca, he also applied to the University in Bahrain because he loved working in the Middle East, despite the War. However, the Assistant Chair of the university told him that they had no vacancies; yet three days later, Dr. Murphy received an apology letter from the Chair of the department, saying that the Assistant Chair had made a mistake and that they really wanted Dr. Murphy to come. By that time, Dr. Murphy had already signed a contract with Ithaca College for a one-year temporary position. Thus, he refused the job offer from Bahrain, stating that “a contract is a contract.”
Dr. Murphy taught in Ithaca College for five years. After hearing that Sultan Qaboos University (the first university in Oman) had opened, with the need for American faculty, Dr. Murphy applied there and in August of 1987, he and his family moved to Oman where they stayed for thirteen years.
In 2000, Dr. Murphy went to the UAE where he served as chair of Department of Natural and Quantitative Sciences at Zayed University, both the Dubai and Abu Dhabi campuses. After serving in the UAE for two years, Dr. Murphy moved to Doha, where he was one of the inaugural faculty members at Weill Cornell Medical College in Education City. Following his six years at WCMC-Q, he received a job offer from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar in 2008. As of now, it has been seven years that Dr. Murphy has taught our exceptional Tartans. Surely, it goes without saying that Dr. Murphy is a man of unparalleled experience and an enthusiast of cultural diversity.
Dr. Murphy in Oman
Please share more about your family
Dr. Murphy is a proud father of two sons and a daughter. His eldest son, Jason, 35, is an Office Manager for Trimaxion, an art handling firm in New York City. His daughter, Erinn, 32, is a principal and a senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, an investment bank in Houston, Texas. His youngest son, Christopher, 26, is an office manager at Kemberton Healthcare Services in Nashville, Tennessee.
When I asked Dr. Murphy about some of his priorities, he said family. He simply responded that he always made sure he made time for his children. “I decided I was going to be a more involved father than my father was,” he says. Dr. Murphy recalled how going to his children’s sports activities and making personal time for each of them was one of the most enjoyable and happiest experiences he ever had. When I asked him what he would pick as one favorite moment of his life, he responded after five seconds of silence and admitted, “I don’t know what to say”. Clearly, he had so many equally happy moments that picking one of them would be unfair to the others!
Any message you would want to deliver to the CMU-Q Community?
“Study something you are passionate about. Don’t do it because your parents want you to do it and things like that. Love other people and don’t think that you are more important than they are.”
*All the photo credits goes to Syed Abbas Mehdi.