White majored in biology and anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. He received his PhD in physical anthropology from the University of Michigan, where he studied with Milford Wolpoff. In 1974, White worked with Richard Leakey's team at Koobi Fora, Kenya. Richard Leakey was so impressed with White's work that he recommended White to his mother, Mary Leakey, to help her with hominid fossils she had found at Laetoli, Tanzania. White eventually took a job at the University of California, Berkeley where he collaborated with Donald Johanson and F. Clark Howell. White later went on to find what was then the oldest known human ancestor: 4.4 million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus. White made yet another discovery that involved a 2.5 million-year-old Australopithecus garhi. White is currently working on a ramidus skeleton that was found in 1995, and is co-director of the Human Evolution Research Center in Berkeley, CA.
- Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences
- Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- David S. Ingalls Jr. Award from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History
- Member of the National Academy of Sciences
- Distinguished Alumnus of the Year (2000) at the University of California, Riverside