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Alumna Betsy Bizot advises students to always think big

2021 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Betsy Bizot.
2021 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Betsy Bizot.

When asked to reflect upon a typical career path, alumna Betsy Bizot ('78) said, "I’m not even sure what a typical computer science career path is, given how quickly it changes. I suppose it’s working on development, although your product and your tool kit in a few years may be something that doesn’t exist right now."

The recipient of the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award also emphasized the need to be adaptable and flexible in this changing environment. "There is almost nothing that can’t be combined with computing: digital media, digital humanities, informatics, data science, and computing as a tool for other sciences," she said. "And looked at from the other direction, the basic analytical tools of computer science and computational thinking can apply to almost anything--think big!"

Bizot feels great pride in being a part of the computing profession, knowing that she is making a difference in the world in very tangible ways. "I find great satisfaction in finding a way to organize a lot of data to tell a story or offer a clear picture of something complex."

Well-Traveled Career Path

Upon graduating from Virginia Tech, Bizot took a job with a company called Middle South Services, now a part of Entergy Incorporated, based in New Orleans and supporting several large electric utility companies.

During her seven-year tenure at Middle South Services, Bizot focused her efforts in engineering support with her largest project working on a maintenance management system for nuclear power plants.

"That project pulled together lessons from a lot of places for me: project management, user interface considerations, the importance of accuracy, and, most of all, the fact that the project needed technical correctness, but it would succeed or fail on people grounds, not technical grounds," said Bizot. The experiences taught her the value of collaborating across multiple groups inside and outside the organization.

She later went on to work at Ball Foundation/Career Vision, where she worked on projects about career planning and career decision-making. "I had the opportunity to publish several papers in professional journals, said Bizot. In fact, a career planning workbook she developed for students, which combined questions about their strengths, interests, and personality to help suggest career directions, are still being used more than 15 years later.

Bizot today serves as a senior research associate at Computing Research Association (CRA), an organization aimed at uniting industry, academia, and government to advance computing research and change the world. In her tenure at CRA, she has been directly involved with a wide variety of projects, including designing an evaluation approach for some of CRA’s programs to broaden participation in computing. 

"I learned more about the influence of culture and social groups," she said. "I came to understand that individual differences matter, but they play out within a cultural framework. Systemic bias exists, and has an impact on (to paraphrase Hamilton), who succeeds, who fails, and who tells their story."

Receiving the 2020 Service to CRA Award

Bizot and her colleague Stu Zweben, professor emeritus at The Ohio State University and chair of the CRA Survey Committee, received the 2020 Service to CRA Award based on their support of the Taulbee Survey. This award is granted at the discretion of the CRA board chair and is not given every year. 

The CRA Taulbee Survey is the primary source for information about computing doctoral education in North America. It collects two types of information: things that are gathered nationally by other groups but available with a lag or in ways that are hard to separate from other fields (e.g. math and computer science combined), and things that are otherwise not available at all. 

In 2020, the Taulbee Survey collected data from 179 departments who graduated 1,997 Ph.Ds., as compared to the first one in 1970 which surveyed 63 departments graduating 112 Ph.Ds.

The survey aims to serve the needs of department chairs from CRA members, by answering their questions: "Are enrollments increasing or decreasing? Are new Ph.Ds. more likely to take jobs in industry or academia? What fields are the new Ph.Ds. specializing in?"

The department chairs also want to be able to benchmark their own department numbers against comparable departments for things like faculty salaries, number of undergraduates per faculty member, and the percent of students and faculty who are women or members of underserved minorities.

"At the base, I think people should understand things and have the information they need to make good decisions, and so I am happy to contribute to that," said Bizot.