PhD Candidate Yang awarded prestigious NeurIPS Scholar Award, presents paper

Posted: December 6, 2022
Man standing next to conference logo display

Yifan Yang, PhD ’25, had two reasons to celebrate at the recent Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) held in New Orleans Nov. 28-Dec. 9. 

Not only was his paper accepted for the conference, but he also received a NeurIPS scholar award, which paid for his registration and hotel stay. 

“I was so excited when I received the congratulations email,” he says, “Since it not only saves our group funding, it also somehow indicates my paper is worthy to be funded.” 

Yang, who presented his paper at the competitive artificial intelligence (AI) conference, says it is part of his thesis on accurate and fair decision-making from biased datasets. 

“Our work studies an online classification problem with censored feedback,” Yang explains. “We start from biased estimates on purpose, are aware of censored feedback and perform bounded exploration by considering the cost of exploration. Our goal is to remove the initial bias while satisfying certain fairness constraints.” 

It’s a topic Yang has been pursuing since arriving at Ohio State. He received his master’s degree in statistics from Georgia Tech and his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics from the University of Washington (Seattle). 

“By the time I graduated, I realize both statistics and mathematics are too theoretical, and I am not a pure theoretical person,” he says. “I want to do something practical that can be used in daily life. This is the main motivation for me to choose the Operations Research track for my entire PhD study.” 

Yang credits his advisor, ISE Assistant Professor Parinaz Naghizadeh with helping him to pursue his dream. “When I tell her that I want to solve real world problems instead of being a pure theoretical researcher deriving and proving theorems, she does not hesitate to tell me ‘Let’s improve the world,’” he says. 

Yang says his research is centered on responsible AI with a focus on algorithmic fairness and data debiasing. 

As part of his NeurIPS scholar award, he had the opportunity to mentor nearly a dozen high school students, who were attending the conference. “One of the main talks is to empower local high school students to engage with AI and show them how AI/ML (machine learning) impacts their daily life,” he says. 

“At this conference, I had a chance to meet even more people from around the world and learn what they do in research. I have learned a lot from posters and every night when I came back to the hotel, I needed a lot of time to read and understand this new, but relevant information.” 


Story by Nancy RIchison

Category: Student