University Affairs

Tilghman to become joint professor in Wilson School, molecular biology

Former University President Shirley Tilghman will be joining the Wilson School starting next semester as a joint professor with the molecular biology department.

Tilghman returns to full-time teaching after 12 years as president of the University and a year-long leave of absence. Tilghman was a molecular biology professor at the University for 15 years prior to serving as president.

According to Tilghman, the transition began when Dean of the Wilson School Cecilia Rouse approached her and asked her if she would consider moving half of her appointment to the Wilson School. Tilghman said that since her research projects for the next five or six years would be on the policy side, it seemed reasonable for her to join the Wilson School’s faculty. Her current research topics include the structure of biomedical research in the United States and widening the access to higher education.

Rouse said she believes Tilghman, with her background as a scientist and former University president, would be a significant gain to the Wilson School’s faculty.

“Not only is she a leader in science policy with regard to molecular biology and also with regard to women in science, but she also is clearly a leader of higher education,” Rouse said, explaining that both science and higher education are very integral to public policy in today’s world.

Tilghman said what she looks forward to most is the closer interactions she will have with students.

“I certainly had lots of interactions with students while I was president, but they tended to be less intense than the kind of interaction that you have particularly when you are teaching small courses,” she said.

Tilghman will be teaching WWS 354: Modern Genetics and Public Policy with history professor and Vice Dean of the Wilson School Keith Wailoo in the fall. Tilghman and Wailoo also co-instructed the course in Fall 2012.

“The course that professor Wailoo and I teach is really a marriage of science — in this case the science of genetics — and the impact of modern genetics on public policy,” Tilghman said. “I would say that I bring to the course the 30 years of being a geneticist, and Professor Wailoo brings a very considerable experience in the history of science and particularly his interest in public policy issues surrounding genetics. The combination of the two of us, I think, creates a course that neither one of us could really teach alone.”

Wailoo did not respond to requests for comment.

Tilghman said that although she would no longer have an active laboratory in the molecular biology department, she will be happy to advise juniors and seniors on their independent work. She added that she plans to teach a freshman seminar on molecular biology in the spring semester.

When asked if her decision to join the Wilson School’s faculty was related to her recent election as a director to the Commission on Presidential Debates, Tilghman said that the election was irrelevant to her decision to join the Wilson School and that she does not plan to teach in that area.

“I’m doing that as an example of ‘Princeton in the Nation’s Service,’ ” Tilghman said.

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