Carolyn Bertozzi grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, the second of three girls. Her father was a nuclear physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her mother a secretary in MIT's physics department. Carolyn's father's four siblings, all born in Italy, also went into some branch of science. During the Great Depression Carolyn's maternal grandparents and uncle emigrated from Nova Scotia and established a farm. Carolyn's older sister, a "math genius" now teaches at Duke University, and her younger sister became a psychologist. It was expected that Carolyn and her sisters would do well in school, and Carolyn did, but she also played soccer in high school and was recruited to Harvard with what would be at any other school an athletic scholarship. She found soccer and later crew too time-consuming, however, and quit sports to devote herself to academics. She began as a biology major but in her second year took an organic chemistry class, which she loved, although she continued to take biology classes, she switched her major to chemistry. She was first in her class and eventually graduated summa cum laude, but Harvard's chemistry department was exclusively male at the time. As a result, she went to a lab in the biochemistry department, where Joseph Grabowski, her teacher for a physical organic chemistry class, asked her to work for him during the summer. He was so impressed with her work that he required her to write a graduation thesis, which he then submitted for an award of a substantial amount of money. He convinced her to go to graduate school at University of California at Berkeley. At Berkeley, she joined Mark Bednarski's bioorganic chemistry laboratory to study carbohydrates. Bednarski was also new, and Carolyn found him enthusiastic, and she wrote a number of grant proposals in his lab. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on the synthesis of carbohydrate analogues for biological applications. Continuing her interest in carbohydrates, and contrary to the advice of other chemists, Carolyn went to work in Steven Rosen's cell biology laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco, for her postdoc. There she studied the role of carbohydrates in inflammation and leukocyte adhesion. After her postdoctoral work, she accepted an assistant professorship at the University of California at Berkeley and set up her own laboratory. She and Rosen also founded a private company, Thios Pharmaceuticals, Inc. At Berkeley she enjoys teaching, finding her students very intelligent, hard-working, and interesting. In the laboratory she writes (and gets) grants, mentors (particularly women), and sets problems. She has published many journal articles. Her current research interests continue in glycobiology, which she sees as having potentially a wider clinical application. Now a tenured professor, she has a number of academic appointments and steady funding.
See our FAQ page to learn how to cite an oral history.