Cota-Robles was a member of the U.S. Navy and served in the South Pacific during World War II. Following the war, he went on to earn a B.S. degree from the University of Arizona. Subsequently, he worked at Gerber Baby Foods in Oakland, CA, as a quality control bacteriologist before returning to school to earn his Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis.  After graduate school, he studied further as a U.S. Public Health Service Postdoctoral Fellow in Stockholm, Sweden, and later became a professor of microbiology at the University of California, Riverside.  He continued to work in the area of microbial cell structure at Pennsylvania State University and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC).  UCSC offers state-funded, merit-based fellowships, the Eugene Cota-Robles fellowships, to first-year graduate students who have overcome significant social or educational obstacles to achieve a college education, and whose backgrounds equip them to contribute to intellectual diversity among the graduate student population. Cota-Robles is now a Professor Emeritus at UCSC.