Originally from England, Petty earned his B.S. in biochemistry from the University of Manchester and a Ph.D. from Imperial College in London. After coming to NC State in 1990 as an assistant professor, Petty established his own research program and moved through the ranks to become full professor in 2002.
In 2013, the Microbiology Undergraduate Certificate was approved and Petty became its director. Prior to that, he was a distance education coordinator in the former Department of Microbiology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Petty competed successfully for an administrative fellowship in the University of North Carolina System Office. From 2016-2017, Petty gained additional online and distance education administrative experience while he served as support staff for a task force to review the current and future state of online education in the UNC System.