Roush studied chemistry at the University of California Los Angeles (BS 1974) and Harvard University (PhD 1977 under Robert Burns Woodward).
Following a year postdoctoral appointment at Harvard, he joined that faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1987, Dr. Roush moved to Indiana University and was promoted to Professor in 1989 and Distinguished Professor in 1995. Two years later, he moved to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and served as the Warner Lambert/Parke Davis Professor of Chemistry.
He served as chair of the University of Michigan's Department of Chemistry from 2002-2004. In 2004 Professor Roush relocated with his group to the Jupiter, Florida campus of the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) where he currently serves as Professor of Chemistry, Associate Dean of the TSRI graduate program and Executive Director of Medicinal Chemistry. Roush is active in the field of organic chemistry with research interests including natural product synthesis, methods development and medicinal chemistry.
He is known for his stereochemical studies and synthetic applications of the intramolecular Diels-Alder reaction and his work in the area of asymmetric and acyclic diastereoselective synthesis, specifically the use of tartrate ester modified allylboronates and other allylmetal compounds for the aldol-like construction of propionate-derived systems. He has also made important contributions the synthesis of deoxyglycosides and polyhydroxylated natural products, and to the design and synthesis of inhibitors of cysteine proteases targeting important human pathogens (eg, Trypanosoma, Plasmodium and Entamoeba species).