Oftentimes you’ll hear someone mention the saying “like father, like son.” On a separate note, it is common to hear a college student name one of their professors as a role model. However, it is a bit unusual to hear someone say, “like professor, like student,” but here at Castleton University, anything is possible.
Preston Garcia, a professor of biology and the biology program coordinator, pursued his masters and doctorate degree at the University of Connecticut in the molecular and cell biology program. His current senior research student, Ryan Duggan, is following in Garcia’s footsteps. Duggan was recently accepted into the same graduate program at the same exact school.
“It’s very cool,” said Garcia in an excited manner. “As far as I know this is the first time that not only has someone gone to the same school, but it’s the exact same program. [Ryan] interviewed with people who were on my thesis committee, I know exactly what building and rooms he was in during his interview. It’s very cool.”
Both Garcia and Duggan entered college with the intentions of being pre-medical majors. Garcia wanted to be a pediatrician and Duggan wanted to be a surgeon. They each began taking labs in biology, specifically microbiology, and they fell in love with it. They learned that scientific research was their passion.
It was working in labs with Garcia that ultimately influenced Duggan to pursue research in microbiology. Together, they research bacterial genetics, trying to figure out why bacteria feeds on one thing over another based on genes. Garcia taught him an important lesson in science: science doesn’t always work out and experiments will often fail, which Duggan learned quickly.
As his professor frequently spoke positively about UConn and their graduate programs, Duggan started to believe it would be the right place for him.
“He’s always talked about how much of a great experience it was and how he’s built great relationships going to grad school there, so it seemed like the really close-knit place I wanted to go. It seemed like a good place for me,” Duggan said.
Garcia then helped Duggan achieve his goal, writing him a letter of recommendation and proofreading his personal statements.
Now, Duggan has been accepted and Garcia is extremely proud.
“He’s been great, he’s been exactly what I’ve expected [as a lab student]. He’s figured out how to troubleshoot, he’s presented at national and regional meetings and he’s a good person. I think Ryan’s going to do great in grad school,” Garcia said.
Garcia became Duggan’s advisor in the biology program in his second semester of freshman year. That is where it all began. Duggan spoke highly of his advisor, saying that as an intimidated freshman, Garcia eased his nerves.
“I realized he’s one of the nicer and cooler professors on campus,” Duggan said with a smile.
Fast forward to senior year, and Garcia and Duggan have developed a great friendship. The two found each other snagging as many hors d’-oeuvres as possible from hand passed servers at meetings and playing quick games of corn hole to pass the down time during experiments and unfortunately losing as well.
Duggan and fellow research student Paul Flynn even happily stepped in to present a poster in Burlington, Vermont among professors across New England, in place of Garcia after his son was born.
Through this we see a prime example of how college professors can have a profound impact on a student’s life. They are not always just a teacher, and students are not always just students. Professors and students can be role models and even lifelong friends. In this instance, we see a student so influenced that he is following in his professor’s footsteps. Like professor, like student.