By Clare Angeroth Franks, Russian and East European Institute alumna and Curriculum Coordinator
Sarah Bidgood, Director of the Eurasia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, visited Indiana University on Friday, October 4, 2019. Bidgood shared her professional and academic experience during Friday’s Russian and East European Institute Networks event. As part of an initiative to promote nonproliferation studies, Bidgood met with graduate and undergraduate students at IU.
Bidgood could not have chosen a better time to meet with students at Indiana University. Her visit came on the heels of a short lecture series by Indiana University alumnus Stephen Cohen, which touched on the topic of nonproliferation. As REEI is also a part of the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, Bidgood’s visit coincided with the work of one of the school’s namesakes, the late and former Senator Richard Lugar, whose work was focused towards dismantling nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons across the globe.
The REEI Networks event began with Bidgood telling graduate students from REEI and Central Eurasian Studies about her education and career path. After completing her bachelor’s degree in Russian language and culture, she felt unsure as how to apply the knowledge she’d learned. She completed a Master’s degree in Russian and East European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to expand her knowledge, especially in the sphere of political science and national security. When she graduated, however, she found work in peer-reviewed publications. Bidgood knew she wanted to work in security, but wasn’t sure how to transition professionally. After conferring with mentors from both her undergraduate and graduate experience, she decided she would obtain a second master’s degree—this time in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. She stressed the importance of taking advantage of professional opportunities during her graduate studies and mentioned the kinds of internships and research positions available to students today interested in the field of nonproliferation. Following her graduation from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she was hired on at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) in Monterey, California.
Bidgood spoke of the importance of public domain tools in her field, such as declassified government documents, commercial satellite imagery, and local news. To gain a fuller picture of the kind of research which has been conducted using these tools, she spoke of the recent nuclear missile explosion that killed up to seven people in Arkhangelsk. The event occurred in August of this year. Before news became public that the missile contained radioactive components, researchers at CNS were able to connect the explosion to nuclear testing through the use of resources available to the public. Researchers were able to compare satellite images of the testing site to those of a known nuclear testing site. Certain objects appeared at both sites that did not appear when compared to other kinds of testing sites. They also used vessel traffic, or AIS, data, which ships emit when sailing in order to avoid crashing into one another. This data, which is also available to the public, allowed the researchers to identify a ship which carries nuclear emissions and is equipped for radioactive material cleanup. Finally, the researchers used their Russian language skills by reading between the lines of an official press conference of the incident and by following an online forum of locals who were posting about the event.
Near the end of the REEI Networks event, Bidgood was asked what kinds of knowledge and skills would be useful to someone entering her field. Knowledge of Photoshop (which can help determine whether or not photographs have been modified), Geographic Information Systems, and social network analysis were three of the Bidgood’s top recommendations. Through UITS, students at IU can learn Photoshop basics, and there are regular workshops at Wells Library for students, staff, and community members to learn the basics of GIS technology.
Apart from her visit with students for the REEI Networks event, Bidgood met with Dean Lee Feinstein and his class on diplomacy, security, and governance; Dr. Dina Spechler and her honors class on foreign policy; Dr. Kerry Mitchell and his students at the HLS Living-Learning Center; and others.