The medal is awarded annually during Harvard Commencement/Reunion Week by the Radcliffe Institute to an individual whose life and work has had a significant impact on society. Past honorees include Madeleine Korbel Albright, Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Dole, Billie Jean King, Janet Reno, and Katharine Graham, among others.
“I am deeply honored to receive this year’s Radcliffe Institute Medal,” said Tilghman. “The Radcliffe Institute, in its short existence, has become a vital intellectual center for Harvard faculty in all the disciplines and a haven for visiting fellows. I am proud to be included in the distinguished group of women who have been recognized with this prize in years past.”
Tilghman was elected Princeton University’s 19th president in May 2001 and assumed office the following month. An exceptional teacher and a world-renowned scholar and leader in the field of molecular biology, she served on the Princeton faculty for 15 years before being named president. Tilghman went to Princeton 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. In 1998, she took on additional responsibilities as the founding director of Princeton’s multidisciplinary Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.
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 teaching secondary school in Sierra Leone, West Africa, she obtained her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Temple University in Philadelphia. During postdoctoral studies at the National Institutes of Health, she made a number of groundbreaking discoveries while participating in cloning the first mammalian gene, and then continued to make scientific breakthroughs as an independent investigator at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia and an adjunct associate professor of human genetics, biochemistry, and biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania.
A member of the National Research Council’s committee that set the blueprint for the U.S. effort in the Human Genome Project, Tilghman also was one of the founding members of the National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project Initiative for the National Institutes of Health. 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. In 1996, she received Princeton’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching. She initiated the Princeton Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowship, a program across all the science and engineering disciplines that brings postdoctoral students to Princeton each year to gain experience in both research and teaching.
Tilghman is renowned not only for her pioneering research, but for her national leadership on behalf of women in science and for promoting efforts to make the early careers of young scientists as meaningful and productive as possible. She received national attention for a report on “Trends in the Careers of Life Scientists” that was issued in 1998 by a committee she chaired for the National Research Council, and she has helped launch the careers of many scholars as a member of the Pew Charitable Trusts Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences Selection Committee and the Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust Scholar Selection Committee.
In 2002, Tilghman was one of five winners of the international L’ORÉAL-UNESCO Award as part of the Women in Science Program. She received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Developmental Biology the following year. She also was selected in 2003 by New Jersey Governor James E. McGreevey to cochair the state’s new Commission on Jobs Growth and Economic Development.
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, a mammalian genetics institute in Bar Harbor, Maine. Tilghman has also been a trustee of Rockefeller University in New York and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, a member of the Advisory Council to the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Tilghman last visited the Radcliffe Institute as part of the 2001-2002 Dean’s Lecture Series. In her presentation, titled “Genomic Imprinting: A Genetic Arms Race,” Tilghman explained the process of genetic imprinting in mammals and its implications, concluding that “we are evolving as we speak.” In 2000, she served on an ad hoc committee that issued a report of recommendations about future directions of the Radcliffe Institute.