At technology conferences, Beth Plale first counts all of the women in the room (an admittedly quick task). Then, she introduces herself to every one of them.
"Once you get to be senior, you tend to want to help out," said Plale, a professor of informatics and computing at Indiana University Bloomington. "I think you see that in women."
This is a philosophy she not only practices but has experienced firsthand.
Near the beginning of her career, Plale said she was in danger of not completing her Ph.D. After defending her dissertation proposal at State University of New York Binghamton, she and her family moved to Atlanta, an unfamiliar city where she lacked an academic support system.
That is until she was accepted into Georgia Institute of Technology computer scientist Karsten Schwan's research lab, where she finished her dissertation and spent several years as a postdoctoral fellow.
"I credit Karsten for taking me off the street and giving me a home in his lab," she said.
Plale said working with Schwan taught her to think more critically and really shaped her into the intellectual leader that she is today. She had often wondered how she landed such a great opportunity, until years later, when Plale learned about the generosity of then-Georgia Tech professor Jessica Hodgins, who she met at a women's networking dinner soon after arriving in Atlanta.
After hearing Plale's story at the dinner, Hodgins went to the office of her colleague, Schwan, and told him he should help Plale.
"It's amazing," Plale said. "She never said a word to me. She just did it."
Plale grew up in Wisconsin, where she was a four-sport high school athlete and already sensitive to gender issues. Pre Title IX, she was offended that the "athlete of the week" plaque she won for volleyball had an image of a man on it. When she lettered in sports, instead of getting a coveted letterman's jacket, she got a decorative pin -- many of them, which all went into the bottom drawer to gather dust.
The first person in her family to attend college, Plale went on to earn higher degrees while working full time as a software engineer and raising her son as a single mother.
In 2001, on the heels of her postdoctoral fellowship with Schwan, she came to IU, where her research includes large-scale data analysis, data provenance and the long-term preservation and sharing of scientific data. In 2006, she became the first woman to ever receive tenure in the computer science department.
In addition to teaching in the university's data science program, Plale is also the director of IU's Data to Insight Center and the science director of the IU Pervasive Technology Institute. She is founder and co-director of the HathiTrust Research Center, a collaborative research center launched by IU, the University of Illinois and the HathiTrust Digital Library, which contains over 4 billion pages of digitized material from research libraries.
HathiTrust Research Center's mission is to provide advanced computational access to vast amounts of complex data that could be beneficial to researchers and nonprofit users.
"Data is a research tool, not a solution," Plale said. "You can't work with data without understanding it. That's why resources like HathiTrust are so important."
At IU, Plale and her doctoral students are at the forefront of innovations in data research, authoring one of the first papers in the field of data provenance, which focuses on the credibility of data, or where and whom something came from.
"It's the level of trust you have in its lineage, like a piece of valuable art," she said.
She and her students are developing tools that track that contextual information about data along the way, reducing the burden on the person creating and sharing the data.
Plale also helps facilitate interdisciplinary relationships among her IU colleagues, when technology and data mining can help in their research, particularly in the humanities, social and environmental sciences. With data, she said she enjoys helping researchers ask and answer questions they weren't able to before.
"So far, I've done exactly what I want to do in my career," Plale said. "And I credit IU for giving me the flexibility to do it."