Joan Steitz on A Story from the MRC Lab: Seeking Important Answers
  Joan Steitz     Biography    
Recorded: 04 Aug 2003

But there’s also another very interesting story there. So I ended up doing something quite nice which was what got me all these job offers back in the States. But the reason I did what I did again was related to my expectations. So there had been a very challenging project that people were talking about in the lab. And it had been sort of offered to or considered by many of the men who had come as postdocs within the year prior to the time that I arrived at the lab. And they had all rejected this project because it was so difficult that they were afraid that it wouldn’t work and in two years time when they had to find a job to support their families to come back to the States they wouldn’t have anything. And I took this project on because I never expected to have to find a job and it seemed interesting and challenging and why not try it? And it was very challenging. I just about gave it up a year later. And then was encouraged by Sydney Brenner to try the experiment one last time and it worked and it turned out to be pretty important. And so it’s something that, you know, I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t had a different mindset from what most of my peers had. But again part of that came from Jim. Because Jim had always imbued in all of this the idea that it’s not worth wasting your time on something if it isn’t going to give you an important answer. And this was going to provide a very important answer. So for me it seemed, you know, why not!

Joan Steitz is a prominent molecular biologist who earned her Ph.D. under Jim Watson at Harvard University in 1967. She joined the faculty at Yale University in 1970 and is currently the Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and the Director of the Molecular Genetics Program at the Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine at Yale. She is also an Investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Steitz’s research involves determining the structure and function of small RNA-protein complexes.

She has received numerous awards including the National Medal of Science (1986), the Weizmann Women and Science Award (1994), the Novartis Drew Award in Biomedical Research (1999), the UNESCO-L'Oréal Women in Science Award (2001), and the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research (2002).