Where They’re Headed: Richard Phillips ’18

The computer science major is taking a gap year before pursuing his Ph.D. in the same field at Cornell University.

For Richard Phillips ’18, it was the opportunity to pursue socially conscious and responsible decision-making algorithms that sparked his desire to go to graduate school.

“I’m interested in explaining the decisions of black-box models, working on metrics to measure fairness, and figuring out how the machine learning  algorithms that we interact with regularly might mitigate or amplify existing societal issues,” he said.

Phillips, a Chesick Scholar who majored in computer science, is headed to Cornell University to obtain his Ph.D. in the subject with a focus on these machine learning models.

“Machine learning models are having real-world consequences in everything from healthcare to parole hearings to populating your social media feeds,” he said. “In most applications, however, we really have not thought enough about who this helps and who this might harm. This is a fundamental question for me, and so I’m glad I’ll have the chance to address it at Cornell.”

Phillips is currently taking a gap year to gain practical knowledge and skills in the world of machine learning, and looks forward to the opportunity to broaden his academic horizons while focusing on his interests at Cornell.

“The academic freedom to study and work on these big questions in my field will be really incredible,” said Phillips. “I’m sure the problems that I work on will be really satisfying in their own right, but I want to learn how to do research that affects positive change in society.”

At Haverford, Phillips was a member of the cricket team and worked extensively in Assistant Professor of Computer Science Sorelle Friedler’s lab, which he saw as an extension of his work in computer science classes. Phillips also enjoyed taking courses in black studies at Swarthmore, an education class during the Chesick Summer Institute, and machine learning courses at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The fact that I took such a wide variety of courses also really speaks to the learning philosophy at Haverford,” he said. “Without this diverse set of coursework, I would certainly not have the perspective to ask the questions about the social costs of machine learning systems in my research.


Where They’re Headed” is a blog series reporting on the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.

Photo courtesy of Richard Phillips ’18.