He was born in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from the California Institute of Technology, and from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Ph.D. in 1971. He taught at the University of Oregon. He moved to University of California, San Francisco in 1981, where he headed the Herskowitz lab.
He was one of the people who made U.C.S.F. the most exciting place in the world for a younger scientist to be. A talk by Ira was always fun to listen to. And he approached science with a certain degree of idealism.
- 1985 NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing of the National Academy of Sciences.
- 1987 MacArthur Fellows Program
- 1988 Genetics Society of America Medal
- 2002 Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal
- 2003 Lewis S. Rosentiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research.
- Duenwald, Mary (3 May 2003). "Ira Herskowitz, a Top Geneticist, Dies at 56". The New York Times.
- "NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 27 February 2011.