I am a college biology teacher, plant molecular biologist, and outdoor enthusiast. I currently work as an adjunct professor of biology at American River College. I recently finished my Ph.D. in Plant Biology at UC Davis, where I studied stress signaling events in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Biology has not always been a major interest of mine. I spent a lot of my childhood reading, studying history, and playing music (euphonium and trombone). When I started high school, I joined the volleyball team and planned to major in international relations in college.

My trajectory changed when I took a course called “Research Biology,” where we were asked to design and execute an experiment of our choosing. I went to the library and looked for ideas for the project; what I found changed my career goals and eventually took me 3000 miles from my childhood home in upstate New York. It was an old book on hydroponics (growing plants without soil) that emphasized using science and the experimental method to develop better and more efficient ways to grow food. I was hooked – I did a project on hydroponics that year and then a larger, more elaborate one in my chemistry class the following year.

When I graduated from high school, I packed up my mini fridge and extra-long sheets and moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where I enrolled in the University of Illinois as a Crop Sciences major. While I felt out of place at first – I was a scrawny polo-shirt wearing New Yorker from the suburbs sitting in class with burly farm boys wearing Carhartts and work boots – I quickly settled in to learn about crop rotations, molecular biology, and chemistry. My years at Illinois were good ones – I met my wife, made wonderful friends, and shifted my focus from studying agriculture in the field to improving crops via biotechnology. Illinois was also where I had my first exposure to teaching; I spent two years working with a program that mentored local under-privileged students.

After graduating from Illinois, I interned for a year with Pioneer Hi-Bred, a large seed company, where I worked with plant breeders in the field and molecular biologists in the lab. Once I completed my internship, I bade farewell to corn, tornados, and barbeque and carried on with my latter day version of Manifest Destiny by moving to California to start a Ph.D. in Plant Biology at UC Davis.

At the beginning of my third year at UC Davis, I got the opportunity to TA my first course – a challenging plant physiology class that served both graduate and upper level undergraduate students. It was a real sink-or-swim moment; I was the only TA and had complete leeway from the professors to conduct discussions as I saw fit. I loved it – the challenge of designing lessons and developing activities to help students master difficult concepts stimulated and excited me in a way that research didn’t.  My subsequent experiences with TAing plant physiology and a large introductory biology course (“Biodiversity and the Tree of Life”) have been some of the highlights of my grad school experience, and motivated me to pursue college teaching as a career.

I further pursued a teaching career by doing a faculty training internship with the Los Rios Community College District. That experience was fantastic and led me to take my current position as an adjunct professor at American River College.

Geoff Benn
Plant Biology Graduate Group
UC Davis


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  1. Pingback: Where are PBGG alumni now? | The Prospective Prof

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