Symposium to honor Tilghman

Steven Schultz

Princeton NJ -- In the 24 years that she ran a biology lab, Shirley Tilghman had a tradition of sending off departing members with a gathering and dinner.

Now, as Tilghman prepares to close her lab to devote all her time to the presidency of Princeton, it is her lab's turn to do the same for her.

Scientists who worked and received training in Tilghman's lab will gather on Friday, April 19, for a symposium in honor of their mentor. It is titled "Exploring Genes to Genomes: The Scientific Legacy of Shirley Caldwell Tilghman." About 70 former graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and technical staff members will reflect on the influence she has had both on their own scientific careers and on the field of biology.

"It's going to be really exciting to be all together at one time," said Laurie Jo Kurihara, who has been a postdoctoral researcher in the lab since 1995 and helped organize the event.

Participants will represent Tilghman's lab through all her scientific and career development, starting from 1978 when she first opened her own lab as an assistant professor in the Temple University School of Medicine. Before coming to Princeton in 1986, Tilghman ran a lab at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia.

The nine people scheduled to speak at the symposium are scientists whose work is still focused on mouse development and gene regulation, which have been Tilghman's main areas of interest, said Kurihara. Among them will be one of Tilghman's mentors, Phillip Leder, with whom she worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the National Institutes of Health and who is now at the Harvard University School of Medicine.

The speakers will give scientific descriptions of their current work and reflect on how it has been influenced by their time in Tilghman's lab, said Kurihara. The talks, which will begin at 8:45 a.m. in 003 Lewis Thomas Lab, will be open to the public, although seating will be limited.

Following the symposium, the lab members will gather for a private reunion dinner. It will be an opportunity, said Kurihara, for lab members to meet others whose work preceded or followed their own and to put the scientific developments in a personal context.

In some cases, people working in the lab became intimately familiar with the work and scientific papers of their predecessors without ever having met them. "Questions that were active in the lab 10 and 15 years ago are, in some aspect, still being studied," she said.

Planning for the symposium began shortly after Tilghman was appointed president last May. "Right away we thought, 'What a fantastic opportunity,' but for us in the lab it also meant the end of an era," said Kurihara.

The other organizers of the event are Tamara Caspary, a former graduate student now at the Sloan Kettering Institute, and Robert Ingram, who is Tilghman's lab manager and has worked with her for all 24 years. The symposium is sponsored and supported by the Department of Molecular Biology.

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