For the first installment of “Meet the Professors” I got to interview Biology Professor Manus Patten. He currently teaches Foundations of Biology II (Bio 104), but in past semesters he has taught Genetic Conflicts, Genetics and Evolution.
What is your focus within the field of Biology?
Evolutionary theory and genetics.
What is your favorite thing about teaching?
When I’m teaching I feel like I’m actually doing something useful, you know, like I’m contributing something. I actually feel useful for a change.
What attracted you to Georgetown?
I was looking for a job in D.C. and Georgetown was advertising one. I’m lucky to have a job at a good university.
What’s your favorite thing about Georgetown?
The students. That’s easy. That’s not bullsh*t either – I feel like we have job candidates coming through who ask what it’s like to teach here and I just say the students are great. You’re actually teaching when you’re teaching here. I have complaints about teaching, but I can’t air those to my friends at other universities because it’s really not fair. The students are really good.
What are your thoughts on Georgetown Day?
I used to sometimes call my mother when I had too many drinks in college, and the next day I would call to apologize. And my mom would just say, “It’s okay, it’s just nice to be thought of.” So if people still come to class on Georgetown Day, it’s a nice thing because they could be doing a bunch of other things. I’m quite warmed by their presence, however inebriated they are. Then a part of me – I get really nostalgic because it’s a nice spring day and everyone’s having fun and I’m in my professor clothes and I just want to join them.
Does any particular day in lecture stand out to you – something a student said or did?
Honestly when I’m lecturing I have no idea what anyone’s going through. Sometimes after class someone will complain that the back of the room was really hot but I didn’t notice. A student could say, “I can’t believe that person got up and left with a bloody finger!” and I honestly would have no idea that happened. One time a couple years back I gave a lecture on my research, which is on genomic researching, and it had been advertised in the catalog handout. I gave the example of a tigon and a liger and it was one slide for an hour just to make the point. And one woman was really pressing me after the lecture about a liger. “Are the ligers real?” Sure enough, I got a real weirdo.
What do you do outside of Georgetown?
I go home, and I have a one-year-old. Every day is basically the same. I usually get home in time for dinner and bath, and then put her to bed. Then I hang out with my wife.
Favorite memory of college?
I really enjoyed the senior week right before we graduated.
If you could have any celebrity do a guest lecture, who would it be?
David Foster Wallace, the writer, and I would make him talk to the science students about writing and then about life.
If you could be any organism what would you be?
Maybe a ginkgo – they’re tall, they’re really good-looking and they’ve been around forever so they’re tested. Every year they produce these fruit-like seedpods and they stink. So if someone has it coming, you get to even the score once a year. But only females have the seedpods, so I guess I’d be a female ginkgo.
Any advice to students on how to make the most of their time in college?
I got lucky – I was coddled in college by a few professors because I took an interest in what they were doing. I think that’s rare. Mark Edmundson in his book “Why Teach?” said that if you just spend time with people who reflect your own interests back to you, it’s impossible to grow. So I guess seek out “uncool” professors – find out how it’s possible for someone to be so interested in something that you’re not. I think in college there were a lot of subjects that I wrote off because I thought they were silly and boring, but I realize now that someone thinks they’re interesting. So the key would be to find out from them what it is. That’s the point of a university – on campus you get a chance to talk to somebody about what it’s like to be him or her. It’s just not about a transfer of content, which is what online classes are doing. Part of me is sickened by the idea of moving content online and having that be “college.” But college is not the content – it’s the other stuff.
As you can see, Dr. Patten is a really great professor. He cares about his students and his research and is obviously very interested in learning. Look out for him as you wander through Regents or when you’re picking your future courses!
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