Biology majors investigate the interconnected processes that shape the living world through a wide range of interdisciplinary courses. Lab-based courses ensure all majors are proficient in research skills, and many continue working 1:1 with faculty on research leading up to senior theses.

At RWU, students publish papers, present at conferences, and contribute to scientific advances. Biology graduates go on to succeed in medical professions, work on the forefront of research, innovate, educate, and make a difference through science in action.

This major is coordinated by the Department of Biology, Marine Biology, and Environmental Science. 

Advanced Laboratories and Technology  

A student working in the aquatics lab The MNS building is equipped with advanced laboratory research space along with an Aquatic Diagnostic Laboratory and a greenhouse. The facilities house advanced research instruments including real-time PCR machines, fluorescence and confocal microscopes, cell culture facilities, and a flow cytometer. Our researchers utilize model organisms including bacteria, yeast, round worms, fruit flies, amoeba, and zebrafish, and also study terrestrial and marine microbes, invertebrates, desert plants, and macroalgae. 

Success By The Numbers

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Placement of 2021 Grads

Even with the challenges of the pandemic, our 2021 graduates found success in employment or in graduate school within 6 months of graduation.

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Real World Opportunities

Biology and Environmental Science students participate in community-engaged projects and internships during their undergraduate, studies, giving them the skills and diverse experiences that are most desirable for employers and graduate school admission.

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Hands-On Research

Each academic year, over 80 students conduction research with faculty and/or care for organisms in our labs. Students are encouraged to participate in research opportunities starting in their first year.

Degree Requirements


By the time a student has completed a major in Biology or Marine Biology, s/he is expected to be able to demonstrate the following competencies:

  1. formulate a scientific question or problem
  2. design a properly controlled experiment or field study that tests a clearly-stated hypothesis
  3. evaluate evidence critically and quantitatively, and apply this knowledge to novel situations.
  4. effectively communicate scientific knowledge orally, graphically, and in writing
  5. conduct a search of peer-reviewed print and electronic resources relevant to a research project in the life sciences
  6. understand the role of macromolecules in cellular processes
  7. understand the relationship between the structure and function of cellular components
  8. understand the relationship between the structure and function of major organ systems
  9. understand the mechanisms of physiological homeostasis
  10. describe cellular and physiological adaptations that have evolved in a variety of phyla
  11. understand the key discoveries of modern biology (including molecular biology and bioinformatics)
  12. understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of inheritance
  13. understand the species concept and the factors affecting biodiversity
  14. describe the patterns and mechanisms of evolution
  15. understand how phylogenetic relationships among taxa are determined
  16. describe the patterns and mechanisms of population distribution, growth and regulation
  17. understand the flow of matter and energy through natural systems from the molecular to the ecosystem level
  18. describe interactions among biotic and abiotic factors in natural systems
  19. understand the life history strategies of organisms
  20. describe the major global biological communities and biomes
  21. understand significant interactions and dependencies between human and natural systems

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Learn from Faculty Experts

Headshot of Chris BurtnerDr. Christopher Burtner
Assistant Professor of Biology 

Research Interests: Biology of aging; Stem cells and gene therapy; CRISPR gene editing; Molecular biology; Translational biomedicine. 

Student Opportunities: CRISPR gene-editing and transcriptional-activation in yeast and C. elegans; Identification of genetic pathways involved in regulating longevity; Effect of longevity- promoting pathways on neurodegeneration. 

Dr. Avelina EspinosaHeadshot of Avelina Espinosa
Professor of Biology 

Research Interests: Novel therapies to manage amebiasis; Molecular microbiology; Origin and evolution of anaerobic pathways; Evolution/science literacy. 

Student Opportunities: Identification and testing of natural and synthetic anti-amebic drugs; Mechanism of action of anti-amebic drugs; Using protists as models for exploring the impact of climate change; Scientific assessments of student/faculty views on evolution, science and anti-intellectualism movements. 

Headshot of Marcie MarstonDr. Marcie Marston
Professor of Biology 

Research Interests: Coevolution of bacteria and viruses; Diversity and distribution of marine viruses; Viral genome evolution. 

Student Opportunities: Evolution of viral virulence; Isolation and identification of marine viruses; Kinetics of viral infection; Viral genome evolution; Horizontal gene transfer of viral genes. 

A headshot of Mary Yurkevicius

Meaningful Research

Mary Yurkevicius, RWU Class of 2017

At RWU, students are given opportunities to translate their education into meaningful research that can benefit the community. Mary Yurkevicius has been researching health benefits of various fish species in the Narragansett Bay for the past four years.

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Graduates Share Their Experiences

Headshot of Mary D'Angelo “Undergraduate research at RWU changed my entire educational experience. It taught me a lot more about my field, and it is why I got into my Ph.D. program.” 

Mary D’Angelo '21  
Ph.D. Program in Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo 

Headshot of Kiserian JacksonKiserian Jackson conducted PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing of eastern oysters infected with a common bacterium that can be pathogenic to humans who consume raw oysters. He investigated whether oysters infected with three common diseases — Dermo, MSX, and SSO — are more prone to accumulate the bacteria than an uninfected or mildly infected oyster, to help inform the state’s Shellfish Management Plan.  

Kiserian Jackson '18  
Ph.D. candidate in molecular and cell Biology at UMass-Amherst 

Research Opportunities

A student wearing safety goggles and holding a dropper in a biology labUndergraduate research is integrated into the Biology curriculum, with opportunities for students to earn academic credit for doing research, to develop proposals and compete for small grants to fund their projects, and to present their findings at regional, national and international conferences. Projects in the Biology department address questions of evolutionary biology, molecular biology of aging and the design of antimicrobial drugs.

Recent research projects include: A professor in a biology lab pointing at text on a whiteboard

  • Genetics and evolution of marine viruses  
  • Biotechnology of anti-amebic drugs  
  • Ecotoxicology of heavy metals  
  • Developmental genetics  
  • Molecular genetics of aging and longevity  
  • Evolution of photosynthetic pathways in plants  
  • CRISPR gene editing  
  • Soil invertebrates 


Learn About Health Professions Advising

Are you interested in a career in the health professions and want more information on developing your studies toward professional preparation? Our interdisciplinary team of Faculty Health Profession Advisors help students chart individualized pre-Health paths including Pre-Medicine, Pre-Dentistry, Pre-Pharmacy, Pre-Veterinary Medicine, and more. Visit Health Professions Advising for resources on how you can explore your options for health professions pathways.

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Earn a Pharm.D. in Seven Years  

Instead of taking eight years to get a Pharm.D., the 3+4 Biology-Pharm.D. dual degree program enables students to earn a B.S. in Biology at RWU and a Pharm.D. from the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in only seven years.