Why Biological Sciences at Rensselaer?
It's an exciting time in the Biological Sciences department at Rensselaer. With excellent leadership, a strong and growing faculty, and modern facilities, there is no limit to what you may accomplish.
In recent years, the science of biology has undergone revolutionary changes. Many problems once handled only descriptively are now analyzed molecularly, and biological systems are now being understood as the sum of the interactions between biomolecules. With this trend expected to continue into future biological advances, Rensselaer is adapting and introducing undergraduate biology programs to meet this challenge.
Students play a critical role in university research here at Rensselaer. Undergraduates have the option to receive funding or class credit to do so.
Undergraduate Research Programs
Biology undergraduates can choose to do research for class credit or pay, depending on the kind of experience wanted, and the availability of funds. To help you decide, check out the article, "For credit, funding, or experience?" from the Office of Undergraduate Education.
Initiatives like Rensselaer's Undergraduate Research Program (URP) provide real-world, hands-on research experience for students. You have the opportunity to work directly with a faculty member on a bonafide research project.
The Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) is a unique, exciting opportunity for students to spend the summer months immersed in leading-edge research with their faculty advisor. Application to the 10-week, full-time program begins with the submission of a research proposal that is competitively reviewed by a panel of faculty members. Geared for more seasoned undergraduate researchers, SURP includes a research stipend for students and is a rich, sustained research experience that will be a memorable and rewarding component of the academic career.
There are many other undergraduate research opportunities at Rensselaer. The Office of Undergraduate Education and faculty researchers can assist students in identifying summer research opportunities at federal laboratories around the country, or international research internships around the globe.
The lines dividing departments within the School of Science are blurred and intersecting. Faculty, students, and even the programs themselves integrate and cooperate.
All areas of biology require knowledge of chemistry and physics as well. The undergraduate biology curriculum thoroughly trains you in the fundamentals of the life sciences, as well as the chemistry and physics of the life processes, providing the background necessary for professional training in research or medicine.
You may also opt for careers in applied biology and in industry. You can combine biology programs with specific options in biochemistry, biomedical engineering, bioinformatics, biophysics, biotechnology (genetic engineering), chemical engineering, computer science, management, mathematics, microbiology, and technical communications.
Our faculty is prolific and contributes research to every area of modern biology.
Dr. Catherine Royer
Cathy Royer, Constellation Professor of Biocomputation and Bioinformatics, received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She joined Rensselaer in 2013.
Dr. Royer is a leading expert in the fields of biological fluorescence, protein thermodynamics, and high-pressure biophysics. She seeks to understand the physical mechanisms by which biological molecules function. Her work has included studies of estrogen receptors, a target for breast cancer; retinoid receptors which have been linked to leukemia; and the Rev-ErbA alpha receptor implicated in type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Rick Relyea
Rick Relyea, David M. Darrin ’40 Senior Endowed Chair and professor of biological sciences, earned his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He joined Rensselaer in the fall of 2014.
Dr. Relyea seeks to understand how natural communities work and how they are affected by human impacts in order to improve our understanding of ecological communities and make discoveries that are important to conservation efforts. His research is focused at the interface of several biological fields, including ecology, evolution, animal behavior, and ecotoxicology. Dr. Relyea’s research group works in a variety of environments, from highly controlled laboratory settings to outdoor mesocosms and natural field sites.
The undergraduate curriculum in biology is designed to prepare students for admission to graduate or professional school or to enter the workplace. Recognizing that flexibility is essential for students with specific interests and goals other than those spelled out in the traditional curricula, it is designed to leave many options open to the student.
Biological Sciences students can major in Biology, Biochemistry & Biophysics, Bioinformatics & Molecular Biology, or apply for enrollment in our Accelerated Physician-Scientist Program.
- Biology (B.S., M.S., Ph.D.)
Biology is a vast field that examines the structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, ecology, and biodiversity of living species. The program at Rensselaer emphasizes modern molecular, cellular, organismal and systems biology to provide you with strong experimental, quantitative, physical, and chemistry skills. Courses also train you in analytical problem-solving skills using cutting-edge research approaches and technologies.
- Biochemistry & Biophysics (B.S., M.S. Ph.D.)
Biochemistry and Biophysics are closely-related fields, each using tools from chemistry, physics, and math to study the life sciences. Specifically, biochemistry studies the chemical processes and transformations in living organisms, while biophysics applies the theories and methods of mathematics and physics to questions of biology.
The Biochemistry & Biophysics (BCBP) undergraduate curriculum includes a thorough grounding in mathematics, chemistry, and physics along with modern biochemistry, biophysics, structural biology, computational biology, and molecular-level biology. Courses also train you in cutting-edge research approaches and technologies.
- Bioinformatics & Molecular Biology (B.S.)
Bioinformatics uses molecular simulations, statistical modeling, and database technology to ask questions in genomics, genetics, biophysics and systems biology. Molecular biology comprises the experimental techniques for the genetic manipulation of biological systems.
Rensselaer is one of the few universities to offer an undergraduate program in this interdisciplinary field. Instructors maintain active research programs in different aspects of computational and molecular biology.
- Accelerated Physician-Scientist Program (B.S./M.D.)
The Biological Sciences Department and nearby Albany Medical College offer an accelerated, combined degree program specifically designed to train physician-scientists. We designed the program for students who wish to become physicians with a firm foundation in scientific research. We train physician-scientists to perform at the highest level in both medicine and research.
Minors / Concentrations
Rensselaer students can minor or concentrate in just about any degree area offered on campus. Programs of particular interest to those majoring in Biology include:
- Biochemistry & Biophysics
- Biomedical Engineering & Management
- Computer Science
- Environmental Science
Students who would like to focus their studies in a particular area may select a concentration in Biochemistry, Bioinformatics, Biophysics, Microbiology, or Neuroscience.
A specialized Biochemistry/Biophysics minor is available to students majoring in Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Chemistry.
Outside the Classroom
While your academic work and residential life will keep you very busy, you will also have the opportunity to choose from among more than 200 clubs, sports, and organizations The following is just a sample of what you might experience outside of the classroom.
- Beta Beta Beta
- This biological honor society is for undergraduate students dedicated to improving the understanding and appreciation of biological study, and extending the boundaries of human knowledge through scientific research.
- Ecologic is the longest-running environmental club at Rensselaer. Their mission is to make progress toward a greener world and educate the community about environmental issues. They run many fun projects and events throughout the year.
- Science Ambassadors
- The Rensselaer Science Ambassadors is an assembly of undergraduate students in a variety of science majors. Students undergo extensive communications and professional development training in order to develop engaging presentations and hands-on demonstrations that bring science to life in K-12 classrooms.
A living and learning community at Rensselaer focused on energy, environment, and biodiversity.
As a first-year student at Rensselaer, you have the option of joining one of several new themed housing units on campus. "Earth, Energy, and Environment—The Vasudha Living & Learning Community" is unique among these communities.
At Vasudha, you'll also find many opportunities to participate in—and organize—extra-curricular programs and activities. While these activities may vary from year to year, they have included field trips to the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, the historic Erie Canal, and the diverse ecosystem of the Rensselaer Plateau.
The signature themes of the program are a focus on independent thought, critical thinking, and an early introduction to undergraduate research experience.
Many Biological Sciences students continue on to graduate school, while others choose enter the workforce directly. The following is a sample from recent graduates.
Many School of Science graduates continue their education in pursuit of a graduate or professional degree. The strong research-focused culture at Rensselaer makes it an excellent choice for continued education.
- Cornell University
- Dartmouth College
- Duke University
- Harvard University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- University of California, San Diego
- Yale University