Meet the Professors: Marden Nichols

Meet the Profs

Classics Professor Marden Nichols currently teaches Roman Architecture and Introductory Latin. In past semesters she has taught Intro to Roman Archaeology, a study of Pompeii and an Advanced Latin course focusing on the works of Cicero.


What is your focus within the field of Classics?

Latin literature and Roman art and archaeology.

Where does your interest in Classics come from?

When I was twelve, my mother gave me a book of poems by classically educated American poets. Their works drew on ancient models and even included verses in ancient Greek and Latin. Their conviction that ancient literature was unique ignited my interest in the classical world. Once I started learning the languages I found that the more I read, the more enjoyable the experience became. My reason for pursuing Classics then was largely aesthetic – but when you have the chance to engage with something that is astoundingly beautiful, it can transform you. Being in contact with beautiful things can enrich your life in ways you don’t even recognize.

Favorite classical author?

Some of my favorites would have to be the Roman satirists, particularly Horace and Persius, who created a new genre of literature that was quintessentially Roman. Their works contain all this biting criticism and angst about their environments. Reading these satirists – these authors confronting issues in their literary environment and wider culture – provides another frame of reference as we think through the problems in our own time and how they are reflected in art.

Favorite thing about Georgetown?

The insightfulness, energy and earnestness of the students. Teaching requires a lot of energy, but students give the same energy back, so I always leave class feeling motivated, feeling really inspired by the students. Often, students’ questions make me look at things I’ve studied for years in a new way.

When you describe your job to your friends and family, what do you say?

I usually begin with how respectful students are of themselves, of others in the classroom, and of their professors. This is most apparent when one student is struggling in some way— it is encouraging to see how everyone rallies around that student to make him or her more comfortable. Georgetown is a very special community of people who have a shared goal of pursuing knowledge, but who also value kindness and community in a way that is rare.

What do you do outside of Georgetown?

I enjoy theater, and I am a big fan of the theaters on 14th St. – Studio TheaterConstellation Theater. I also visit the museums on the National Mall, particularly the National Gallery of Art. There are so many new great restaurants that have opened up in DC. I live near the U St. corridor, and I really love that area.

What is your favorite memory from college?

I have vivid memories of the cafeteria on Saturday and Sunday mornings… A couple of people would start eating breakfast, then a few more would join, and we would start talking about the night before. That type of storytelling and observational comedy – people trying to make each other laugh by retelling the hijinx of the night before – is a distinctive part of campus life that comes from having so many shared experiences.

Any advice to students on how to make the most out of their times in college?
There’s a lot of criticism of the “bubble” of college. People are always talking about getting out of the bubble, and that’s often for really sound reasons, but I think that students should also appreciate how unique this time can be— you’re in a kind of incubator of strangers, some of whom may become your best friends in life… Also, it’s okay to slow down and give yourself time to grow. Georgetown students are extraordinarily talented, and there are so many choices and opportunities. Learning new things is the work of a lifetime… You don’t have to pursue everything at once.

If you have already fulfilled the language requirement or are a little intimidated by the study of Latin, Professor Nichols’ other courses are “studies” courses, some of which fill the College writing requirement and the MSB history requirement. She is an incredible professor and a really cool person, so look out for her as you pick your courses for the fall!

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Meet the Professors: Manus Patten

Meet the ProfsFor 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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