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Shirley Tilghman is the nineteenth president of Princeton University, and is the first woman to hold the position. Tilghman served on the Princeton faculty for fifteen years before being named[…]

Tilghman’s father encouraged her to follow her dream and her interest in math and science. She also thinks it is of great importance for people and universities to encourage all girls to think about science and to recognize that it is a stereotypical attitude to see science as an inappropriate field for women.

I think my father influenced me more than any other person when I was growing up.

I was the eldest of three daughters. He clearly was someone who believed in women’s rights well before there was such a thing as a women’s rights movement. He told me from the moment I can remember that I could be anything that I chose to be if I was prepared to work hard. He never set limits to my dreams. He encouraged my interest in mathematics. And I think without that encouragement I would be doing something very different today.

I don’t really remember what it was, but my earliest memory was one of loving puzzles. I loved math puzzles in particular and still do them. My father and I at bedtime used to do math puzzles together rather than read stories together. So I think from the very beginning, it was some fascination with numbers that I really can’t explain.

It is very important that we continue to encourage young women . . . girls to think about science. I think the rationale is extremely straightforward, and that is that we have to be drawing our scientific future from the largest talent pool that we possibly can. And if we’re restricting that talent pool in any way, including by discouraging girls, then inevitably the quality of the science that is done in the future will not be nearly as good. There are many reasons why women ultimately are discouraged from entering science. I think most of them are cultural. Most of them have to do with what little girls are encouraged to do, and how those are different from what little boys are encouraged to do. I think there are unrecognized stereotypical attitudes that many of us in society have developed about the appropriateness of a girl going into science that need to be stamped out. I think colleges and universities like my own have to be far more encouraging as well. So I think there are literally hundreds of ways in which we could begin to do this. There is not a silver bullet. There is not a single thing, but there are many things. And if we do even a handful of them, we’ll probably make progress. Recorded on: 8/7/07