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Joan Steitz, PhD

Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry

Contact Information

Joan Steitz, PhD

Mailing Address

  • Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry

    Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, PO Box 9812

    New Haven, CT 06519-9812

    United States



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

AwardAwarding OrganizationDate
Warren Alpert PrizeWarren Alpert Foundation2021
Medal Prize LectureMicrobiology Society2021
Watson PrizeHope Funds for Cancer Research2021
D.Sc (Hon)Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences2021
Wolf Prize in MedicineWolf Foundation2021
Bermuda Principles Award Winner, 20202020
Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical ScienceLasker Foundation2018
Luminary AwardWorld Affairs Council Connecticut2018
D.Sc (Hon)University of Connecticut2017
D.Sc (Hon)University of Oxford2017
Inaugural FellowASCB2016
William Clyde DeVane Award for Teaching ExcellenceYale University2016
Excellence in Cancer Research PrizeJonathan Kraft2016
Connecticut Medal of ScienceConnecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE)2015
Herbert Tabor AwardAmerican Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology2015
Biopolymers Murray Goodman Memorial PrizeAmerican Chemical Society2015
Basic Science AwardHope Funds for Cancer Research2015
Foreign MemberRoyal Society of London2014
Postdoctoral Mentoring PrizeYale University2014
La grande médaille 2013 de l''Académie des sciencesInstitut de France2013
EMD Millipore Alice C. Evans AwardAmerican Academy of Microbiology2013
Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical ScienceVanderbilt University2013
Joseph Priestley AwardDickinson College2013
The Pearl Meister Greengard PrizePearl Meister Greengard2012
D.Sc (Hon)Rockefeller University2012
Yale Scholar Award endowment, named for Joan A. SteitzYale University2012
D.Sc (Hon)University of Buenos Aires2011
The Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation 23rd Annual Medical Research Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer ResearchThe Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation2011
D.Sc (Hon), Columbia UniversityColumbia University2011
D.Sc (Hon), Albany Medical CollegeAlbany Medical College2010
Honorary Fellow of The New York Academy of MedicineThe New York Academy of Medicine2009
Harden Jubilee Medal, British Biochemical SocietyBritish Biochemical Society2009
D.Sc (Hon), Clarkson UniversityClarkson University2009
Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research (shared with E. Blackburn)Albany Medical Center2008
D.Sc (Hon), University of British ColumbiaUniversity of British Columbia2008
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 Medicine2008
Rosalind E. Franklin Award for Women in Science, National Cancer InstituteNational Cancer Institute2006
Gairdner Foundation International AwardGairdner Foundation2006
Doctor Honoris Causa, Paul Sabatier University, Toulouse, FrPaul Sabatier University2005
Honorary Member of Phi Beta Kappa, Yale ChapterPhi Beta Kappa2005
Member, Institute of MedicineInstitute of Medicine2005
E.B.Wilson Medal, American Society for Cell BiologyAmerican Society for Cell Biology2005
D.Sc (Hon), Watson School of Biological Sciences, Cold Spring Harbor LaboratoryWatson School of Biological Sciences2004
The Howard Taylor Ricketts Award, University of ChicagoUniversity of Chicago2004
The Caledonian Research Foundation Prize LectureshipThe Caledonian Research Foundation2004
The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Edinburgh and Dundee, ScotlandThe Royal Society of Edinburgh2004
The RNA Society Lifetime Achievement AwardThe RNA Society2004
FASEB Excellence in Science AwardFederation of American Societies for Experimental Biology2003
D.Sc (Hon), Brown UniversityBrown University2003
D.Sc (Hon), Princeton UniversityPrinceton University2003
Thirty-First Annual Lewis S. Rosenstiel AwardRosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center2002
D.Sc (Hon), Brandeis UniversityBrandeis University2002
Member Academia EuropaeaAcademia Europaea2002
Honorary Member, Japanese Biochemical SocietyJapanese Biochemical Society2002
L’Oréal Award for Women in Science with the support of UNESCOL’Oréal2001
Novartis-Drew Award in Biomedical ResearchDrew University1999
Distinguished Service Award, Miami Bio/Technology Winter SymposiumMiami Bio/Technology Winter Symposium1996
City of Medicine Award, Durham, NCCity of Durham1996
Weizmann Women and Science AwardAmerican Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science1994
Rebecca Rice Award for Distinguished Achievement, Antioch College Alumni AssociationAntioch College Alumni Association1993
Christopher Columbus Discovery Award in Biomedical ResearchChristopher Columbus Foundation1992
Member of the American Philosophical SocietyAmerican Philosophical Society1992
D.Sc. (Hon), Trinity CollegeTrinity College1992
D.Sc. (Hon), Harvard UniversityHarvard University1992
The Eleventh Annual Keith Porter Lecturer on Cell Biology, American Society for Cell BiologyAmerican Society for Cell Biology1992
Fellow of the American Academy of MicrobiologyAmerican Academy of Microbiology,1992
D. Sc. (Hon), Bates CollegeBates College1990
Fritz Lipmann Lecturer, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular BiologyAmerican Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology1989
D.Sc. (Hon), Mt. Sinai School of MedicineMt. Sinai School of Medicine1989
Warren Triennial Prize (co-recipient with T. R. Cech)Massachusetts General Hospital1989
Dickson Prize for ScienceCarnegie-Mellon University1988
Radcliffe Graduate Society Medal for Distinguished AchievementRadcliffe Graduate Society1987
Associate Member, European Molecular Biology OrganizationEuropean Molecular Biology Organization1987
National Medal of ScienceThe National Science Foundation1986
Member, Connecticut Academy of Science and EngineeringConnecticut Academy of Science and Engineering1986
D.Sc. (Hon), University of Rochester School of MedicineUniversity of Rochester1984
Member of the National Academy of SciencesNational Academy of Sciences1983
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 Foundation1982
Member of the American Academy of Arts and SciencesThe American Academy of Arts and Sciences1982
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of ScienceAmerican Association for the Advancement of Science1981
D.Sc. (Hon), Lawrence UniversityLawrence University1981
The Eli Lilly Award in Biological ChemistryEli Lilly1976
The Passano Foundation Young Scientist AwardThe Passano Foundation1975

Professional Service

ASBMB Awards CommitteeCommittee Member2012 - 2017
Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesEditor1983 - Present

Departments & Organizations