Laureation Address: Professor Dame Muffy Calder BSc PhD FRSE FREng

Graduation Office
Wednesday 12 June 2024

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science
Laureation by Professor Simon Dobson School of Computer Science

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Vice-Chancellor, I have the honour to present for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Professor Dame Muffy Calder.

As those who received degrees in computer science today will know well, ours is a discipline that sits at the boundary of science and engineering. Many of the problems we face require a deep formal treatment in order to be fully understood but must then be converted into a form that can be executed by machine, correctly, efficiently, and at scale. While these tasks can sometimes seem to be in conflict, Muffy Calder’s work shows us that they can often work together in useful and insightful ways.

A theorist by training, Muffy received her PhD from St Andrews in 1987 under the supervision of our late colleague Roy Dyckhoff, who I know would have been very proud if he could have been with us today. In the title of her thesis, The imperative implementation of algebraic data types, we can already see her crossing-over between formal analysis and implementation. Her later work developed the applications of model checking, which is a technique for exploring a program’s correctness ahead of execution as an alternative to extensive testing.

She took up Robin Milner’s ideas on bigraphs and applied them to a bewildering range of natural and engineered systems, from biochemical signalling pathways to air traffic control, as well as to sensor systems within a programme in which she led teams from Glasgow, Manchester, Imperial College, and here at St Andrews.

However, as the late Karen Spärk-Jones once observed, computing is something that is too important to be left to men. Beyond her own science, Muffy has been an exemplar for women in science and engineering. By taking on some of the most senior scientific roles available, she has shown both the importance of impartial scientific advice and the advantages of diversity in those providing it. She has served, inter alia, as Chief Scientific Advisor to the Scottish Government; as a member of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology; and, most recently, as co-chair of the UK’s programme in Responsible Artificial Intelligence.

She has been recognised as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Computer Society, and the Institute of Electrical Engineers, and was made a Dame in the late Queen’s 2020 Birthday Honours.

Honorary degrees are a strange concept. We call them that to distinguish them from the “earned” degrees we have been conferring today – although of course we only give honorary degrees to those we think have earned them. Perhaps the best way of thinking about this is that they allow us to identify the values that we hold as a University community, and to acknowledge those qualities in others.

Now, I doubt that anyone could actually enumerate these values: after all, if you ask ten academics for an opinion on something, you will receive at least fifteen different answers.

But any list would undoubtedly include creativity, integrity, service, and leadership in the wider community. I hope that you will all agree with me that, with Muffy Calder, we are in the presence of someone who has embodied these qualities to the highest degree. She has both advanced knowledge herself and – more importantly – strengthened the structures that allow others to flourish and make discoveries of their own.

Vice-Chancellor, it is in recognition of these contributions to science and its community, as our most distinguished Computer Science alumna, that I have the honour, and the great personal pleasure, of inviting you to confer upon Professor Dame Muffy Calder the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

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