Key figures recognised with honorary degrees

A diverse array of influential figures have been honoured by the University for their innovation, success and leadership.

Distinguished contributions to the fields of chemistry, medicine and environmental protection are being celebrated with the award of honorary degrees.

Excellence in the realms of filmmaking and philanthropic endeavour is also being recognised.

All of the honorary degrees are being awarded in online ceremonies because of Covid restrictions.


Click on the following link to watch this year’s online graduations.

Online graduations

Cinematic success

Lynda Myles has spent her life in cinema, as a film festival director, producer and champion of innovation.

Appointed as the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s first female director in 1973, Lynda Myles has encouraged women filmmakers and championed emerging talent.

Lynda Myles produced her first film, "Defence of the Realm", in 1975 before holding senior positions with Columbia Pictures and the BBC. In the 1990s, she co-produced the BAFTA-winning adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s "The Commitments".

Lynda Myles receives the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters Honoris Causa.

Pioneering chemist

Donna J Nelson is a chemist at the University of Oklahoma, best known for her efforts to improve chemistry education and to raise awareness of diversity issues.

Dr Nelson carried out the pioneering and influential Nelson Diversity Surveys for which she received the 2004 Woman of Courage award. She was named as one of the “70 most inspirational women leaders impacting the world” in 2018.

More recently she has been a proponent of scientific accuracy in television, film and other media and was the chemistry advisor on the US TV series “Breaking Bad”.

Donna J Nelson receives the honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

Scientific accuracy

Professor John Ioannidis is one of the world’s leading champions of reproducible science – the idea that experimental findings should be confirmed by subsequent studies. 

His 2005 paper for the American Public Library of Science – "Why most published research findings are false" – is one of the most accessed papers in science, with more than three million views. 

A professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, Professor Ioannidis has published more than 1,000 research papers

As the inaugural chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute, he has advised on the topic of open science. He has also helped nurture the careers of many early-career researchers.

Professor John Ioannidis receives the honorary degree of Doctor of Medicine.

Environmental champion

Peter Thomson has worked tirelessly to highlight the threat posed to Pacific island communities by climate change and ocean degradation.

Born in Fiji to a Fijian mother and Scottish diplomat father, Peter Thomson worked as a distinguished diplomat. This culminated in him becoming the first Pacific Islander to be elected President of the UN General Assembly in 2016.

In 2017, Peter Thomson was appointed UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean. He has helped lead outreach efforts to galvanise political momentum and action for the implementation of the UN's Sustainable Development Goal 14. This aims to improve the protection for the planet’s oceans and seas.

Peter Thomson receives the honorary degree of Doctor Honoris Causa.

Philanthropic generosity

Dr James Simons and Dr Marilyn Simons founded the Simons Foundation in 1994 to support research in mathematics and the basic sciences.

Since then, the couple have contributed more than $2.7 billion of their wealth to the Foundation’s work, as well as to support autism research.

In 2017, their support helped establish the Simons Initiative for the Developing Brain (SIDB) at the University.

Through an eight-year investment totalling £32m, the SIDB hopes to provide insights into autism and to improve the lives of those affected by the condition.

Dr James Simons and Dr Marilyn Simons receive the Distinction of University Benefactor.

Related links

Honorary degrees