Joan A Steitz, PhD

Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Departments & Organizations

Center for RNA Science and Medicine, Yale

Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry: RNA Biology | Steitz Lab

Molecular Virology

Molecular Virology

Office of Student Research

Stem Cell Center, Yale: Transcriptional Regulation of Stem and Progenitor Cells

Yale Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS): Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology


As a college student in the 1960s, Joan Steitz never imagined herself as a top-flight scientist. Certainly, she was fascinated by science. She even assisted senior scientists in laboratories at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was befriended by James D. Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, and at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. But when it came time to choose a career path, she had never seen a female professor or head of lab. So, she never aspired to such goals.

Today, Prof. Joan Steitz is one of leading scientists in her field. Steitz is best known for her pioneering work in RNA. She and her student Michael Lerner discovered and defined the function of small ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) in pre-messenger RNA—the earliest product of DNA transcription—and was the first to learn that these cellular complexes (snRNPs) play a key role in processing messenger RNA by excising noncoding regions and splicing together the resulting segments. Her breakthroughs into the previously mysterious splicing process have clarified the science behind the formation of proteins and other biological processes, including the intricate changes that occur as the immune system and brain develop. Steitz earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1967. After completing postdoctoral work in Cambridge, England, she joined the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale as an assistant professor and later became an associate and full professor, as well as chair of the department.

Education & Training

PhD Harvard University (1967)
BS Antioch College (1963)
Postdoctoral Fellow Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England

Honors & Recognition

  • Postdoctoral Mentoring PrizeYale University (2014)

  • The Passano Foundation Young Scientist AwardThe Passano Foundation (1975)

  • The Eli Lilly Award in Biological ChemistryEli Lilly (1976)

  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of ScienceAmerican Association for the Advancement of Science (1981)

  • D.Sc. (Hon), Lawrence UniversityLawrence University (1981)

  • U.S. Steel Foundation Award in Molecular BiologyU.S. Steel Foundation (1982)

  • Member of the American Academy of Arts and SciencesThe American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1982)

  • Member of the National Academy of SciencesNational Academy of Sciences (1983)

  • Lee Howley, Sr. Award for Arthritis Research (shared with J.A. Hardin and M.R. Lerner), Lee Howley, Sr. (1983)

  • D.Sc. (Hon), University of Rochester School of MedicineUniversity of Rochester (1984)

  • National Medal of ScienceThe National Science Foundation (1986)

  • Member, Connecticut Academy of Science and EngineeringConnecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (1986)

  • Radcliffe Graduate Society Medal for Distinguished AchievementRadcliffe Graduate Society (1987)

  • Associate Member, European Molecular Biology OrganizationEuropean Molecular Biology Organization (1987)

  • Dickson Prize for ScienceCarnegie-Mellon University (1988)

  • Fritz Lipmann Lecturer, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular BiologyAmerican Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (1989)

  • D.Sc. (Hon), Mt. Sinai School of MedicineMt. Sinai School of Medicine (1989)

  • Warren Triennial Prize (co-recipient with T. R. Cech)Massachusetts General Hospital (1989)

  • D. Sc. (Hon), Bates CollegeBates College (1990)

  • Christopher Columbus Discovery Award in Biomedical ResearchChristopher Columbus Foundation (1992)

  • Member of the American Philosophical SocietyAmerican Philosophical Society (1992)

  • D.Sc. (Hon), Trinity CollegeTrinity College (1992)

  • D.Sc. (Hon), Harvard UniversityHarvard University (1992)

  • The Eleventh Annual Keith Porter Lecturer on Cell Biology, American Society for Cell BiologyAmerican Society for Cell Biology (1992)

  • Fellow of the American Academy of MicrobiologyAmerican Academy of Microbiology, (1992)

  • Rebecca Rice Award for Distinguished Achievement, Antioch College Alumni AssociationAntioch College Alumni Association (1993)

  • Weizmann Women and Science AwardAmerican Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science (1994)

  • Distinguished Service Award, Miami Bio/Technology Winter SymposiumMiami Bio/Technology Winter Symposium (1996)

  • City of Medicine Award, Durham, NCCity of Durham (1996)

  • Novartis-Drew Award in Biomedical ResearchDrew University (1999)

  • L’Oréal Award for Women in Science with the support of UNESCOL’Oréal (2001)

  • Thirty-First Annual Lewis S. Rosenstiel AwardRosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center (2002)

  • D.Sc (Hon), Brandeis UniversityBrandeis University (2002)

  • Member Academia EuropaeaAcademia Europaea (2002)

  • Honorary Member, Japanese Biochemical SocietyJapanese Biochemical Society (2002)

  • FASEB Excellence in Science AwardFederation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (2003)

  • D.Sc (Hon), Brown UniversityBrown University (2003)

  • D.Sc (Hon), Princeton UniversityPrinceton University (2003)

  • D.Sc (Hon), Watson School of Biological Sciences, Cold Spring Harbor LaboratoryWatson School of Biological Sciences (2004)

  • The Howard Taylor Ricketts Award, University of ChicagoUniversity of Chicago (2004)

  • The Caledonian Research Foundation Prize Lectureship The Caledonian Research Foundation (2004)

  • The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Edinburgh and Dundee, ScotlandThe Royal Society of Edinburgh (2004)

  • The RNA Society Lifetime Achievement AwardThe RNA Society (2004)

  • Doctor Honoris Causa, Paul Sabatier University, Toulouse, FrPaul Sabatier University (2005)

  • Honorary Member of Phi Beta Kappa, Yale ChapterPhi Beta Kappa (2005)

  • Member, Institute of MedicineInstitute of Medicine (2005)

  • E.B.Wilson Medal, American Society for Cell BiologyAmerican Society for Cell Biology (2005)

  • Rosalind E. Franklin Award for Women in Science, National Cancer InstituteNational Cancer Institute (2006)

  • Gairdner Foundation International AwardGairdner Foundation (2006)

  • Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research (shared with E. Blackburn)Albany Medical Center (2008)

  • D.Sc (Hon), University of British ColumbiaUniversity of British Columbia (2008)

  • Connecticut Women's Hall of FameConnecticut Women's Hall of Fame, (2008)

  • New York Academy of Medicine Medal for Distinguished Contributions in Biomedical ScienceNew York Academy of Medicine (2008)

  • Honorary Fellow of The New York Academy of MedicineThe New York Academy of Medicine (2009)

  • Harden Jubilee Medal, British Biochemical SocietyBritish Biochemical Society (2009)

  • D.Sc (Hon), Clarkson UniversityClarkson University (2009)

  • D.Sc (Hon), Albany Medical CollegeAlbany Medical College (2010)

  • The Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation 23rd Annual Medical Research Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer ResearchThe Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation (2011)

  • D.Sc (Hon), Columbia UniversityColumbia University (2011)

  • D.Sc (Hon)University of Buenos Aires (2011)

  • D.Sc (Hon)Rockefeller University (2012)

  • The Pearl Meister Greengard PrizePearl Meister Greengard (2012)

  • Joseph Priestley AwardDickinson College (2013)

  • Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical ScienceVanderbilt University (2013)

  • EMD Millipore Alice C. Evans AwardAmerican Academy of Microbiology (2013)

  • Yale Scholar Award endowment, named for Joan A. SteitzYale University (2012)

  • La grande médaille 2013 de l''Académie des sciencesInstitut de France (2013)

Professional Service

  • Member, Editorial Board Genes and Development (1994)

  • Selection Committee Member L’Oreal Postdoctoral Fellowship (2002)

  • Jury Member Wiley Prize (2004)

  • Associate Editor RNA (1994)

  • Scientific Advisory Board Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki (2007)

  • Member Rockefeller University (2007)

  • Jury Member L’Oréal UNESCO International Prize (2007)

  • Biology Visiting Committee MIT (2009)

  • Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, National Selection Committee Albany Medical Center (2009)

  • Board Member Rosalind E. Franklin Society (2009)

  • External Advisory Committee Gerstner Sloan-Kettering Cancer Biology Graduate Program (2009)

  • Selection Committee NAS Award in Molecular Biology (2009)

  • Chair, Scientific Advisory Committee Rita Allen Foundation (2010)

  • ASBMB Awards Committee ASBMB (2010)

  • Associate Editor Journal of Cell Biology (2010)

  • Board of Managers Jane Coffin Childs Fund (2010)

  • Board of Scientific Counselors Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2011)

  • Awards Committee ASBMB (2012)

  • Member, Selection Committee Pearl Meister Greengard Award (2013)

  • Member, The Center for HIV/RNA Studies, Scientific Advisory Board University of Michigan (2013)

  • Chair of Selection Committee NAS Award in Molecular Biology (2011)

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Contact Info

Joan A Steitz, PhD
Mailing Address
HHMI/Yale UniversityPO Box 208024/BCMM 136
295 Congress Avenue

New Haven, CT 06536-0812

Curriculum Vitae

Steitz Lab