The small liberal arts community at Albion College allows for close connections inside and outside of the classroom. One of the many Albion advantages is the small student-to-professor ratio that allows for students to build strong relationships with their professors.
This fall, The Pleiad resumes its Between Classes series to become familiar with the faculty who make Albion’s education what it is.
This Between Classes article features Patrick Garrett, a visiting assistant professor of biology at Albion College. Garrett received a B.S. from Wabash College and a Ph.D. from Miami University in 2021. His areas of expertise include evolution, ecology and environmental biology.
Currently, Garrett is teaching Biology 195: Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity as well as Biology 216: Vascular Plants. He was appointed to his position in 2021.
The Pleiad: What were your dreams and aspirations as a child?
Garrett: When I was really really young, I wanted to be a herpetologist. I wanted to study snakes and lizards. I was obsessed with Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter. I always wanted to do that. In high school, I got really bored and I kind of didn’t want to do anything but I had a couple of really great mentors. My high school biology teacher was the nicest person to me and that’s ultimately what led to me wanting to be a teacher. When I was in college, I studied to actually become a high school teacher but later decided, towards the end of my junior year, that I wanted to do research as well. So that’s when I started to pursue wanting to be a college professor.
P: What brought you to Michigan, going from Indiana to Miami?
G: I was brought here because I’d heard about the college. One of my friends had gone here for undergrad. She had a Michigan accent and always talked about how awesome Michigan was. I always made fun of her and I was like “I’ll never go to Michigan.” Albion is what brought me here is what I’d say in the end. I’ve had a really good time exploring some of the bigger cities in southern Michigan but the UP itself, I could go live up there. Albion brought me here, but my friends ultimately gave me the push.
P: Were you drawn toward a small liberal arts school because it was similar to your undergraduate school?
G: Yeah, I knew that I didn’t want to be at a big school. I knew that I wanted to spend a lot of time with students – one on one, small class size, and all that. I think ultimately, I want to help people in the same way that my mentors helped me.
P: What is your relationship like with the biology department?
G: I’ve had a really great time team-teaching some of our intro biology courses with a couple of the professors here. We all just get along. Our department meetings are always pleasant and easy to sit through. Even though I’m a visiting professor, I feel like I’m actually contributing to the conversation, so they’ve really done a great job of making me feel welcome. They’ve been very supportive of my being experimental.
My chair, Dr. Ken Saville, let me teach this class last semester called Sex, Drugs, and Plants. It was this weird experimental botany class designed for the non-scientist. We were doing weird things. I was lecturing about the botany of vodka and rum, and we were doing lectures on cannabis, and we would start eating different types of honey and talking about botany in video games. It was such a weird course, if I was in a different department, I don’t think I could do something like that. They’re really supportive.
P: Tell me more about your research.
G: I study sexual expression of plants. In particular, plants produce flowers and normally a plant is hermaphroditic, so it’s got boy parts and girl parts in the biological sense. What that does is it creates a conflict because over time if you have both of those parts and you breed with yourself too much, a lot of bad stuff happens. My research is all about how plants avoid that bad stuff happening by expressing their sex in different ways.
I actually study a breeding system called synchronous dichogamy. So, this is really cool. When we do synchronous dichogamy, all the flowers are the same sex at the same time so that when they come here and visit all these things, they don’t transfer pollen between flowers on the same plant. So, it’s a plant that switches its sex every 24 hours. It goes female to male, female to male, female to male, for like 2 months. I study how that affects pollinators, how it affects the genetics of the plant populations and I do a little bit of work on the actual genes that are controlling that as well. I do a lot of ecology with plants and pollinators, but I also do a lot of lab work with the genetics of plant sexual expression.
P: Are there specific species you look at?
G: Yeah, I use a plant called Canella winterana [wild cinnamon] as the model I use in my lab, but a number of other plants do this, though not a lot of people know this. Like sugar maple and black walnuts, also avocado. I use Canella winterana as my model in my lab and that grows in the Bahamas and southern Florida. So, I travel for all my research, or I bring plants back to the greenhouse and work with them here. I get to bring students here with me to the Bahamas, which is really fun, or to the Florida Keys.
There’s a really funny joke you play on people when you chew on the plant I study. It’s super spicy. It’s how people identify it because it looks like a lot of other things. You just chew on a leaf, and if your mouth catches on fire you’re like “oh, I got the right one.”
P: What do you do outside of teaching at Albion?
G: I’m a mega board game nerd. I own over 550 different board games, so I do that quite a bit. I play tabletop board games. I play video games for almost an hour every night. I’m also very much into woodworking. I’m an amateur, so like not great, but I love making furniture like tables and chairs and stuff. It’s a therapeutic thing for me so like I don’t have to think about writing a lesson plan or grading. Working with wood kinda takes me to a different place and I’m also interested in it because of botany. You know, different species of wood.
I read quite a bit as well. I’m a really big “The Lord of the Rings” nerd. I read the books every year, and I’ve done that every year since I was like 15. I read “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” every year.
P: What’s your favorite thing about Albion?
G: My favorite thing about Albion, 100 percent, unequivocally is the students. I don’t think I would give the students up for anything else, to be honest. I’m super excited to come to the classroom every day cause of all of you. I’ve been really inspired by a lot of the stories I’ve heard from students. I’ve built some great relationships with students, current and past, and ultimately it’s you guys.
P: What’s the motivation behind the “joke of the week” on your door?
G: I don’t know why I started doing that but I love dad jokes. In a lot of my classes, I’ll do a botany joke of the week and I was like you know what, I’ll just throw it up on my door.
Stop by Putnam 054 for more of Dr. Garrett’s jokes.