Laureation address: Professor Simon Tavaré

Lauren Sykes
Wednesday 14 June 2023

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science
Laureation by Professor Ineke De Moortel FRSE, Master of the United College

Wednesday 14 June 2023

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Professor Simon Tavaré.

If anybody here today wonders what mathematics ever did for us, then I am convinced that in a few minutes time, you will have an answer. A pioneer in mathematical biology, working at the interface between statistics and cancer research, Simon is a world leader in the effects of genome alterations on cancer.

Simon received his PhD in Probability and Statistics in 1979 from the University of Sheffield. He then moved to the US with positions at the University of Utah, Colorado State University, and the University of Southern California, where he held the Kawamoto Chair in Biological Sciences.

In 2003, Simon returned to the UK as a professor at the University of Cambridge in both the Department of Oncology and the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. There, he was Director of the MPhil in Computational and Systems Biology and Director of the PhD programme in Mathematical Genomics and Medicine, supported by the Wellcome Trust.

In February 2013, he became Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and, in 2018, Simon moved to Columbia University in New York as founding director of the Herbert and Florence Irving Institute for Cancer Dynamics and professor in the Departments of Statistics and Biological Sciences.

Simon’s work combines computational statistics, bioinformatics, probabilistic combinatorics, and inference for stochastic processes, through which he has made significant contributions to the development of statistical methods for the analysis of next-generation sequencing data, evolutionary approaches to cancer and methods for the analysis of genomics data. His current research focuses on mathematical and technological aspects of cancer research, particularly understanding tumour heterogeneity, copy number variation, and single-cell DNA sequencing methods.

Not surprisingly, Simon’s work has been recognised in numerous ways. He is an elected fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the American Statistical Association, and the American Mathematical Society. He was elected to the fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2009, as a fellow of the Royal Society in 2011, and an International Member of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2018.

The extraordinary and wide-ranging nature of Simon’s contribution to both the mathematical and biological sciences is perhaps most strikingly illustrated by the fact that he not only served as President of the London Mathematical Society from 2015 to 2017 but also was elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization.

With his truly interdisciplinary approach, Simon’s research helps us to understand how our response to disease is influenced by the interaction between genetic variations and environmental factors.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to the mathematical and biological sciences, in particular cancer research, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, on Professor Simon Tavaré.

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