Ep. 3 Natural Language Processing, with Liz Liddy


After receiving her doctorate from the iSchool in 1988, Liz Liddy became a full-time faculty member, serving on the faculty until being named interim dean in 2007, then dean in 2008. She served as the iSchool’s dean until May, 2019, except for a short time in 2015-2016 when she was selected by Chancellor Kent Syverud as interim provost and vice chancellor of the University.

Over the course of her career, she led 70 research projects and authored 110 research papers, established and directed the iSchool’s Center for Natural Language Processing, and led the iSchool to a prestigious international standing. She has also gained prominence for the iSchool for its leading-edge programs, a focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and immersion studies, and an impressive record of promoting the education and careers of women in technology.

Episode Summary

Liz Liddy is one of Grant’s lifelong mentors. She is also a professor and dean of the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. Liz’s impact has been monumental in inspiring others and increasing overall enrollment at the iSchool. In this episode, Liz recounts her journey through tech, academia and entrepreneurship. She will also teach us about the evolution of natural language processing (NLP) and search engines.

Liz began her career as an academic librarian. While organizing databases, she became increasingly frustrated with search engines. Back then, search engines had primitive algorithms and this resulted in users not finding what they needed. Liz’s curiosity for search and natural language processing led her back to school to get a PhD in linguistics.

After doing some teaching at Syracuse, Liz founded a search engine startup. The company operated within the university and grew to over 50 people, serving clients such as the US Patent Office.

In a few years Liz needed a new challenge. So she decided to leave her company and open a NLP research center. Here her path would once again cross with Develomentor founder, Grant Ingersoll. More on Grant’s story in episode 1, Origins.

This episode cements one of our themes in Develomentor - the importance of mentorship. Liz found important mentors in her lecturers Jeff Katzer and Raymond VonDran. These critical relationships helped her develop major ideas and take her career to the next level.

Key Milestones

Liz Liddy has been a huge part in the evolution of natural language processing

Key Quotes

“People want to be an advisor for a topic…that they themselves and their research will benefit from.”

“If you have a good idea, find a program that supports entrepreneurs.”

“Like many entrepreneurs you’re frustrated about something and you’re motivated to do something about it”

“My father was an entrepreneur, all of my siblings were entrepreneurs. They would tease me saying ‘you’ve got the most education, and here you’re the poorest’.”

“When you write a patent, frequently people try to disguise what its about and use different words”