Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Sarah A. Woodson

  • 1999-Jul-19 – 1999-Jul-21

Sarah A. Woodson was born and raised in Warren, Michigan. Her father was a music teacher; Sarah's mother, who was from Amsterdam, Holland, was a housewife until her children were older, when she finished college and became a teacher. Sarah began as a violinist and soon switched to piano. She was always interested in science, beginning in second grade with the solar system. She believes that she was shy, and she took refuge in books, reading a great deal of the time. Her father believed that women had a certain subservient place in society and should follow certain codes of behavior, codes that did not permit married women to work. But Sarah's mother helped Sarah rebel against the strictures and go into science in college. She attended Kalamazoo College, majoring in chemistry and being graduated Phi Beta Kappa. After spending a year at a lab in France, she had to do a research project, which she did in Morton Rabin's lab at Wayne State University. From Michigan Woodson went to Yale University, where she worked in Donald M. Crothers' lab, studying nucleic acids using NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy). After five years there she spent three years as a postdoc with Thomas Cech at University of Colorado. There she studied RNA, discovering reverse self-splicing. While there she met her future husband, Steven Rokita. She then accepted a position at the University of Maryland, and she and Rokita, who was on the chemistry faculty at State University of New York at Stony Brook, began their relationship. While at Maryland Sarah developed a revised biochemistry program for undergraduates. She moved from assistant to associate professor, when she was granted tenure; then she obtained full professorship. At that point she was offered a position at Johns Hopkins University, where she continues to teach, run her lab, publish, write grant proposals, and mentor her lab members. Her work on the structures and interactions of RNA continues. Her husband, Steven Rokita, is now a faculty member in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Maryland.

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