Shirley M. Tilghman to Receive Sigma Xi Gold Key Award

July 31, 2023

shirley_tilghmanRESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society is honored to announce that Shirley M. Tilghman, PhD, is the 2023 recipient of the Gold Key Award. As the Society's highest and most prestigious honor, the Gold Key Award is presented to a member who has made extraordinary contributions to their profession and has fostered critical innovations to enhance the health of the research enterprise, to cultivate integrity in research, or to promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. 

Dr. Tilghman will be recognized on November 11 in Long Beach, California during the awards banquet at Sigma Xi’s annual conference, the International Forum on Research Excellence (IFoRE).

“In addition to being a generational molecular biologist, Shirley Tilghman has forged one of the most respected careers in higher education,” said Marija Strojnik, president of Sigma Xi. “Her accomplishments as an institutional leader, paired with her commitment to advancing STEM education and early career science, make her an exceptional recipient of Sigma Xi’s highest honor.”

A prominent molecular biologist, innovator, and educational leader, Dr. Tilghman is president emerita and professor of molecular biology and public affairs at Princeton University. A pioneer in research on genetics and genomics, Tilghman was a leading adviser for the National Institutes of Health’s Human Genome Project. In addition to serving as Princeton’s president from 2001–2013, she was named to Harvard University’s principal fiduciary governing board, the Harvard Corporation, in 2015, where she still serves today.

A native of Toronto, Tilghman received her bachelor of science degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario in 1968. After two years of secondary school teaching in Sierra Leone, West Africa, she earned her PhD in biochemistry from Temple University in Philadelphia. She did postdoctoral work at the National Institutes of Health and contributed to many scientific breakthroughs as an independent investigator at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia. In 1986, she began her career at Princeton as the Howard A. Prior Professor of Life Sciences. Over the next 15 years, she held many additional council and leadership positions at the university before being named president in 2001. Tilghman’s exceptional contributions to science have earned her many awards including 2002’s L’Oreal-UNESCO Prize for Women in Science, 2003’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Developmental Biology, and 2007’s Genetics Society of America Medal.

In addition to her reputation as a distinguished scientist and researcher, Tilghman has been a nationally recognized leader and advocate throughout her career on behalf of women and young scientists. She has chaired organizations and authored recent publications focused on educational reform, the importance of DEI in science, and promoting efforts to make the early careers of young scientists as meaningful and productive as possible.

The symbolism of the Gold Key Award pays homage to the early days of Sigma Xi (late 1800s to early 1900s), when induction into the Society was often accompanied by the presentation of a small gold key. The key was routinely attached as a charm to a bracelet or chain that held a pocket watch, which was the style of the day, and represented pride in the science or engineering accomplishments of the holder. Previous recipients of the award include Bruce AlbertsShirley M. MalcomWalter E. Massey, Gordon E. Moore, and Norman R. Augustine.

More About Sigma Xi: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society is the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. Sigma Xi chapters can be found at colleges and universities, government laboratories, and industry research centers around the world. More than 200 Nobel Prize winners have been members. The Society is based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. On Twitter: @SigmaXiSociety