As her postdocs can attest, Joan Steitz is a model mentor for young scientists

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Yale biochemist Joan Steitz (second from left) is pictured with three of her postdoctoral students (from left) Mingyi Xie, Walter Moss, and Jessica Brown. (Photo by Alaina Pritchard)

Yale biochemist Joan A. Steitz has been lauded internationally for her role in mentoring young scientists, and at a ceremony held at the Provost’s office on June 25, Yale also formally recognized Steitz  for the advice and encouragement she has provided generations of postdoctoral scholars at the university.

Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, received the 2014 Yale Postdoctoral Mentoring Prize, which is awarded to the Yale faculty member who is judged to have had the greatest positive impact on his or her postdoctoral appointees. Faculty members are nominated for the honor by the postdocs themselves; a committee appointed by Provost Ben Polak selects the prize-winner. The prize includes a cash award and a plaque.

“Joan Steitz is a trailblazer in postdoctoral mentoring as well as being a superstar scientist. She’s a role model for our faculty as well as our postdocs and students,” said Julia Adams, deputy provost for social sciences and faculty development and diversity and incoming master of Calhoun College.

Steitz — whose own mentor at Harvard was James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA — has won numerous scientific awards for her contributions to the understanding of RNA biology. In 2012, she received the Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science, which recognized both her scientific accomplishments and her commitment to advancing the careers of women scientists.

Postdoctoral researchers in her own lab already know the value of Steitz’s assistance.

“Before I came to the lab, people told me that Joan Steitz was the queen of the RNA world, and they were right,” said Mingyi Xie, one of the researchers who nominated Steitz. “She has a wonderful personality as well as tremendous scientific skills.”

Steitz’s postdocs all cited her combination of scientific and professional guidance and personal support in their encomia.

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