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USA Science & Engineering Festival – Role Models in Science & Engineering Achievement

Carol Greider

Carol Greider -- Molecular biologist

Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2009 for discovery of the chromosome enzyme telomerase. Grew up with dyslexia.

“When I was in elementary school," says molecular biologist Carol Greider who grew up living with the challenges of dyslexia, "I was considered a poor speller and somebody who couldn’t sound out words, so I was taken into remedial classes.”  Her dyslexia was also evident in her spoken language, with wrong words coming out instead of the words she meant to say. But school did get better for her. “I found ways to overcome any difficulties that I had," she says. "I would memorize words and how they were spelled rather than try to sound them out."  

Interested in science since high school, she decided on a career as a molecular biologist. Early in her career she developed a keen interest in researching how chromosomes – the strands of DNA that contain genes – maintain themselves.

Why She's Important: Carol -- with fellow scientists Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak -- won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of telomerase, an enzyme at the end of chromosomes that plays a key role in the division of cells, and which has a real potential to fight cancer and age-related diseases. As a Nobel recipient, Carol joins just nine other women in winning the Prize since its inception in 1901, and she is among only a handful of scientists with dyslexia who have received the Prize.

Current Activities: Carol is Professor and Director of Molecular Biology and Genetics Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD.

Education: She received her B.A. degree in biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of California, Berkeley. However, entering graduate school to pursue her Ph.D. proved difficult because with her dyslexia she did not test well, resulting in a number of schools rejecting her because of poor GRE scores. Just two schools -- UC Berkeley and Cal Tech -- took note of her stellar grades as a college undergraduate and invited her for an interview. She was accepted by both schools, but ultimately decided on Berkeley.

In Her Own Words: “I found ways to overcome any difficulties that I had. Perhaps my ability to pull more information out of context and to put together different ideas may have been affected by what I learned to do from dyslexia.”