L. Taylor Phillips
Assistant Professor of Management & Organizations
New York University Stern School of Business
At just 32 years old, New York University’s L. Taylor Phillips is one of the youngest professors included on this year’s list of Best Undergraduate Business School Professors. As an undergraduate student at Stanford, Phillips was unlike many other undergraduate students.
“As an undergrad, we had to have meetings with a TA about a research design paper we were assigned to write,” Phillips says. “I mentioned that it would be sad to graduate and not get to write papers like this anymore – playing with experimental designs, thinking about why things happen and how to change them.”
The teaching assistant (TA) informed Phillips that she could write research design papers like that for as long as she wanted if she became a research-oriented professor. Phillips earned her Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Stanford and has done just that, already building more than 700 Google Scholar citations in her very young career. Phillips researches privilege.
“White privilege, class privilege, and how these emerge from inequitable systems,” Phillips explains. “One of the more significant discoveries is that Twitter is right: when white people hear about privilege, they usually respond claiming ‘personal hardships’ (parents got divorced, poor eyesight) which doesn’t actually reduce the benefits they get from having white skin.”
Current age: 32
At current institution since what year? 2016
Education: Stanford, Ph.D. (organizational behavior); Stanford, BA (psychology, human biology)
List of courses you currently teach: Intro to Management & Organizations; SPUR Lab (Stern Program for Undergraduate Research)
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… As an undergrad, we had to have meetings with a TA about a research design paper we were assigned to write. I mentioned that it would be sad to graduate and not get to write papers like this anymore – playing with experimental designs, thinking about why things happen and how to change them. The TA let me know that actually, research-oriented professors work on projects like this as the primary component of their job! That sealed the deal for me.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?
I study privilege: white privilege, class privilege, and how these emerge from inequitable systems. One of the more significant discoveries is that Twitter is right: when white people hear about privilege, they usually respond claiming “personal hardships” (parents got divorced, poor eyesight) which doesn’t actually reduce the benefits they get from having white skin. So getting through this initial denial – helping people understand that you can have personal hardships and personal hard work and still benefit from skin color – is really key to getting privileged people to understand systemic inequity.
If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… An activist, a journalist, a lawyer, a travel TV show producer!
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?
I’ve been told I have “high energy” – which is useful for teaching 8 a.m. Monday morning!
One word that describes my first time teaching: Pneumonia!!!!
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:
“Wall Street or Bust” is a stereotype. The vast majority of students are interested in people, society, life. And organizations are one major way to have an impact and participate in society, in life. Even the Wall Street-focused students are often interested in Wall Street because of that potential for impact: the chance to make change for sustainability, for example. Business school is about people, about society, and about understanding how society works, and how it could work.
Professor I most admire and why: Brian Lowery, my Ph.D. advisor. He focuses on what matters. For instance, in our lab, he had us read novels and fiction rather than academic writings. Developing careful thought can come from many sources – the important thing is to think carefully, be curious, and remain humble about one’s own assumptions.
TEACHING BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?
My undergraduate students come from all over NYU – music business, sustainability interests, accounting, engineering. Students are curious; they want to think about people and how they connect and how they organize. Hearing students’ observations and their ideas is exciting for me.
What is most challenging?
Grading on a curve is hard for students, and it is also hard for professors. We want to encourage learning and growth goals, but some of the value of a degree comes from employers trusting that transcripts reflect comparative skills. Balancing learning goals with ranking can be very difficult. This is part of why I love participating in programs like SPUR so much – here, the entire point is learning, and we can just dive in.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Curious
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Incurious!
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… I design my assessments around applying knowledge and demonstrating learning. Students often ask me how to study, and my best advice is not to study – learn! If you learn content along the way and are learning as you go, then it’s no longer about studying as in memorizing, but it’s about simply demonstrating those skills in new situations.
LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies?
Dance (look up Savion Glover! also flamenco), travel, hiking and wildlife photography (Iberian lynx and the Marvelous Spatuletail hummingbird are favorites so far).
How will you spend your summer?
Pandemic times, so I’m staying with my husband’s parents to help them get groceries and do chores. I’m also using the time to write papers on allyship and protest movements; we’re in a moment in which business and society are beginning to take seriously the idea of “privilege,” so it feels like an especially important time to share what science knows about this.
Favorite place(s) to vacation:
Rwanda. The weather is an eternal spring, and it’s a very hilly country that is permanently green. It has fantastic national parks, and a burgeoning tech scene in Kigali. One of my favorite places so far!
“Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I was “trapped” in Australia for almost three months during the pandemic, and it was great to have a show to relax with made in Australia! It has a lot of equity and justice themes, which is right up my alley.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why?
I’m eclectic. I love old school blues. I love Beyoncé. I like Nirvana, probably because it was my mom’s favorite band when I was growing up. I like Tom Petty for the same reason – my dad’s favorite.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…
“Business” is too narrow a scope compared to what many students and leaders really do. What we really do is organize – we organize people, groups, society, and turn something small into something bigger than all of us. I wish this organizations and society approach was easier to make clear to students before they choose their majors. Many students are deeply interested in business it turns out, even if they don’t think they’d major in it, because people are fundamentally interested in people.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at…
Diversity and inclusion, of course, but that’s also something that businesses are (somewhat) aware of. The problem is how that gets translated; merely bringing people in and having “the numbers” isn’t enough. What this is fundamentally about is having a just organization for society, and equitable power sharing. This is the view we need to move towards and better understand.
I’m grateful for…
In my research, gratitude and feeling lucky are sometimes used to cover up privileges provided by an unjust system. So I am wary of this question!
Faculty, students, alumni, and/or administrators say:
“Taylor is truly passionate about research and teaching and advising students. She works with many students both undergrad and at the doctoral level and always makes time to meet regularly. She runs lab meetings for all micro PhD students every week which is both very useful for developing and pushing research forward and also positively contributes to the sense of community in the PhD program.”
“Professor Phillips is a remarkable professor and mentor for students at Stern. Over the past two years, I have managed the NYU Stern Center for Behavioral Research and mentored my own team of student RAs. Even though she was already supervising a large lab of her own students, she welcomed my RAs to her meetings and gave them the same attention and guidance as the students working directly with her. She is one of the most committed and caring people I have met and is highly deserving of this award!”
“Professor Phillips was the first professor I conducted research with at NYU Stern. As a young freshman who was looking for guidance, Professor Phillips laid the groundwork for me pushing my boundaries beyond the traditional business school experience. She first instilled in me a deep appreciation of research, and how academia and the college education a student receives is completely dependent on it. More personally, at the time I felt a lot of pressure to conform to traditional business paths such as banking or consulting. Professor Phillips inspired me to follow my interests and passions first, to develop my career based on what I wanted, and to not shy away from academia. For the rest of my years in NYU Stern, I was always a participant in research- exploring projects across various disciplines and with various professors. Even after all these experiences, Professor Phillips remained my most important. Without her, I would have never have had the confidence to discover areas I cared about personally. Professor Phillips is truly an inspiring figure for NYU students. Her long accolade of accomplishments is grounded in her commitment to her passions and knowledge. She is one of the few professors who encourages students to question their assumptions about what they are taught in the classroom, and what they are told about their career. She deserves this nomination because she has inspired so many students in her classes and in her research projects to expand their knowledge, question their beliefs, and chase their passions. That’s exactly what education should be about, and Professor Phillips embodies that.”