photo of caleb phillips
Graduate Student, Oden Institute of Computational Science, Engineering, and Mathematics


Ph.D. Student

Graduate Program

Oden Institute of Computational Science, Engineering, and Mathematics


Austin, TX

Why did you decide to pursue a COE degree at UT Austin?

I came in as an aerospace major and really loved it. But I had a desire to learn more about computer science and the computing side of aerospace applications. Fortunately, computational engineering was offered halfway through my junior year and I immediately transferred and ran with it. That led me into learning more about biomedical applications and eventually took everything I had learned in my undergrad career and started working in mathematical cancer research.

Please describe your graduate research.

My current work involves trying to use mathematics to uncover mechanisms in cancer development and metastasis. I work in trying to mathematically predict vessel structures surrounding a tumor, which are responsible for how much therapy and nutrients makes it to the tumor and dictates how metastatic a tumor is.

What do you like most about your work? What do you find most challenging?

I love planning out projects and devising the outline and plan to carry out. There are so many interesting topics in mathematical oncology that I would love to work on that it's honestly hard to find specific direction. The field is pretty new and almost anything you can dream up has never been done before (or is in the infant stage). I also love collaborating and having white board sessions with other students and researchers.

What are your career goals?

My career goals are to become a professor in computational medicine and collaborate with hospitals to optimize treatment for cancer patients based on their images (MRI, PET, etc.). I hope to post-doc following my Ph.D. and get teaching experience and maybe eventually move overseas and be a professor across the world.

If you participated in student projects or organizations, how did your experience in these group/s help prepare you for your career?

At the time Computational Engineering Association (CEA) had a huge influence on me throughout my late undergrad. I met so many other COE students who were trying to pioneer a path into the work force and we all grew really close and developed a good sense of community. It really felt like the students were invested in each other's success. I think that experience helped me grow into seeing classmates as friends and teammates as opposed to people I was competing with (internships, jobs, grades, etc.).

Were you involved in any fellowships or internships?

I worked a summer as a Moncrief Undergraduate Researcher at the Oden Institute. I got to spend a lot of focused time learning about computational medicine and learning so much about how academia works and what research is like. It showed me that I really wanted to continue on in research and that graduate school and not industry was the path for me. Sometimes I wish I had tried to intern a summer (and might still try in graduate school) to see what industry could be like.

Do you recommend any particular focus for students other than academics to improve themselves as potential candidates for jobs?

I definitely recommend that students spend a lot of time reading and writing. One of the areas I've had to grow (and still continue to grow) is technical writing. Being precise while also creating something that people enjoy to read is quite a remarkable challenge. I would add a double portion of presenting as well, being able to present in front of a crowd (similar to an interview) is a huge asset to any applicant, whether graduate school or industry. Finding ways to build that skill, no matter how, is a huge bonus.

Are there courses at UT you wish you had taken?

I wish the COE Software Development course had been available when I was a student. My aim now is to get high quality simulation packages to clinicians who will be able to use it easily for each patient and there are so many things I will have to learn to be able to accomplish that goal.

Who was your most influential ASE, COE or EM professor?

This is a really challenging question. Dr. Dawson pushed me to really embrace being a pioneer in COE and continued to encourage me throughout my undergrad and now graduate career. For that I will be forever thankful. Dr. Landis also cared for and supported me through difficult transitions and honestly taught me that academics are people as well. Both of these professors have made lasting impressions on me and I will not soon forget them.

What has been your most influential ASE, COE or EM course?

I'm not sure if it counts, but Introduction to Computational Oncology opened my eyes to another side of computational engineering that I had never seen before and altered the course of my academic career. Seeing computation applied to biomedical applications was really special to me and I saw my work as a way to help people and not just work for a large corporation.

What is one piece of advice you have for current students?

Own your undergraduate experience. Pick the classes that interest you and worry about difficulty and grades later. Don't be afraid to ask about research opportunities (even unpaid).

Do you have a favorite memory as a student in the department?

Ha! Some of my favorite memories were the nights before our final design presentations for our wind turbine simulation project and our deep space gateway simulation projects. I had mostly the same simulation team for each who were really good friends of mine. We coded and generated results until we dropped and then whenever I took everyone home it was, “See you in a couple hours for our talk at 9am.” Those were really good (and sometimes painful) times that I still miss to this day.

List three things that most people don't know about you.
  • I am an avid cricket player and am trying to play on the Austin minor league team.
  • I love Taco Bell (I had breakfast there and it was incredible).
  • My wife and I love going to the Austin Stone Community Church.