Clark Students Conducting Research on a Rocky Shore

Undergraduate Program in Biology

Clark is a small research university that combines active Ph.D. programs with a liberal arts education for undergraduates. This combination of small size and active research provides an ideal environment for undergraduates to participate in original research. The Biology Department has a variety of research programs, many of which are currently funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

For many undergraduates, the opportunity to conduct research in an active laboratory is the defining experience of their degree program. Research demonstrates real-world applications of classroom knowledge and skills, develops independent thinking, and provides invaluable experience to those considering a career in industry or continuing studies in medical, veterinary or graduate schools. In addition, Clark's innovative Accelerated BA/Master's Degree Program allows students who develop strong research interests the opportunity to integrate undergraduate and graduate-level study to earn a master's degree in a tuition-free fifth year.

Working side by side

The biology department provides numerous examples of Clark professors' commitment to including undergraduates in current research.

When Susan Foster and John Baker undertake field research into the behavioral ecology and life history of threespine sticklebacks, they invite interested students to become involved in the process. "We've taken up to 10 undergraduates with us to Alaska in the summers to collect specimens and assist in our behavioral fieldwork," Susan explains. Back home in the Foster/Baker lab at Clark, undergrads have the opportunity to conduct their own research projects investigating a broad range of questions such as factors influencing courting behavior, the effects of "drag" or resistance imposed by water on the fish, or differential responses of sticklebacks to predators.

By involving students in her research investigating the evolution and regulation of nitrogen metabolism in marine and freshwater algae and vascular plants, Deborah Robertson offers undergraduates opportunities to learn a wide range of laboratory research techniques as they work on projects involving aspects of plant molecular biology, biochemistry and physiology.

Students working in David Hibbett's lab have collaborated on projects employing comparative analyses of genes and genomes to infer evolutionary relationships of fungi. In 2012, as a result of their work on a study suggesting that emergence of wood-degrading fungi may have played a role in the termination of the coal depositions of the Carboniferous era, four of David's undgraduates were included as coauthors on a paper published in the prestigious journal, Science.

"One thing that sets Clark's biology apart from a lot of schools is that our students are able to work with any of us," says department chair Susan Foster, who gets to know all students in her classes. "I keep a book of their photographs and aspiration statements so I can help them find faculty inside and outside of Clark to work with. I help them find internships, get them into labs that are compatible with their interests, and nominate them for fellowships. We want every one of our students to feel they have a mentor."