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MAKERS Profile

Shirley Tilghman

Molecular Biologist & Princeton President

More From Shirley

In this video

Shirley Tilghman on falling in love with science, her first major breakthrough, and career serendipity at Princeton.

Shirley's Biography

Cause of Choice: Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA)
Proudest Accomplishment: “Raising my children well.”
World-class Teacher: After college, she spent two years teaching high school in a small village in Sierra Leone, Africa. 
Greatest Influences Never Met: Matt Messelson and Frank Stahl, authors of “one of the greatest papers of the 20th century on how DNA replicates.”  Reading that paper in college set Tilghman on her path to becoming a geneticist. 

In 2001, Shirley Tilghman became the first woman president of Princeton University, and only the second female president in the Ivy League.  Her appointment capped her prodigious career as a celebrated teacher, world-renowned scholar, and pioneer in molecular biology.
Tilghman's decades of research in genetics focused on the regulation of genes during development, particularly in the field of genomic imprinting. During her postdoctoral studies at the National Institutes of Health, she made a number of groundbreaking discoveries while participating in cloning the first mammalian gene. She continued to make scientific breakthroughs as an independent investigator at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia, and as an adjunct associate professor of Human Genetics at the University of Pennsylvania. She served as a member of the committee that set the blueprint for the U.S. effort in the Human Genome Project and of the National Advisory Council that oversaw the initiative at the National Institutes of Health.
 
She was recruited to Princeton’s faculty in 1986, and in 1998, founded its world-class genetics institute, the multi-disciplinary Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. From 1993 through 2000, Tilghman chaired Princeton's Council on Science and Technology, which encourages the teaching of science and technology to students outside the sciences and she initiated the Princeton Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowship. In 1996, she received Princeton's President's Award for Distinguished Teaching.  
 
Throughout her career, Tilghman has been an impassioned advocate and activist for the promotion of women in science, and efforts to make the early careers of young scientists as meaningful and productive as possible. In 2002, Tilghman was one of five winners of the L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science. The following year, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Developmental Biology, and in 2007, she was awarded the Genetics Society of America Medal for outstanding contributions to her field. She is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the Royal Society of London. She serves as a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, and as a director of Google Inc.

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