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Shirley M. Tilghman

Shirley Marie Tilghman

President of Princeton University
Term 2001 – present
Predecessor Harold Tafler Shapiro
Born September 17 1946(1946-09-17)
Alma mater Queen's University, Temple University

Shirley Marie Tilghman (born Shirley Marie Caldwell, September 17, 1946) is the president of Princeton University (the first woman to hold the position).

A leader in the field of molecular biology, Tilghman served on the Princeton faculty for 15 years before being named president. She is renowned for her pioneering research in mammalian developmental genetics, her national leadership on behalf of women in science and promoting efforts to make the early careers of young scientists as meaningful and productive as possible.


Early Life and Family

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, West Africa, she obtained her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

She married Joseph Tilghman in 1970. They split up in the early eighties, leaving Tilghman with custody of their young daughter (Rebecca) and infant son (Alexander). She attributes her successful balancing of a scientific career and caring for her family to organization and focus. Her goal was to not feel guilty while at work or at home, instead focusing on the task at hand. [1]

Tilghman continues to support young academics of both genders in starting a family while early in their career.


Tilghman’s work in molecular genetics focused on the regulation of genes during development, particularly in the field of genomic imprinting.

During postdoctoral studies at the National Institutes of Health, Tilghman made a number of discoveries while a member of the team which cloned the first mammalian gene. She went on to demonstrate that the globin gene was spliced, a finding that helped confirm some of the revolutionary theories then emerging about gene behavior. She continued to make scientific breakthroughs as an independent investigator at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia and Professor of Human Genetics at University of Pennsylvania.

Tilghman went to Princeton University in 1986 as the Howard A. Prior Professor of the Life Sciences. Two years later, she also joined the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as an investigator. She was a leader in the use of mice to understand the behavior of genes by research the effect of gene insertion in embryonic cells.

In 1998, she took on additional responsibilities as the founding director of Princeton’s multi-disciplinary Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics. Tilghman spent the next decade studying how male and female genomes are packaged and the consequences of the differences for regulating embryo growth.


Tilghman succeeded Harold Shapiro and became the 19th President of Princeton University in 2001. She was elected Princeton's first woman president on May 5, 2001, and assumed office on June 15, 2001. Under her administration, the University released the plans for Whitman College, the sixth of Princeton's residential colleges, designed to hold some of the 500 new undergraduates who will be admitted when the Wythes Plan takes effect.

President Tilghman's hiring practices have been controversial, with some critics charging that she is gender-biased. Supporters claim that these charges are dubious, given that 60% of Tilghman's appointees have been men [2]. Detractors point out that the majority of high-level appointees have been women: women she has hired to senior positions include Amy Gutmann (who was chosen as the President of the University of Pennsylvania in early 2004) as Provost, the second-most-powerful administrative position in the University, Anne-Marie Slaughter as Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Maria Klawe as Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science (chosen as the President of Harvey Mudd College in 2006), and Janet Lavin Rapelye as the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions. Prominent men she has appointed include Charles Kalmbach as the Vice President for Finance and Administration, the highest non-academic administrative post, David Dobkin as Dean of the Faculty, Gutmann's replacement Christopher L. Eisgruber, and Klawe's replacement H. Vincent Poor.

Tilghman also signed on to the Ivy League-wide Seven-week athletic moratorium, in which intercollegiate athletes were enjoined from practicing for seven weeks during the academic year in order to encourage them to participate in other activities. Supporters of the proposal pointed to studies by former Princeton president William Bowen, whose book The Game of Life described the widespread academic underperformance of college athletes. Detractors claimed that it represented an encroachment on students' freedom to use their time as they saw fit.

While she has generated controversy with what some alumni claim to be excessive political-correctness and an attack on Princeton's uniqueness, she has also found supporters for these actions, which include: abolishing early decision admissions, developing alternatives to Princeton's eating clubs system, and placing the formerly-independent Alumni Council under University control.

Societies and Awards

Tilghman 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 Jackson Laboratory, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Google Inc.

From 1993 through 2000, Tilghman chaired Princeton’s Council on Science and Technology, which encouraged teaching science and technology to students outside the sciences. In 1996, she received Princeton’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching.

In 2002, Tilghman was one of five winners of the L’Oréal-UNESCO international For Women in Science Award, and the following year received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Developmental Biology.

A number of Princeton graduating classes, from 1955 to 2005, have made President Tilghman an honorary member.

Outside Activities

Tilghman has served as a member of the board of directors of Google since October 2005.


What made it truly thrilling was that the genes were organized in a way that was totally unexpected. So nature took us by surprise. New York Times

There are 25 years of good social science that demonstrate the many cultural practices that act collectively to discourage women from entering and continuing careers in science and engineering. The research is overwhelming, and it is there for anybody to see. On the other hand, the data that would suggest there are innate differences in the abilities of men and women to succeed in the natural sciences are nonexistent. Wall Street Journal

Key publications

  • Tilghman, Shirley (1999) The Sins of the Fathers and Mothers: Genomic Imprinting in Mammalian Development. Cell Volume 96, Issue 2
  • Tilghman, Shirley, et al (1994) The Funding of Young Investigators in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences. ISBN 0309050774
  • Tilghman, Shirley and National Research Council Committee on Dimensions, Causes, and Implications of Recent Trends in the Careers of Life Scientists (1998) Trends in the Careers of Life Scientists. Molecular Biology of the Cell Vol. 9, 3007–3015
  • Tilghman, Shirley (2005) Recruiting, Retaining and Advancing Women Scientists in Academia. Address delivered March 24 at Columbia University.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Harold Tafler Shapiro
President of Princeton University
2001 – present
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Shirley_M._Tilghman". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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