Professor Ottersen graduated from the University of Oslo as MD in 1980, and gained his doctorate in medicine in 1982. He was Vice-Dean of Research at the Medical Faculty 2000 - 2002, and from 2002 to 2009 he headed the Centre for Molecular Biology and Neuroscience, one of Norway's centres of excellence.
Ottersen chaired a national Functional Genomics Program under the Norwegian Research Council, and from 2006 to 2009 he was Chief Editor of "Neuroscience" - the journal of the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO). He chaired the Lancet-University of Oslo Commission on Global Governance for Health whose report was launched in February 2014. Ottersen serves as a board member of the Oslo University Hospital. Professor Ottersen has received a number of awards for his research, including the Anders Jahre Medical Prize for young scientists in 1990, The Lundbeck Foundation Nordic Award for Outstanding Research 2005, and the Anders Jahre Award for Medical Research (main award) in 2008.