Joan Steitz, PhD

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

Departments & Organizations

Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry: Steitz Lab

Center for RNA Science and Medicine

Molecular Virology: Virology Laboratories

Status of Women in Medicine Committee (SWIM)

Yale Cancer Center: Virus and Other Infection-associated Cancers

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

Yale Stem Cell Center

Office of Cooperative Research


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

  • Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical ScienceLasker Foundation (2018)

  • Luminary AwardWorld Affairs Council Connecticut (2018)

  • D.Sc (Hon)University of Connecticut (2017)

  • D.Sc (Hon)University of Oxford (2017)

  • Inaugural FellowASCB (2016)

  • William Clyde DeVane Award for Teaching ExcellenceYale University (2016)

  • Excellence in Cancer Research PrizeJonathan Kraft (2016)

  • Connecticut Medal of ScienceConnecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) (2015)

  • Herbert Tabor AwardAmerican Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2015)

  • Biopolymers Murray Goodman Memorial PrizeAmerican Chemical Society (2015)

  • Basic Science AwardHope Funds for Cancer Research (2015)

  • Foreign MemberRoyal Society of London (2014)

  • Postdoctoral Mentoring PrizeYale University (2014)

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

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

  • Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical ScienceVanderbilt University (2013)

  • Joseph Priestley AwardDickinson College (2013)

  • The Pearl Meister Greengard PrizePearl Meister Greengard (2012)

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

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

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

  • 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), Albany Medical CollegeAlbany Medical College (2010)

  • 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)

  • 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)

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

  • Gairdner Foundation International AwardGairdner Foundation (2006)

  • 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)

  • 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 LectureshipThe 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)

  • 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)

  • 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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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)

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

  • 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)

  • Dickson Prize for ScienceCarnegie-Mellon University (1988)

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

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

  • National Medal of ScienceThe National Science Foundation (1986)

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

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

  • 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)

  • 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)

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

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

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

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

Professional Service

  • Pearl Meister Greengard Award (2013 - Present) Committee Member

  • University of Michigan (2013 - Present) Member

  • ASBMB Awards Committee (2012 - 2017) Committee Member

  • NAS Award in Molecular Biology (2011 - 2017) Chairperson

  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2011 - 2016) Board Member

  • Rita Allen Foundation (2010 - 2016)

  • ASBMB (2010 - Present) Committee Member

  • Journal of Cell Biology (2010 - Present) Associate Editor

  • Jane Coffin Childs Fund (2010 - Present) Board Member

  • NAS Award in Molecular Biology (2009 - 2017) Committee Member

  • MIT (2009 - Present) Committee Member

  • Albany Medical Center (2009 - Present)

  • Rosalind E. Franklin Society (2009 - Present) Board Member

  • Gerstner Sloan-Kettering Cancer Biology Graduate Program (2009 - Present) Committee Member

  • Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki (2007 - Present) Board Member

  • Rockefeller University (2007 - Present) Member

  • L’Oréal UNESCO International Prize (2007 - Present) Member

  • Wiley Prize (2004 - Present) Member

  • L’Oreal Postdoctoral Fellowship (2002 - 2017) Committee Member

  • Genes and Development (1994 - Present) Board Member

  • RNA (1994 - Present) Associate Editor

  • Proceedings of the National Acadmey of Sciences (1983 - Present) Editor

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Contact Info

Joan Steitz, PhD
Mailing Address
Molecular Biophysics and BiochemistryDepartment of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry
PO Box 9812

New Haven, CT 06519-9812

Curriculum Vitae

Steitz Lab