A champion of integrating biological sciences and engineering for the advancement of technology, Dr. Shirley M. Tilghman is responsible for groundbreaking discoveries in genetics and leading Princeton University’s (NJ, USA) engineering program to substantial growth by incorporating exposure to many scientific disciplines. She is now a professor of molecular biology and public policy and president emerita of Princeton University.
Tilghman was the 19th President of Princeton University, she was the first woman to hold the position and the second female president in the Ivy League. Tilghman was also the first biologist to hold the Princeton presidency. She is the fifth “foreign born” President of Princeton, and the second academic born in Canada to be elected to the position.
As a professor at Princeton University, Tilghman envisioned the need to bring multiple scientific disciplines together to better interpret genomic data. In 1998, she became founding director of Princeton’s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, which promoted collaboration among chemical engineering, computer science, molecular biology, physics, and chemistry. Under Dr. Tilghman’s leadership as president of Princeton (2001 to 2013), the engineering program realized increases in enrollment, sponsored funding, and facility space. During her tenure, Tilghman promoted integration between the engineering program and the liberal arts, and she instituted key educational initiatives. The Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment was established to conduct research on new energy and environmental technologies, and the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education was created to promote experiential learning, entrepreneurship, and leadership. She also helped launch the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Princeton Center for Theoretical Science. Tilghman is also known for her national leadership in advancing the careers of women in science and engineering, serving as a role model and mentor.
For years, Dr. Tilghman focused her research primarily on the role of genomic imprinting in controlling early developmental gene expression and embryonic growth regulation. Her work has identified the mechanisms that cause parental-specific expression patterns of a select group of over 30 imprinted genes and how these genes function to regulate embryonic and fetal growth patterns. She was a founding member of the National Institute of Health’s National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project, as well as a member of the committee charged with designing and planning U.S. work on the project.
Dr. Tilghman attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, in her native Canada. In 1968, she graduated from the university with a bachelor’s of science with honors in chemistry. She then worked for two years in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where she taught in a secondary school. Later, Dr. Tilghman attended Philadelphia’s Temple University, from which she graduated with a doctorate in biochemistry.
Her professional memberships include the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the Royal Society of London. She is a trustee of a number of groups, including the Jackson Laboratory, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. In addition, Dr. Tilghman is chair of the Association of American Universities and is a member of the Google, Inc. Board of Directors.
In 2003, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Developmental Biology for exceptional contributions to the field.