What is Biology?

Biology is a discipline of science dealing with the origin, history, physical characteristics, life processes and habits of living organisms. Modern biology can be traced back to the 19th century, when explorer-naturalists such as Alexander von Humboldt tried to elucidate the interactions between organisms and their environment, and the ways these relationships depend on geography - creating the foundations for biogeography and ecology.

Following the cracking of the genetic code and the establishment of the Central Dogma, biology has largely split between organismal biology-consisting of ecology, systematics, paleontology, evolutionary biology, developmental biology, and other disciplines that deal with whole organisms or groups of organisms-and the constellation of disciplines related to molecular biology-including cell biology, biophysics, biochemistry, neuroscience, immunology, and many other overlapping subjects.

Curriculum Requirements

The Mathematics and Science Courses component of the degree program for the BS student consists of a specified sequence of introductory biological, chemical, and physical science courses. This common sequence of courses is intended to prepare the BS students for advanced or upper level coursework and research in the life sciences.

The Biology Major section consists of the upper level or advanced life sciences coursework and research. The BS students will take these credits of advanced courses in biology, chemistry and physics.

This component of the BS degree program allows the student to develop the skills needed to work as a professional biologist including advanced science and introduction to business classes. These scientists routinely interact with a variety of constituents in laboratory, research and educational settings. Therefore, skills in business practice, management, law and human relations are essential to any professional. In this component of the program, BS students, with the help of their advisor, select credits of coursework that help develop these skills. Students may also choose credits to add a track in pre-medicine, Science Teacher Certification and other concentrations.

BS students may elect to pursue a significant, undergraduate research experience in their senior year, which results in the completion of a senior thesis. The senior thesis consists of three (3) credit hours of undergraduate research in a student's senior year. Completion of a senior thesis can be a significant component of the BS program for those students who elect to participate. In addition or in place of the thesis, a student may elect to take internship credits to gain practical experience in an area of interest.

The program has five new science laboratories designated for study in Biology/Microbiology, Anatomy and Physiology, Chemistry, Physics, and Environmental Science. The science department also has three designated research areas. These laboratories have state-of-the-art instructional technology, including wireless connectivity and multimedia instruction.

It is RMU's intention to expose all of its students to an interactive hands-on science experience while at the University. It is intended that all students will have the opportunity to enroll in science courses that contain a laboratory component as part of the instruction. It is important to note that laboratory facilities at RMU will not just serve the needs of the students majoring in science. As indicated above, all RMU undergraduates will have the opportunity to augment their learning experience by utilizing the laboratory facilities in the required and elective science courses that are part of their own degree programs.

The life sciences have several existing analytical instruments that are currently incorporated into the curriculum. Students in the science program currently get exposed to Atomic Absorption spectroscopy (AA), Ion chromatography (IC), Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), Gas Chromatography (GC) and more.

Industry Demand

Employment of biological scientists is projected to grow for all occupations over the 2004-14 period, as biotechnological research and development continues to drive job growth. Opportunities for those with a bachelor's or master's degree in biological science are expected to be better. The number of science-related jobs in sales, marketing, and research management for which non-Ph.D.s usually qualify is expected to exceed the number of independent research positions. Non-Ph.D.s may also fill positions as science or engineering technicians or as medical health technologists and technicians. Some may become high school biology teachers.

Much of the basic biological research done in recent years has resulted in new knowledge, including the isolation and identification of genes in the Human Genome Project. Biological scientists will be needed to take this knowledge to the next stage, understanding how certain genes function within an entire organism, so that gene therapies can be developed to treat diseases. Even pharmaceutical and other firms not solely engaged in biotechnology use biotechnology techniques extensively, spurring employment increases for biological scientists. For example, biological scientists are continuing to help farmers increase crop yields by pinpointing genes that can help crops such as wheat grow worldwide in areas that currently are hostile to the crop.

Expected expansion of research related to health issues such as AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease also should create more jobs for these scientists. In addition, efforts to discover new and improved ways to clean up and preserve the environment will continue to add to job growth. More biological scientists will be needed to determine the environmental impact of industry and government actions and to prevent or correct environmental problems such as the negative effects of pesticide use. Some biological scientists will find opportunities in environmental regulatory agencies; others will use their expertise to advise lawmakers on legislation to save environmentally sensitive areas. There will continue to be a demand for biological scientists specializing in botany, zoology, and marine biology, but opportunities will be limited because of the small size of these fields. New industrial applications of biotechnology, such as changing how companies make ethanol for transportation fuel, also will spur a demand for biological scientists. Biological scientists are less likely to lose their jobs during recessions than are those in many other occupations because many are employed on long-term research projects.

Career Options

American Institute of Biological Sciences, 2006, indicated several career paths one can follow as a biologist (U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook www.bls.gov):
Research biologists study the natural world, using the latest scientific tools and techniques in both laboratory settings and the outdoors, to understand how living systems work. Many work in exotic locations around the world, and what they discover increases our understanding of biology and may be put to practical use to find solutions to specific problems.

Biologists may develop public health campaigns to defeat illnesses such as tuberculosis, AIDS, cancer, and heart disease. Others work to prevent the spread of rare, deadly diseases, such as the now infamous Ebola virus. Veterinarians tend to sick and injured animals, and doctors, dentists, nurses, and other health care professionals maintain the general health and well being of their patients.

Biologists in management and conservation careers are interested in solving environmental problems and preserving the natural world for future generations. Park rangers protect state and national parks, help preserve their natural resources, and educate the general public. Zoo biologists carry out endangered species recovery programs. In addition, management and conservation biologists often work with members of a community such as landowners and special interest groups to develop and implement management plans.

Life science educators enjoy working with people and encouraging them to learn new things, whether in a classroom, a research lab, the field, or a museum.

Professors and lecturers teach introductory and advanced biology courses. They may also mentor students with projects and direct research programs. Teaching younger students requires a general knowledge of science and skill at working with different kinds of learners. High school teachers often specialize in biology and teach other courses of personal interest. Educators in these settings may design exhibits and educational programs, in addition to teaching special classes or leading tours and nature hikes. There are many careers for biologists who want to combine their scientific training with interests in other fields. Here are some examples: 
Biologists apply scientific principles to develop and enhance products, tools, and technological advances in fields such as agriculture, food science, and medicine.

Forensic biologists work with police departments and other law enforcement agencies using scientific methods to discover and process evidence that can be used to solve crimes.

Science advisors work with lawmakers to create new legislation on topics such as biomedical research and environmental protection. Their input is essential, ensuring that decisions are based upon solid science. Biologists work with drug companies and providers of scientific products and services to research and test new products. They also work in sales, marketing, and public relations positions.

Trained professionals work with the government and other organizations to study and address the economic impacts of biological issues, such as species extinctions, forest protection, and environmental pollution.

Biologists in fields such as bioinformatics and computational biology apply mathematical techniques to solve biological problems, such as modeling ecosystem processes and gene sequencing.

Journalists and writers with a science background inform the general public about relevant and emerging biological issues.
All the illustrations in biology textbooks, as well as in newspaper and magazine science articles, were created by talented artists with a thorough understanding of biology.

Biological scientists held about 77,000 jobs in 2004. Slightly more than half of all biological scientists were employed by Federal, State, and local governments. Federal biological scientists worked mainly for the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Defense and for the National Institutes of Health. Most of the remaining scientists worked in scientific research and testing laboratories, the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry, or hospitals.

In addition, many biological scientists held biology faculty positions in colleges and universities.

Salary Information

Position TitlePosition Salary
Biochemists and biophysicists
Zoologists and wildlife biologists
Biological and life sciences
Ecologists (gov't employed)
Physiologists (gov't employed)
Geneticists (gov't employed)
Botanists (gov't employed)
The information in this chart is based off of 2006 nation mean salaries

For More Information

Contact the Office of Admissions, Robert Morris University, 6001 University Boulevard, Moon Township, PA 15108-1189 USA; phone 800-762-0097; e-mail admissionsoffice@rmu.edu. Or visit our website at www.rmu.edu, where you can apply for free. 

It is the policy of Robert Morris University to provide equal opportunity in all educational programs and activities, admission of students and conditions of employment for all qualified individuals regardless of race, color, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin and/or sexual preference.