November 1, 2022
Phillip Lo grew up near Worcester, MA, and did his undergraduate degree at UChicago (AB’19). Currently a fourth-year student in the Computational and Applied Math PhD program, he is in his eighth year on campus, making him “a UChicago lifer.” In his research, he uses physically-informed machine learning methods to study the magnetic structure of the atmosphere of our sun. We spoke with him about his time at UChicago below.
Why did you choose the University of Chicago?
I really enjoyed the city of Chicago during my undergraduate years, and I guess I wasn’t ready to leave after four years. Furthermore, my peers in college were some of the most academically curious and driven people I knew. I wanted to stay at UChicago for the opportunity to teach these kinds of students, and I have enjoyed my teaching experiences in graduate school immensely.
What are you proud of accomplishing at UChicago?
My proudest moments come from my teaching. Although students in my program typically T.A. courses within CAM/Statistics, I opted to do my teaching in the math department so that I would be able to gain experience as a standalone instructor. Last year, I taught a year-long introductory calculus sequence in the math department, aimed at an audience that typically does not enjoy mathematics. I’ve received emails from students at the end of a quarter saying I “brought out a shocking amount of enthusiasm for math,” which is my primary goal in teaching an introductory class.
What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?
I am quite involved in the music performance program at UChicago; as a violinist, I am a member of the University Symphony Orchestra, and as a pianist, I am a member of the Piano Performance program and will be performing the Schumann Piano Concerto with the University Symphony Orchestra in Fall 2022.
What are your plans post-UChicago?
I hope to pursue a machine learning-adjacent postdoc after my PhD and ultimately be a faculty member at a primarily undergraduate institution.
What support have you received at UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?
I have found my program to be particularly flexible in terms of working with other departments in the PSD. Though my home program is in Computational and Applied Math, my advisor is in the computer science department, my teaching duties are carried out in the math department. All this has been able to occur with very little bureaucratic friction; I’ve never felt that I was limited in what academic and professional venues I could explore due to any organizational barriers.
If you were speaking to someone who wants to learn about UChicago, what would you tell them?
In my experience, most faculty/postdocs/graduate students are always excited to talk about their own work to you, so don’t be shy in reaching out to people you’re interested in working with!
How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?
Teaching a math class for non-STEM majors gave me experience in working with a wide variety of students. It has opened my eyes to the unique challenges that self-proclaimed “not math people” (no such thing!) may face in STEM education and how these barriers can be lowered.