Princeton University named Shirley Tilghman its president on 5 May, making her the first woman to hold that post and the first genome scientist to head a major university. Tilghman will take the helm in June, succeeding Harold Shapiro, who announced last fall that he wanted to step down after 13 years.
Tilghman, 54, is known for her research on "imprinting"--the subtle chemistry by which mammalian cells suppress genes from one parent while allowing other genes to be expressed. But she's also valued as a clear-headed policy adviser and teacher. "Shirley is capable of sorting through complex issues and coming up with the ideal solution--just what you want in a university president," says Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, who has asked her to serve on many panels. Collins adds: "She will be a great champion for science and for women in science."
Genome researcher Eric Lander of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology describes Tilghman as a "great scientist, a true humanist, and a wonderful person," as well as "a spectacular choice for Princeton." Tom Cech, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), notes that Tilghman is "not afraid to express a strong opinion ... if she thinks people are missing the boat." For example, Cech notes that Tilghman took the community to task in a National Academy of Sciences report she chaired on the mismanagement of postdoc careers.
Tilghman--like Shapiro--was born in Canada. She joined Princeton's faculty in 1986, became an HHMI investigator in 1988, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine less than a decade later. She received Princeton's top teaching award in 1996. Since its founding in 1998, she has run Princeton's Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics; no successor has yet been named.