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A Brief History of Our Biology Department

UL Grad School -- 07/05/2018

The Department of Biology at UL Lafayette is one of the largest academic units on campus, attracting students from across the world and bringing in $2 million a year in new grant funding for research and graduate student support. Throughout its history, the department has been lauded for its research, high-caliber faculty, quality of instruction, and diverse students. 

A Brief History of UL Lafayette's Biology Program

It did, however, have rather a humble beginning. The first thesis for a master’s in biology degree was completed in 1960, when the biology programs were still housed in the College of Liberal Arts.

The Department of Biology and the Department of Microbiology weren’t actually established until July 1, 1974, coinciding with the creation of the College of Biological, Mathematical and Physical Sciences. Biology and microbiology, which had a sub-unit of Medical Records Science, were considered separate disciplines. The Department of Biology offered undergraduate degrees in aquatic and fisheries biology, botany, wildlife management, and zoology. About 86 percent of the college’s faculty held the PhD degree within their fields at that time.

Almost a decade later in 1983, the Department of Biology began offering the PhD in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, filling a state-wide need that the Board of Regents recognized. The faculty’s research strengths guided the decision to offer a PhD in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, rather than PhD in Biology.

In the late 1980s, after working to recruit high-quality graduate students and increasing the number of graduate assistantships available, the department saw a marked increase in graduates earning a PhD in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology. This increase in PhD graduates played a vital role in helping the University to become a Doctoral II institution in 1989—and that distinction aided the University’s efforts in becoming among the top 5 percent of research institutions in the country as a Doctoral University - Higher Research Activity, a status designated by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

The Department of Biology continues to improve its research facilities, recently adding a mouse vivarium in 2011 and renovating the aquatics research facilities for saltwater and freshwater invertebrates and culture species. The department currently has 24 research faculty and 8 instructional faculty, and the undergraduate programs experienced a 13 percent growth this year alone. Dr. Paul Leberg, department head for the Department of Biology, says the department is continuing to make efforts to increase diversity at all levels, building on the department’s strong history of attracting minority and underrepresented graduate students.

The graduate programs continue to be highly competitive, and student and faculty research activities are attracting more attention than ever. Research efforts are focused on places as close as the Gulf Coast and as far away as the International Space Station. Our faculty attracts more than $2 million in new research every year from agencies such as the NSF, NOAA, NASA, USDA, USGS, USFWS, DOD, and the FDA. In recent years, graduate student research has focused on snake movements, wetlands preservation and restoration, and the effects of oil on the Gulf of Mexico invertebrate, mammal, and bird populations.

Learn more about the Department of Biology >