Shirley M. Tilghman

Honorary degree recipient Shirley M. Tilghman
Doctor of Humane Letters

Shirley Tilghman became Princeton University’s 19th president—and its first female president—in June 2001. An exceptional teacher and a world-renowned scholar and leader in the field of molecular biology, she joined the Princeton faculty in 1986 as the Howard A. Prior Professor of the Life Sciences. Under her leadership, Princeton has increased the economic diversity of its student body and increased its enrollment to spread the benefits of higher education even further.

Her scientific career yielded many groundbreaking discoveries, from early work cloning the first mammalian gene to later research at Philadelphia’s Institute for Cancer Research and as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. She was named the founding director of Princeton’s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, whose multidisciplinary approach grew out of Tilghman’s role as one of the architects of the national effort to map the human genome.

An outspoken advocate for women and minorities in science, Tilghman has promoted efforts to make the early careers of all young scientists as meaningful and productive as possible. At Princeton, she initiated a postdoctoral teaching fellowship program in the sciences and has worked to increase the diversity of Princeton’s faculty and administration, enhance childcare services and provide additional flexibility in the tenure clock.

Tilghman was one of five winners of the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science in 2002 and also received the 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Developmental Biology and the 2007 Genetics Society of America Medal. Tilghman is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine and is one of only 66 female Fellows of the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of sciences.

Tilghman, a native of Canada, received her Honors B.Sc. in chemistry from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, in 1968. After two years of secondary school teaching in Sierra Leone, she obtained her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Temple University. Prior to joining Princeton’s faculty, she was an independent investigator at the Institute for Cancer Research and an adjunct associate professor of human genetics and biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania. Tilghman is the mother of two grown children.

Hear Shirley M. Tilghman speak on "The Public Good of Private Colleges and Universities," on the multimedia page, Conversations with Honorary Degree Recipients.